43 And, Or, But: Basic Conjunctions


Croatian has basically two conjunctions that correspond to English and:

i¨ a¨

The conjunction i¨ is used when you want to join two words or two parts of sentences:

Ivan i Ana rade. Ivan and Ana are working. (nouns)

Ana je žedna i gladna. Ivan is thirsty and hungry. (two adjectives)

Sobe su u prizemlju i na katu. The rooms are on the ground floor and on the first floor. (two locations)

It’s possible to join two normal-type sentences (that is, two verbs) that have the same subject:

Ana jedejesti i pijepiti. Ana is eating and drinking.

[Pijempiti čaj] i [čitam knjigu]. I’m drinking tea and reading a book.

Here we actually join two clauses; a clause is kind of sentence-within-a-sentence (I have put square brackets around each of them in the last sentence).

It’s also possible to join two subjective-experience-type sentences, if they have the same experiencer (in DL):

Hladno mi1 DL je i dosadno. I’m cold and bored.

However, if you want to join two sentences that have different subjects (and usually verbs too), you have to use the conjunction a¨:

Ana čita knjigu, a Goran spava. Ana is reading a book, and Goran is sleeping.

When an a¨ is used, a comma always separates two clauses.

Now there’s a very interesting rule. If you have different subjects – and consequently use a¨ – the subjects must be emphasized. That is, you have to use them:

Ana čita knjigu, a ja spavam. Ana is reading a book, and I’m sleeping.

You cannot use the previous sentence with just a spavam!

The same works for experiencers: they must be emphasized, that is, stressed forms of pronouns must be used:

Ana se zabavlja, a meni je dosadno. Ana is having fun, and I’m bored.

Again, you cannot use the previous sentence with just a dosadno mi je! Also, such emphasized subjects are usually the in the leftmost position.

The conjunction a¨ is also used if there’s some opposition between two clauses, e.g.

Zabavljam se, a trebao bih učiti. I’m having fun, and I should study.

In such a case, when the subjects are the same in both clauses – as above – they are not emphasized.

As other words marked with ¨, words i¨ and a¨ don’t count – second position words cannot be placed after them:

Ana je čitala knjigu, a ja sam² spavao. Ana was reading a book, and I was sleeping.

Gledam film i dosadno mi1 DL² je². I’m watching a movie, and I’m bored.

An exception to the “rule of different subjects” is when the second clause is a consequence of the first, then the emphasis of the subject of first clause is not needed, and i¨ is used:

Pokucao sam i ona je otvorila vrata. I knocked and she opened the door.

Another example of this exception are weather phenomena: if everything is as expected, use i¨, while a¨ is reserved for unusual and unexpected things, i.e. not consequences:

Zima je i pada snijeg. It’s winter and it’s snowing.

Ljeto je, a hladno je. It’s summer, and/but it’s cold.

The next conjunction – ili – is very similar to English or:

To je patka ili guska. That’s a duck or a goose.

Unlike i¨ or a¨, ili is a word that counts, and all second-position words come right after it.

When you have two subjects or objects (not necessarily in A) which you would link with and in a negative sentence, you can use ni¨ instead of i¨ to either emphasize negation, or when there’s no real connection between these two things:

Nemamo ulja ni octa. We have no oil and no vinegar.

This is always optional.

The conjunction ali usually corresponds to English but:

se tuširati, ali nema tople vode.
I want to have a shower, but there’s no hot water.

Again, when an ali is used, a comma always separates two clauses. The major difference in comparison to a¨ is that ali is a word that counts, and all second-position words come right after it.

However, but is not always ali: there’s an interesting conjunction nego, which kind of completely corrects what was said, but what was said must be negative. For example:

Nismo išliići
u kino, nego u restoran.
We didn’t go to the cinema, but to a restaurant.

This construction is more common in writing, a bit less in speech. The important thing is that Croatian ali cannot be used in this construction. The same difference exists in German and Spanish, which has been always a bit of a problem for native English speakers:

English       but
Croatian ali nego
German aber sondern
Spanish pero sino

While ali connects two clauses, with nego you don’t have to repeat anything from the part before it, just state the ‘correction’ (of course, you can repeat the verb if you want to).

However, there are cases when you can and must use ali (and Spanish pero) – when you don’t completely correct what is said, but talk about an exception:

Ne volim serije, ali mi1 DL se sviđa Westworld. I don’t like (TV) series, but I like the Westworld.

(Note how Croatian uses different verbs here; you could use voljeti (...) in both parts too.)

Another example is a complete correction vs something just unexpected or uncommon:

Janet nije iz Hrvatske, nego iz Kanade. Janet isn’t from Croatia, but from Canada.

Janet nije iz Hrvatske, ali zna hrvatski. Janet isn’t from Croatia, but she ‘knows’ Croatian. (i.e. speaks)

If you’re unsure about ali vs nego, there’s a simple test: if you can rephrase the sentence with instead (e.g. we went to a restaurant instead) or with rather, you should use nego instead of ali.

There’s a simple way to emphasize that all subjects/actions/objects/places/whatever are involved, like in English both... and.... In Croatian, simply an i¨ is placed before each emphasized item:

I Ivan i Ana rade. Both Ivan and Ana are working.

Sobe su i u prizemlju i na katu. The rooms are both on the ground floor and on the first floor.

However, if you want to make an emphasis in a sentence where the verb is negated, you should use negative conjunctions ni¨ instead, but the verb is still negated:

Ni Ivan ni Ana ne rade. Neither Ivan nor Ana are working.

Sobe nisu ni u prizemlju ni na katu. The rooms are neither on the ground floor nor on the first floor.

As you can see, this corresponds to English neither... nor..., but the major difference is that the verb is negated in Croatian sentences.

To emphasize that only one option is possible, you can use ili... ili..., corresponding to English either... or:

To je ili patka ili guska. That’s either a duck or a goose.

The following conjunctions are used for time sequences, where one thing happens after another, usually when the subject is the same, or there’s no subject:

te (bookish)
    and (time sequence)

Both can be replaced with i¨ when linking two parts of a sentence. For example:

Bila sam gladna pa sam kupila sendvič. I was hungry, and/so I bought a sandwich.

Both conjunctions count, i.e. second position words come right after them.

The word pa is also used in conversation, to emphasize that something is almost obvious, that something need not to be said at all:

Žedan sam. I’m thirsty.

Pa popij malo vode! Well, drink some water!

It can be also used on its own, as a small (impatient) rhetorical question:

Pa? Well? / So? / So what?

In this use, pa corresponds to English well, but it’s not used as a “filler word” when you try to fill a gap in your speech (... well, .... ). As fillers, words znači and dakle are common.

The word te is a fancy conjunction that’s virtually never used in speech.

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↓ Exercise (click to show)

5 Easy Croatian: 43 And, Or, But: Basic Conjunctions N A  DL  G 24 I Croatian has basically two conjunctions that correspond to English and : i ¨ a ¨ The conjunction i ¨ is us...

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