50 Because, In Order To, Why: Reasons

Nothing so far was really exciting. The most complicated thing you could say was something like I wrote two long letters to your brothers. All such sentences were simple (maybe it was not so simple to create them, but they are nevertheless called simple).

Now, the exciting things: how to express things or events that caused something?

The simplest way to indicate cause of something is by using the preposition zbog. It’s used when cause is a thing, or an event expressed by a noun. Words after it should be in the genitive case. It corresponds to English because of and due to:

Trava je mokra zbog kiše.  ▶  The grass is wet because of the rain.

(It’s not hard to remember, since the English of often corresponds to the Croatian genitive case.)

If something was not caused by a thing, but a whole event, normally expressed by a sentence, there’s a small difference. (There’s a difference in English too, where you have to use because, and not because of.) In such cases, the main way is to use the conjunction jer:

Trava je mokra jer je padala kiša.  ▶  The grass is wet because it rained.

The word jer and words after it are a kind of sentence-within-a-sentence. There will be a verb inside, a subject, possibly an object and who knows what. Such sub-sentences are usually called clauses (more precisely, this kind is called reason clause). I will often emphasize clauses by enclosing them in square brackets [...].

(I called jer a conjunction, and zbog a preposition due to tradition – you will find such classification in other grammar books. However, it’s often hard to tell if a word is a preposition, a conjunction or something else. What is important for you is how to use a word and not how it is classified.)

The word order in clauses is the same as in any other sentence; the word jer holds the first position, so all the second-position words must come right after it. Therefore, there are two "second positions" in one sentence, both filled in our example by the word je²:

Trava¹ je² mokra [jer¹ je² padala kiša].

A reason clause can be in any tense, for example in the present tense, or in the future tense, if you predict that something will happen:

Trava je mokra jer pada kiša. The grass is wet because it's raining.

Uzeo sam kišobran jer će padati kiša. I took an umbrella because it's going to rain.

Another, less often used way is to use zato što instead of jer; everything else is the same:

Trava je mokra zato što je² padala kiša. (the same meaning)

There’s one more way, using zbog toga što. (Colloquially, you will also hear and sometimes read zato jer in such sentences.)

All such sentences express reasons that caused something: it rained and it made the grass wet. However, it’s possible that somebody is doing something because he or she wants something to happen later (or, not to happen). In English, such sentences look like these:

1 I took an umbrella [so (that) I don’t get wet].

2 I need ten kunas [to buy a sandwich].

3 I’m learning Croatian [so (that) I can talk to Ana].

4 I’ll buy you a new phone [so (that) you can call me].

The sentences above contain clauses in square brackets known as purpose clauses. English here uses a variety of conjunctions (to, in order to, so that, so). Croatian is way simpler – it just uses one word: da. These four sentences translate as:

1 Uzeo sam kišobran da se ne smočim.

2 Trebam deset kuna da kupim sendvič.  ▶ 

3 Učim hrvatski da mogu razgovarati s Anom.

4 Kupit ću ti novi telefon da me možeš zvati.

Now, there’s a special rule: verbs after da should be in the present tense only. Perfective verbs are often used (e.g. in sentences #1 and #2). The verb smočiti is a perfective verb that can be used with an object (in A) meaning make wet, but with se² it means get wet. (There are many verbs like that.)

As with jer and zato što, any fixed-position words come right after da, e.g. check the sentence #4:

Kupit¹ ću² ti² novi telefon [da¹ me² možeš zvati].

There’s another special rule: instead of the verb biti (je² +), the potential verb (bude) must be used in purpose clauses:

Trebaš kaput [da ti ne bude hladno]. You need a coat so that you don’t get cold.

In such sentences, the potential verb (bude) is often translated as English get or become. To see that the verb was replaced, compare the sentence above to the desired outcome; obviously, nije was replaced by ne bude:

Nije ti hladno. You are not cold.

Sometimes, you’ll hear and read the conditional instead of the present tense in purpose clauses. Keep in mind that in such clauses, both present and conditional imply future, possible events and states.

The conjunction da has other roles as well, it’s one of the most used words in Croatian.

There’s an interesting phrase za slučaj da, followed by a reason, expressed usually in the present tense (perfective verbs allowed), indicating precaution, as English just in case:

Uzet ću kišobran, za slučaj da pada kiša.  ▶  I’ll take an umbrella, just in case it rains.

If you want to express general precaution, like English just in case followed by nothing specific (or like to be on the safe side), use za svaki slučaj:

Zatvorit ću prozor, za svaki slučaj. I’ll close the window, just in case.

While reason and purpose clauses cannot be rearranged, and usually aren’t separated by a comma, the precautions can be placed before the main sentence, and usually are separated by a comma:

Za svaki slučaj, zatvorit ću prozor. (the same meaning)

Next, you can use just zato to refer to something said before as a reason; it’s common to start a sentence with that word:

Padat će kiša. It will rain.

Zato trebam kišobran. That’s why I need an umbrella.

There’s one more way to express purpose, and it’s used only with verbs of motion. When you go somewhere to "get", "take" or "pick up" somebody or something, the common way to express it is simply by po¨ + A:

Vraćam se po novčanik. I’m going back to get my wallet.

Let’s summarize ways of expressing reasons in Croatian:

Expressing reasons in Croatian
because of... zbog + thing in G
because... jer
zato što
+ clause in any tense
(in order) to...
so (that)...
da + clause in pres. tense
biti (je² +) → (bude)
just in case... za slučaj da + clause
just in case za svaki slučaj
(motion) to get... po¨ + thing in A

(In the Standard Croatian, there’s another conjunction: radi. It’s similar to zbog, but it expresses a purpose instead of cause. Very few people maintain such distinction and both are used interchangeably in the real life, meaning just a cause.)

If you want to ask why something happened (or something is done) start a question with the word zašto why ®. As with other question-words, no rearrangement of the rest is needed:

Zašto je trava mokra?  ▶  Why is the grass wet?

— Zbog kiše. Because of the rain.

— Jer je padala kiša. Because it has rained.

— Jer pada kiša. Because it’s raining.

— Pada kiša. It’s raining.

You usually answer just with the cause, preceded by the right conjunction, as above (conjunctions can be even left out). The same goes for purpose clauses and precautions, but da cannot be left out in any case:

Zašto trebaš deset kuna? Why do you need ten kunas?

— Da kupim sendvič. To buy a sandwich.

Zašto si zatvorio prozor? Why did you close the window?

— Za svaki slučaj. Just in case.

With po¨ + A:

Zašto se vraćaš? Why are you going back?

— Po kišobran. To get my umbrella.

There are two more conjunctions that indicate cause. Both are used mostly in writing; reason clauses using them are normally placed at the beginning:

budući da  

The conjunction pošto is discouraged (in this role) in formal Croatian. Both conjunctions are seldom used in answers.

® In Bosnia and Serbia, you will often hear just što instead of zašto.

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5 Easy Croatian: 50 Because, In Order To, Why: Reasons Nothing so far was really exciting. The most complicated thing you could say was something like I wrote two long letters to your brothers . ...

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