General Information

The Serbian language (Serbian Cyrillic: српски језик, Serbian Latin: srpski jezik) is a South Slavic language, spoken chiefly in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, and in the Serbian diaspora.

Standard Serbian is based on the Shtokavian dialect, like the modern Croatian and Bosnian, with which it is mutually intelligible, and was previously unified with under the standard known as Serbo-Croatian.

It is the official language of Serbia and minority language of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Romania, Republic of Macedonia and Hungary.


Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian languages are mutually intelligible and have been, due to the conjunction of historical circumstancies, all codified on essentially the same dialect. Many people say that they are all one entity otherwise known as Serbo-Croatian. (for example the University of Washington Slavic Studies Department offers a course in the Serb/Bosniak/Croat language) 


The alphabet used to write Serbian is a variation on the Cyrillic alphabet, accepted from Bulgaria, and later it was devised by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. The Serbian Latin alphabet is based on Ljudevit Gaj's reform.

Serbian orthography is very consistent: it is an approximation of the principle “one letter per sound”. This principle is represented by Adelung's saying, “Write as you speak and read as it is written”, the principle used by Vuk Karadžić when reforming the Cyrillic orthography of Serbian in the 19th century.

Standard Serbian language uses both Serbian Cyrillic script (ћирилица) and Serbian Latin script (latinica). Although Serbian language authorities recognize the official status for both scripts in contemporary standard Serbian language, Cyrillic was made the Official script of Serbia's administration by the 2006 Constitution. But the law is not intrusive toward standard language in general, it is not imposed on media, general public, institutions of culture, non-government sector and institutions or individuals, which means that the choice of script is a matter of personal preference all the way, except in government paperwork production and in official written communication with state officials.

Alphabetic order

The sort order of the ćirilica (ћирилица) alphabet:

Cyrillic order (called Azbuka (азбука): А Б В Г Д Ђ Е Ж З И Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Т Ћ У Ф Х Ц Ч Џ Ш

The sort order of the latinica (латиница) alphabet:

Latin order (called Abeceda (абецеда): A B C Č Ć D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž


Vowels The Serbian vowel system is simple, with only five vowels. All vowels are monophthongs. The vowels are as follows:

Latin script Cyrillic script IPA Description English approximation
i и /i/ close front unrounded seek
e е /e/ (open-)mid front unrounded net
a а /a/ open central unrounded Father
o о /o/ open-)mid back rounded caught(UK)
u у /u/ closed back rounded boom


The consonant system is more complicated, and its characteristic features are series of affricate and palatal consonants. Voicing is phonemic, but aspiration is not. The consonant phoneme table for Serbian is as follows (corresponding Latin letters are below the IPA symbols)

Consonant Phonemes of Serbian

Consonant Phonemes of Serbian          
  Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Post Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal M/m/     N /n/   Nj /ɲ/  
Affricate       C/ts/ Ć /ʨ/ Đ/ʥ/    
Fricative   F /f/   S/s/ Z/z/ Š /ʃ/ Ž /ʒ/ Č/tʃ/ Dž/dʒ/   H /x/
Approximant   V /ʋ/       J/j/  
Trill       R /r/      
Lateral       L /l/   Lj /ʎ/  

Phonetic interactions

While the basic sound system is fairly simple, Serbian phonology is very complicated: there are numerous interactions between voices at morpheme boundaries which cause sound changes, with numerous exceptions.



Serbian has an extended system of accentuation. From the phonological point of view it has four accents which are divided into two groups according to their quality:

There are two accents with falling intonation (“old accents”)- the short one and the long one there are two accents with rise in intonation (“new accents”)- the short one and the long one However, their realization varies according to vernacular.

In words with two or more syllables the last syllable cannot be stressed

One-syllable words can have only falling accents

In polysyllabic words, if an inner syllable is stressed, then it can have only a rising accent

In a word with two or more syllables, if the first syllable is stressed, than it can have any of the four accents.



There are seven cases in Serbian: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, instrumental and locative.

The number of cases, in concert with a non-fixed word-order, can make Serbian difficult to learn for speakers of languages without a strong case system.


Serbian verbs are conjugated in 4 past tenses - perfect, aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect, of which the last two have a very limited use (imperfect is still used in some dialects, but majority of native Serbian speakers consider it archaic); 1 future tense (aka 1st future tense - as opposed to the 2nd future tense or the future exact, which is considered a tense of the conditional mood by some contemporary linguists), and 1 present tense. These are the tenses of the indicative mood. Apart from the indicative mood, there is also the imperative mood. The conditional mood has two more tenses, the 1st conditional (commonly used in conditional clauses, both for possible and impossible conditional clauses), and the 2nd conditional (without use in spoken language - it should be used for impossible conditional clauses).

Serbian language has active and passive voice.


The default word order is Subject-Verb-Object. However, since inflection in most cases uniquely determines the role in sentence, Serbian is mostly a free word order language.

In Serbian, the sentence “Anna loves Philip” can therefore variously be expressed thus:

Ana voli Filipa

Ana Filipa voli

Voli Ana Filipa

Voli Filipa Ana

Filipa Ana voli

Filipa voli Ana

The most common form is the first one (SVO); the reordering shifts the focus of presentation, usually towards the first word—thus, the third and fourth sentence stress that Ana really loves Philip (rather than being indifferent), while fifth and sixth stress that it is Philip whom Ana loves (not somebody else). However, similar effects can be achieved by intonation on the word, as in English. Some deviations from the SVO order are considered archaic and/or poetic. 2)

Implications for the SLP

The Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) should take several speech and language characteristics into account when working with Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian speaking clients. The following is a list of areas that need to be considered during assessment, diagnosis, and treatment:

Articulation differences with Serbian/BosnianCroat including:


  • aspiration differences
  • dentalized /t/, /d/
  • no “th” sound
  • trilling of [r]
  • vowels
  • In order to listen to a Serbian accent go to: Speech Accent Archive- Serbian
  • Serbian/Bosnian/Croat grammar differences including:
  • flexibility of word order
  • pronoun and article usage differences
  • stress pattern differences 



References and Resources