Croatian and Russian: are they similar languages?

Let's translate the sentence “I am learning to speak a new language”, into Croatian and then into Russian.

The first thing we notice is that Croatian and Russian don't use the same writing system: Croatian uses a Latin alphabet, while Russian uses a Cyrillic alphabet.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Cyrillic alphabet, we provides the phonetic transcription of the Russian phrase below (in blue).

With this phonetic transcription it becomes apparent just how similar the vocabulary words are between the Croatian phrase and the Russian one:

English Russian Croatian
to learn учиться (uchit'sya) učiti
to speak говорить (govorit') govoriti
new новый (novyy) novi
language язык (yazyk) jezik

Some of the words in the table have different endings than compared to their form in the sentences. This comes from the conjugation of verbs and also because Croatian and Russian are both languages in word endings change to indicate the grammatical function. We'll go into these grammatical cases in more detail later.

Vocabulary similarities between Croatian and Russian

There are many similar vocabulary words between Croatian and Russian. Here is a table with some more examples of them:

English Russian Croatian
love любовь (lyubov') ljubav
language язык (yazyk) jezik
freedom свобода (svoboda) sloboda
peace мир (mir) mir
rich богатый (bogatyy) bogati
green зеленый (zelenyy) zelena
father отец (otets) otac
evening вечер (vecher) večer
hand рука (ruka) ruka
cheese сыр (syr) sir
book книга (kniga) knjiga
fish рыба (ryba) riba
dangerous опасный (opasnyy) opasno
silence тишина (tishina) tišina
water вода (voda) voda
sea море (more) more
force сила (sila) sila
bird птица (ptitsa) ptica
gold золото (zoloto) zlato
tall высокий (vysokiy) visok

The reason why there are so many similar words between Croatian and Russian is that both these languages are Slavic languages.

diagram showing the relationship between Croatian and Russian within the Slavic family of languages

Croatian is a South Slavic language while Russian is an East Slavic language. According to linguists, all Slavic languages originate from a common ancestor language which is referred to as the proto-Slavic language.

Croatian and Russian are languages which don't have articles

The most common words in English are articles (“the”, “a”, “a”). This is not the case in Croatian and Russian, simply because neither of these languages has articles.

The absence of articles is fairly common among Slavic languages. One notable exception is Bulgarian which does have articles.

Slavic languages like Croatian and Russian are not the only languages in which articles don’t exist. Many other Indo-European languages don't have articles, this is the case with Latin and Sanskrit.

The Russian vs. the Croatian alphabet

The Croatian alphabet is called "Gaj's Latin alphabet", named after Ljudevit Gaj, who was a 19th century Croatian linguist.

the Croatian alphabet

The Croatian alphabet has 8 letters which are not found in the English alphabet:

While the Croatian alphabet is based on the Latin script, the Russian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic script.

the Russian alphabet

The Russian alphabet has 3 more letters than the Croatian alphabet (33 vs 30). The Russian alphabet also differs more significantly from the English alphabet than the Croatian alphabet does.

Croatian vs Russian grammar

Croatian and Russian both have many grammatical cases

One the things which make languages like Russian and Croatian difficult for language learners are grammatical cases.

This is particularly the case for language learners coming from a language such as English where grammatical cases don't play a big role.

In English, the relationship between words in a sentence (their grammatical function) is mostly indicated through the use of prepositions (such as “to”, “from”, “in”, “at”, etc ..) as well as through word order.

There are many languages which indicate grammatical function through inflections ( this typically means changing the ending of words to indicate the grammatical relationships they have between each other in a sentence)

Croatian and Russian are both languages which use inflections to indicate a fairly large number for grammatical cases.

Russian has 6 grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental, and prepositional ) while Croatian has 7 (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, vocative, locative, instrumental).

Grammatical gender in Croatian and Russian

Croatian and Russian are both languages which have three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter). This means that every noun is either masculine, feminine or neuter.

Knowing the gender of a particular noun is necessary in order to determine the suffix which it gets when it is declined to a particular grammatical case.

There are certain patterns relating the ending of a noun with its gender. Although these patterns are helpful, there are also exceptions which must be memorized.

Conclusion

At first glance, a text written in Croatian looks quite different from a text written in Russian - because the two languages use different scripts (the Latin script for Croatian and the Cyrillic script for Russian)

But as they are both Slavic languages, Croatian and Russian share a number of similarities both in vocabulary as well as in grammar.

However as a South Slavic language, Croatian is closer to other South Slavic languages such as Serbian, than it is to Russian.

Similarly, Russian as an East Slavic Language is closer to other East Slavic languages such as Ukrainian and Belarusian, than it is to Croatian.

PS: you can use our free language tool, VocabChat to record your own vocabulary and phrase lists.