If you’re interested in learning Serbian, you may already know how to use common Serbian greetings. One step further is learning to thank others for their compliments, services, and help. In Serbian for most of these we default to hvala, the equivalent of English “thank you” or “thanks”.
But repetition gets dull and general expressions lack specificity and precision. This is why in order to sound more eloquent, you need to step up your game and move beyond the safe space of “hvala”. After all, if you spend some time in Serbia, you will soon notice that native speakers acknowledge one’s help or favors with a range of expressions.
To help you sound appropriate in every situation, I will teach you multiple ways to say thank you in Serbian along with practical tips for language usage. Let’s get cracking!
Why it’s important to say “thank you” in Serbian
Good manners are hammered into us from the moment we are born. Parents generally spend a lot of time and effort teaching us the importance of social niceties and etiquette. I hardly think you need a lesson on manners.
But when crossing cultural borders, matters become more complex. Perhaps you’ll only stay shortly in Serbia or you know just that one person who speaks Serbian. Even then, learning a few simple expressions is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of another culture. Especially when it comes to sincere gratitude. For instance, I have an Italian friend and whenever she wants to show her full appreciation for something I did, she thanks me with “hvala”.
Similarly, when you’re in Serbia, you’ll be able to get by with English in most, if not all situations. But this does not compare to an honest attempt to say a few words in Serbian. Trust me, regardless of your pronunciation, the locals will be delighted at such a sign of goodwill. A little effort goes a long way and people are more likely to warm to you if you show some willingness to pick up basic phrases in their mother tongue.
So go ahead and practice the expressions down below. I guarantee you that once you learn them, you will be able to impress your Serbian hosts, business partners and more.
Formal vs. Informal
In Serbian, there is the infamous difference between formal and informal “you”. As in French, Italian and many other languages, we distinguish between two ways of addressing another person depending on the relationship of the interlocutors.
Ti is used for informal contact with a peer, friend, family member or partner. Vi denotes formality and respect. Children and adults generally use ti when talking to their peers and Vi for anyone older, unless they are family or friends. Most adults prefer Vi with strangers or in formal situations, such as a checkup at the dentist. However, if this isn’t the first time at the dentist’s and you have friendly relations, you are likely to switch to the “informal you”.
This is important with expressions of gratitude because some phrases outwardly reveal your relationship with the other person. Examples will follow. Others, like “hvala” are neutral and used in both kinds of situations. A word to the wise: if unsure, go for a neutral or formal expression. It is better to be overly formal, than sound disrespectful. Both can cause offense, but most native speakers will shrug off those mistakes especially when you’re a beginner learner.
Let’s finally teach you how to sweep native speakers off their feet! Depending on the impression you want to make and how thankful you feel, here are different words of gratitude you can use:
“Thank you” or “Thanks” in Serbian – Hvala
This is your go-to phrase for expressing gratitude in all situations. Useful for both formal and informal contacts, hvala is a nod to someone’s politeness, helpfulness and kindness. Use it in the supermarket, with colleagues or close ones. Bear in mind though, hvala is quite general, and so the following phrases add a bit more color and context to your gratitude.
“Thank you” in Serbian (informal) – Hvala ti
When we use a pronoun with hvala, we emphasize that we are thankful to that particular person. The expression of gratitude suddenly sounds more meaningful. Remember – this is an informal thanks to use with friends, colleagues and family.
“Thank you” in Serbian (formal) – Hvala Vam
To step up a notch with your gratitude and show respect for the person at the receiving end, go for Hvala Vam.
“Thanks for everything” in Serbian – Hvala za sve
When you want to say thank you for multiple things in Serbian, you can compress all that into hvala za sve. It will let the recipient of your gratitude know that you appreciated everything they helped you with.
“Thanks a lot” in Serbian – Hvala puno
Unlike the English equivalent, the Serbian counterpart is hardly ever ironically meant. It simply demonstrates a higher degree of gratitude towards the other person.
