Serbian Language

Learn Serbian Formal and Informal Speech

Learn Serbian using Formal and Informal Speech

Learn Serbian Formal and Informal Speech. Unlike English, Serbian language has two forms of speaking Informal and Formal. In the English language, we use words like “Sir” or “Ma’am” to indicate reverence, respect, and formality. Serbian is different, there is a little more to it. But don’t worry, you can learn it. It just requires changing your mindset.

Politeness is built into the grammatical structure of the Serbian language. Politeness in English is conveyed through the addition of words (i.e. “Sir”). While this may seem like a quantum leap, it’s actually logical and systematic. Come to think of it, Serbian is a very logical and systematic language. Don’t believe what the naysayers tell you about how hard it is. They just don’t know the system. You need to know the system, and trust me…you can learn it.

When to use formal speech

You will use formal speech in Serbian to speak to elders, professionals (i.e. teachers, doctors, lawyers etc.), and strangers or people you don’t know that well. You wouldn’t need to use formal speech to speak to a twelve-year old. 🙂

Video: Speaking in Serbian – Formal and Informal Speech (Part 1)

Informal Speech in Serbian

Informal Serbian uses the “Ti” form, which you learned in the pronouns listed above. It’s a familiar form. You can use it when speaking with someone you know, or with someone who has asked you to speak in “ti”. Serbs will do this. Many times I have spoken with someone in “Vi” and they have asked me to speak to them in “Ti” and that’s a way of closing the relational distance and establishing that “we’re cool” and can speak informally.

However, even if you have met an elder many times it is ALWAYS polite to use the “Vi” form. Using the “Vi” form shows that you, as a person, have 3 things:

  1. Class

  2. Respect

  3. Cultural Awareness

I would never speak with my father-in-law in “Ti” form (which is the familiar form). Though we are very familiar, I speak to him in “Vi” form because I want him to know how much I respect him. After all, he raised my wife. Speaking to him in “Ti” form would be the equivalent of me saying to him, “What’s up homie?”, which is wildly inappropriate. So in short, just know that the “Ti” form is familiar in Serbian and the “Vi” form is polite.

Video: Speaking in Serbian – Formal and Informal Speech (Part 2)

So what is formal speech in Serbian?

Formal speech means using a form known as the “Vi” form. This form is the same form that is used when speaking to more than one person (i.e. 2nd person plural) but it does not carry the same meaning. When you use the “Vi” form to speak to an individual it simply carries the meaning of respect, not the meaning of speaking to that person as if they were more than one person.

To help you, let’s have a look at personal pronouns:

  • Ja – means “I” or “me”
  • Ti – means “you” (informal…we will get to this later)
  • On – means “he”
  • Ona – means “she”
  • Ono – means “it” (i.e. Serbian has 3 genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter)
  • Mi – means “we” or “us”
  • Vi – means “you” (polite) or “you” plural (i.e. when speaking to more than one person
  • Oni – means “they” (masculine)
  • One – means “they” (feminine)
  • Ona – means “they” (neuter). I know you are probably thinking “this is the same as ‘she’ “. It’s not, and context within a sentence will save you.

In short about “Ti & Vi” form

Now that we have seen all of the pronouns for Serbian we can better understand where the “Vi” form comes from. But that’s not all. The “Vi” form is also a means by which you conjugate verbs. For example, if I wanted to say “Excuse me Sir”, I would say “Izvinite gospodine” or I can just say “Izvinite“. This same sentence in informal Serbian would be “Izvini”. Notice how the “Vi” form carries a “te” ending, as in “izvinite” and the informal expression does not. This is a clue that the “Vi” form is being used. When you start hearing “te” at the end of verbs, (i.e. “jedite”, which is the formal way to say “eat”) you know right away that someone is speaking to you in a more polite and formal way.

Learning Serbian is one of the joys of my life. It’s such a fascinating language. It has the sound of history. In Serbian language you will hear influences from many regional languages, and the colloquial expressions speak to the beauty of Serbian culture.

Do you want to learn more about how all of this works in spoken Serbian?

Do you want to learn how to conjugate verbs across the tenses and in accordance with formal vs informal? If so, then I encourage you to visit Serbian Language Podcast and check out the comprehensive content for learning Serbian grammar – Formal & Informal Speech in Serbian.  All you need to go from beginner to advanced has been assembled for you.

If you finished reading this blog then pat yourself on the back. You have taken an important step in acting on your interest in learning the Serbian language. Get plugged in, study Serbian, and enjoy the journey. Cao!


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