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Hvala – a look at the first Croatian word you should learn

Hvala - a look at the first Croatian word you should learn

(Photo credit: M. Vrdoljak/Zagreb Tourist Board)

by Tea Blazevic

Hvala is the first in line of four magical words – hvala (thank you), molim (please), izvoli (here you are), oprosti (sorry) –  that are taught to Croatian children at a very young age, and are considered to be pillars of good manners. 

Following the significance of the old proverb Lijepa riječ sva vrata otvara (A nice word opens all the doors), we took a quick dive into the magical universe of this word.

The word hvala is used universally throughout Croatia, and it is used both in continental and coastal Croatia with variants such as fala (much more simple for foreigners to pronounce than hvala).

Sometimes, younger generations of Croats love to spice up their gratitude slang thesaurus by using the English words thanks and thank you, which is commonly written as tenks or tenkjuor abbreviated in writing as tks, thks, tx, etc. Very rarely, but also used in slang, are the French merci, German Danke, Italian grazie, or, the least common, but also used, Spanish gracias.

But how often do we say thank you and really mean it. According to a study published in in the journal Royal Society Open Science – Universals and Cultural Diversity in the Expression of Gratitude – though people almost always obeyed requests for assistance, services or an object, they were, at most, thanked or given expressions of appreciation only 1 out of 7 times.

Even when gratitude is expressed, there is a difference between an ordinary thank you (hvala), that sometimes people express sort of mechanically out of courtesy and good manners, and words that tend to highlight the level of appreciation.

In Croatian, that would be hvala od srca (thank you from the bottom of the heart), puno hvala (thanks a lot) or najljepša hvala (most thankful), hvala ti kao bratu (thanks as a brother), hvala ti do neba (thank you to the moon and back).

Hvala lijepa (also hvala lipa in Dalmatia and fala lepa in Zagorje) is just an extended way to say thank you. One of the most common mistakes that even Croatian native speakers make on a daily basis is confusing the gender of the word, and therefore wrongly saying hvala lijepo, instead of hvala lijepa, which is correct, because the noun hvala is of feminine gender.

Hvala - a dive into the first Croatian word you should learn


In some situations, it is quite important to pay attention to the context, because the word hvala can be used both in accepting or refusing something.

For example, if you are offering someone a sweet and the person takes it, they might thank you with words hvala or hvala lijepa, but, if those words are accompanied with a sort of head nod or a hand movement, that signals a negative response, and the person is actually refusing a candy in a polite manner.

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