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Differences in official languages in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia

Official languages in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro differ in:

Table of contents
1 Writing
2 Speaking
3 Important notes on understanding



Though all could use either, the official language in Croatia and one of official languages in Bosnia that is called Bosnian language use exclusively the Latin alphabet while the official language in Serbia uses both Cyrillic alphabet and Latin alphabet.

This is possible because all official languages have the same set of phonemes. In some regions of Serbia and Bosnia, the sound "h" does not exist but that is not part of the official languages. In some regions of Croatia and Bosnia, the sounds "č" and "ć" and also "dž" and "đ" are either indistinct or said as ć and đ respectively, but again that is not reflected in the official language.


The official language in Croatia transliterates foreign names and often words even in children's books while the official language in Serbia transcribes them whenever possible regardless of alphabet. Officially Bosnian language follows Croatian suit, but many books and newspapers transcribe foreign names.



Accentuation of the official languages is different. However, accentuation is different within Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia themselves, see below for full explanation.


There are three variants of the Štokavian dialect that stem from different reflaction of proto-Slavic vowel jat. The jat appears in modern dialects in the following way: the Church Slavonic word for child, děte, is:

The official language in Serbia and Montenegro recognises ekavian and ijekavian as equal variants while official language in Croatia uses only ijekavian. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (regardless of the official language) and Montenegro ijekavian is used almost exclusively. Ikavian is limited to dialectal use in Dalmatia, Istria, Western Herzegovina and northern Bačka (Vojvodina) and by. So, for example:

wind vetar vjetarvitar
milk mleko mlijekomliko
to want hteti htjetihtiti
arrow strela strijelastrila
small arrowstrelicastrelica

Morphological structure for some words is different between Croatian and Serbian. This follows from different number of vowels inventory in Croatian and Serbian. Apart from 6 vowels present in Serbian (a,e,i,o,u,/r/-r used in monosyllabic words), Croatian has |ie| ("jat diphthong") as a distinct feature leading to various morphological differences. For instance:

Croatian (Ijekavian) - Serbian (Ekavian and Ijekavian)

dolijevati - dolivati (add by pouring)
proljev - proliv (diarrhea)
zaljev - zaliv (gulf, bay)
utjecati - uticati (to influence)

Sometimes this leads to confusion: Serbian poticati (to stem from) is in Croatian "to encourage". Croatian "to stem from" is potjecati, while Serbian for "encourage" is podsticati.

Bosnian language allows both variants, and ambiguities are solved by preferring the Croatian variant, which is a general practice for Serbian-Croatian ambiguities.

As ijekavian is the common dialect of all official languages, it will be used for examples on this page. Other than this, examples of different morphology are:

Englishofficial Serbianofficial Croatian official Bosnian
county opština općina općina
male student student student student
female student studentkinjastudentica studentica
male professor profesor profesor profesor
female professorprofesorka profesorica profesorica
male president predsjednik predsjednik predsjednik
female presidentpredsjednicapredsjednica predsjednica
male Black crnac crnac crnac
female Black crnkinja crnkinja crnkinja

Even some internationalisms are different:

Englishofficial Serbianofficial Croatianofficial Bosnian
to organiseorganizovatiorganizirati organizovati
to realise realizovati realizirati realizirati
to analyse analizirati analizirati analizirati

Notes: term "ostvariti" is preferred over "realizovati/realizirati"; here the word has been used as it is an internationalism. In the Bosnian language, the variant in braces is also allowed, but the other variant is preferred.


All three languages can form verb sub-phrases in two different ways, with use of infinitive, or with use of the helper word "da" (which could be translated to English as "to"; note that "da" also means "yes").

The sentence "I want to do that" could be translated with any of

Or "Will you do that?", which can be translated with both In most of Serbia and Bosnia, the first method is preferred in the vernacular, but in written language, the second method is frequently used to mean "will", while the first is used to mean "want to".

In Croatia, the second method is preferred and the first is frowned upon, but hyper-correctness sometimes produces awkward sentences. It is instead recommended that a different form is used, "Uradit ću to" and "Hoćeš li to uraditi?".


Vocabulary is different to some extent. Examples:

Englishin Serbiain Croatia in Bosnia
one thousandhiljadatisuća hiljada
January 1januarsiječanj januar
ricepirinačriža riža
carrotšargarepamrkva mrkva
ulje ulje
spinachspanaćšpinat špinat
skale (colloq.)
road 2put
passportpasošputovnica pasoš

1) All month names are different.
2) This is an excellent example of foreign influences. "Put" and "cesta" are Slavic, "drum" is Greek and "džada" is Turkish. Moreover, the central difference lies in the fact that Croatian is, unlike Serbian or Bosnian, a
purist language.

Note that there are a few differences that can cause confusion, for example the verb "ličiti" means "to look like" in Serbian and Bosnian, but in Croatian it is "sličiti"; "ličiti" and means "to paint". The word "bilo" means "white" in ikavian, "pulse" in official Croatian and "was" in all official languages, although it's not so confusing when pronounced because of different accentuation.

Also note that in most cases Bosnian officially allows all of the listed variants, but in the name of "language richness" (or lack thereof), ambiguities are resolved by preferring the Croatian variant. Generally, no rule for the vocabulary treatment in Bosnian language can be deduced. Bosnian vocabulary writers based their decisions on usage of certain words in literary works by Bosnian authors.

Important notes on understanding

It is important to notice a few issues:

This is one of the arguments for claiming it is all one and the same language: there are more differences within the official languages themselves then there are between various official languages.

For example, to avoid confusion with month names, they can be referred to as the "first month", "second month" and so on which makes it perfectly understandable for others. In Serbia, month names are international ones so again understandable for anyone who knows e.g. English.