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The 3 Croatian dialects: Što, Kaj, and Ča

Croatian Dialect Language Map
Map of the Croatian dialect usage, image by Wikipedia

The Croatian language is nuanced, and each županija (municipality), city, island, and village has its own linguistic characteristics.

Differences between local speech are obvious to those who know what to look for, but Croatian dialects can be hard to discern for those new to the language. Misunderstanding or not understanding someone who comes from a different place than you within Croatia isn’t unusual at all.

While Croatians may have trouble understanding each other, it is an even bigger problem for foreigners who have moved here and are learning the Croatian language from scratch or for diaspora whom have spent their whole lives outside Croatia.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

3 Croatian dialects: Štokavian, Kajkavian, and Čakavian

How the Croatian language varies?

The Croatian language can vary in several ways from dialect to dialect:

  • The way something is described can vary greatly
  • Some dialects skip over the middle of words (Split, we’re looking at you!)
  • Syllables can be swallowed or slurred or sped through
  • Some things are called something different depending on the location

[Read: Croatian words that change around the country]

While this may make the Croatian language seem even more intimidating, it can actually be very interesting, and you can learn a lot from another person.

What are the 3 Croatian dialects?

A dialect is a term used for the group of specific linguistic characteristics spoken by residents of a specific geographical area. The Croatian language includes 3 main dialects, and every one of them includes more specific local dialects. The main Croatian dialects are named after the interrogatory pronoun for what.

The 3 Croatian dialects are:

  • Štokavsko narječje, štokavski or štokavština (Shtokavian, Stokavian or Štokavian dialect)
  • Kajkavsko narječje, kajkavština or kajkavski (Kajkavian dialect)
  • Čakavsko narječje, čakavica or čakavština (Chakavian or Čakavian dialect)

Štokavian dialect – basis for standard Croatian language

The Shtokavian dialect is used as the basis for the Croatian standard language. It is called after the interrogatory pronoun što, which is also often used in the form šta.

Shtokavian is used in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a southern part of Austrian Burgenland. In Croatia, it is mostly used in Slavonija, Lika, Kordun, parts of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, Konavle, Srijem, and Ilok.

Shtokavian dialect is the most used Croatian dialect, and approximately 55% of Croatians use the Shtokavian dialect. During the Ottoman conquests in the 15th century, the usage of Stokavian expanded significantly. It became an official Croatian dialect in Croatian literature in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

The Shtokavian dialect is further divided as follows:

  • Old-Štokavian
    • Prizrensko-timočki (Timok-Prizren or Torlakian)
    • Sjeverni ili slavonski (Slavonian)
    • Istočni ili istočnobosanski (East Bosnian)
    • Zetsko-sandžački (Zeta–Raška)
    • Kosovsko-resavski (Kosovo–Resava)
  • Neo-Štokavian
    • Zapadnohercegovačko-dalmatinsko (zagorsko)-bosanski (Bosnian–Dalmatian)
    • Novoštokavski ikavski (Dubrovnik)
    • Vojvođanski or novoštokavski ekavski (Šumadija–Vojvodina )
    • Južni or novoštokavski jekavski (Eastern Herzegovinian)

Shtokavian dialect’s main characteristics are:

  • Interrogative pronoun što or šta
  • Letter H is often lost (hajde → ajde)
  • Emphasis is shifted from the back syllable
  • Inserting the -ev and -ov ends in declination of short masculine gender nouns:
    • Putovi (roads)
    • Krajevi (ends)
    • Sirevi (cheeses)
  • Some grammatical cases are the same in plural

The first Croatian version of the Bible and the first Croatian grammar were written in Shtokavian.

Kajkavian dialect – similar to the Slovenian language

Kajkavian dialect is named after the interrogatory pronoun kaj (kej, kuoj) meaning what. It is mostly used in Central Croatia, including Krapina-Zagorje county, Zagreb county, Varaždin county, Bjelovar-Križevci county, Međimurje, Gorski kotar, and Nothern Istria.

Outside of Croatia, it is used in the Austrian Burgenland, as well as in parts of Slovakia and Hungary.

A fun fact is that the Kajkavian dialect is more similar to the Slovene language than to the standard Croatian language and also isn’t similar to the other 2 Croatian dialects. Therefore, there are some opinions that it should stand as an independent language.

Kajkavian dialect was more widespread before the Ottoman conquests when the population started to move to the northwest of Croatia. Approximately 35% of Croatians use the Kajkavian dialect.

Kajkavian dialect’s main characteristics are:

  • Vocative case is never properly used
  • Zero continuation in the plural genitive of feminine or neuter gender (ptica → ptic)
  • Continuation -of in masculine gender is added (muž → mužof)
  • Letter -l at the end of the verb is added (pjevao → pjeval, čuo → čul, rekao → rekel)
  • Very often there’s no distinction between -č and -ć (noć → noč, sreća → sreča)

The Kajkavian dialect can be divided into several subdialects:

  • Plješivičkoprigorski
  • Samoborski
  • Gornjosutlanski
  • Bednjansko-zagorski
  • Varaždinsko-ludbreški
  • Međimurski
  • Podravski
  • Sjevernomoslavački
  • Glogovničko-bilogorski
  • Gornjolonjski
  • Donjolonjski
  • Turopoljski
  • Vukomeričko-pokupski
  • Donjosutlanski
  • Goranski
Croatian dialect differences across the country
Image by Srednja

Čakavian dialect – the least-used Croatian dialect

Chakavian dialect is called after the interrogatory pronoun ča, the third way to say what in Croatia. It is the least-used Croatian dialect, and only 12% of Croatians use it. Chakavian is mostly in use near the Adriatic coast – from Istra to Pelješac, between Zadar and Vodice, in Senj, Istria, Gorski kotar, and on Croatian islands.

Outside Croatia, it is used in Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and Montenegro. Sometimes ca instead of -ča is used.

The chakavian dialect hasn’t changed a lot over the years, so it is often considered to be an archaic dialect.

The chakavian dialect’s main characteristics are:

  • Old accent (pre-Slavic)
  • Pronoun -ča
  • Pronoun -zač
  • An absence of letter -dž
  • Specific chakavian pronunciation of letter -t’

Chakavian dialect can be divided to several subdialects:

  • Buzetski or gornomiranski (Buzet dialect)
  • Jugozapadni istarski or štakavski čakavski (Southwestern Istrian)
  • Sjevernočakavski or ekavski čakavski (Northern Chakavian)
  • Srednjočakavski or ikavsko-ekavski čakavski (Middle Chakavian)
  • Južnočakavski or ikavski čakavski (Southern Chakavian)
  • Lastovski or jekavski čakavski (Southeastern Chakavian)

Croatian dialects in use

to leavenapustitiostavitiprejtibandunat
small bagtorbicacekertaškicaboršeta
to kisspoljubitipoljubitikušnutibušat
to talkrazgovaratirazgovaratispominatićakulat
to singpjevatipivatipopievatikantat
to throwbacitibacitihitatirashićevat
to remembersjetiti sesjetiti sezmisliti sespamećevat

View our other language posts

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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