“Thank you very much“ in Serbian – Mnogo hvala, Hvala lepo or Najlepše hvala
Mnogo hvala conveys the same meaning as hvala puno, but sounds a tad more formal. Best to avoid it with friends or close ones, otherwise you might come off as priggish.
The expression hvala lepo literally means to thank somebody nicely. Its English translation sounds odd, but its usage is common in everyday situations in Serbian. In Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina, the regional equivalent is hvala lijepo.
One step up from hvala lepo is najlepše hvala. Najlepše is in fact the superlative form of lepo – which means beautiful. So literally this would be the most beautiful thank you imaginable. In fact, it means you feel very much obliged to someone. The regional variant in ijekavian dialect (jekavica) is najljepše hvala.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart“ in Serbian – Hvala od srca
To go all out when you’re feeling truly indebted to somebody, you can say hvala od srca. But mind you, use it sparingly; otherwise, it loses its punch.
“I am infinitely grateful“ in Serbian – Beskrajno sam zahvalan/zahvalna
This is a good phrase to show that your gratitude knows no limits. If you are female, use zahvalna, else zahvalan. Both mean “grateful“, but the form depends on the speaker’s gender.
“Thank you in advance“ in Serbian – Hvala unapred
In emails, we often thank the other party in advance. In Serbian you can use hvala unapred for this purpose. The regional variant in ijekavian dialect is hvala unaprijed.
“Thank you” in Serbian (formal) – Zahvaljujem
In a workplace setting or another formal occasion, you might hear zahvaljujem. For instance, when a colleague provides you with the information you were waiting for. But the phrase sounds quite formal and distant, so I would mostly avoid it, unless that is the intended tone.
Additional tips for saying thanks in Serbian
If you’ve memorized all these expressions, you should be able to distinguish between formal and informal expressions, and vary the degree of warmness in your words. For instance, you know that hvala od srca is used only for special emphasis. But to sound even more native-like, here are two additional tips.
Be specific with your thanks
For most personal expressions of gratitude, we always specify what it is that we are thankful for. If your language skills are at a higher level, you should always try to be as precise as possible. To achieve such precision in Serbian, here are some expressions that cover some frequent reasons for showing appreciation:
“Thanks for your help” – Hvala za pomoć
“Thank you for your attention” – Hvala za pažnju
“Thanks for your support” – Hvala za podršku
“Thanks for the gift” – Hvala za poklon
Direct your gratitude at a particular person
In Serbian, we often single out the person we want to thank. Especially in informal situations. Specifying the recipient of our gratitude means making the exchange more personal. For instance, hvala is often followed by the person’s name or a noun that specifies their relationship to us.
E.g. Hvala, Marija! (If the person is called Marija)
Hvala, komšija! (Thanks, neighbor)
Hvala, druže! (Thanks, buddy)
Ways to respond to a Serbian “thank you”
Because conversation shouldn’t be a one-way street, you should know how to respond when somebody thanks you either in person or in writing. Here, too, we have several options for “you’re welcome” in Serbian.
Nema na čemu or Molim – “You’re welcome”
The most frequent response to “thanks” in Serbian is nema na čemu. This literally means there is nothing to thank for, and is a humble and polite way to acknowledge someone’s gratitude.
Molim is another frequent response to thank you, but with a certain degree of formality. For example, if you go to pick up your personal documents at the official public authority, your “hvala” may be met with the official’s “molim”. However, you will hear it in informal situations too, because it largely depends on personal preference.
Hvala tebi / Hvala vama – “Thank you“
When you want to respond to a thanks by thanking that person in return, in English we place emphasis on “you”. Thank you. In Serbian, if somebody tells you “hvala” or “hvala ti” to express gratitude, in return you say hvala tebi. The formal equivalent is hvala vama. For example, when you’re getting your change from the cashier, you are likely to thank them. The cashier will in turn say thank you – hvala vama.
I hope you found these expressions and tips helpful and that you’ll soon put them to good use. If there’s an expression you particularly like and I missed to note, let me know in the comments below. Happy learning!