54 When, While, Until, Before, After

How to say we’ll go to the beach when the rain stops? Like this:

Otići ćemo na plažu kad kiša prestane.

This sentence is very similar to the English sentence. We have two parts, linked with the adverb-used-as-conjunction kad(a) when. As in English, it’s the same word that’s used to create questions (when...?).

We can use the verb prestati (prestane) perf. stop, cease (introduced in 52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease), because we refer to an ‘accomplished change’ (and not to some process) at an unknown point in time, in the future: it’s definitely not now, since it’s obviously raining now! It’s the same trick as in English, we use the present tense but it’s really about some future event. The verb otići (...) perf. go, leave is also used since we are going to accomplish that, not just start an activity and who knows if we make the beach...

The word kad(a) starts a time clause. The word order is the same as in other kinds of clauses: check the previous sentence in the past tense (word positions in superscripts):

Otišli¹ smo² na plažu [kad¹ je² kiša prestala]. We went to the beach [when the rain stopped].

Such use of the present tense of perfective verbs in clauses to express future events is widespread in Croatian.

We can use impf. verbs in time clauses too:

Idem tramvajem kad pada kiša. I go by tram when it’s raining.

The sentence above has both verbs in the present tense, meaning it’s universal, it happened and it will happen again. There are no very strict rules how to use tenses in time clauses, but the main uses are summarized in the following table. It also indicates that in some cases we can use only one type of verbs (impf. or perf.). We have to use perf. verbs if we are just waiting for a defined point in time:

past kad past happened in
the past
pres. kad pres. happened and
will happen
pres. kad pres. (perf.)
biti (je² +) → (bude)
future kad pres. (perf.)
(pot.) future (impf.)
biti (je² +) → (bude)
plans for
the future

There’s a special rule for the verb biti (je² +) be in such time clauses – for future events, instead of the ordinary present forms, we should use the alternative (‘potential’) present forms – bude and so on (introduced in 43 Future Tense):

Otišli smo na plažu kad je bilo toplo. We went to the beach when it was warm. (past)

Odlazimo na plažu kad je toplo. We go to the beach when it’s warm. (universal)

Odemo na plažu kad je toplo. We go to the beach when it’s warm. (universal)

Otići ćemo na plažu kad bude toplo. We’ll go to the beach when it gets warm. (future)

Odlazimo na plažu kad bude toplo. (immediate future, the same meaning)

In such use, the verb (bude) is usually translated with get, become. English does not use the future tense in such sentences, but when Croatian time clauses contain an imperfective verb, future should be used, actually the potential future tense (i.e. one that uses bude):

Trebat ću kišobran kad bude padala kiša. I’ll need an umbrella when it’s raining.

Any future actions (employing impf. verbs) in time clauses must use the potential future tense in the Standard Croatian. In the real life, you’ll often see and hear just the common future tense as well.

There are six more conjunctions often used in time clauses (some of which consist of more than one word, but behave as one unit, and some of which have alternative forms):

dok while/until
prije nego što before
nakon što after
čim as soon
kad god / kadgod whenever
otkad(a) / otkako since

There’s not much to say about conjunctions in the right column – use them instead of kad(a) and you’ll have a different meaning but everything said above stays the same. For example:

Radi otkad je došla. She has been working since she arrived.

Croatian uses the present tense for an ongoing action (as usual), and the whole sentence is much shorter, with the exactly same meaning.

The conjunction dok actually means while. When used with impf. verbs, it corresponds to English while. The main action lasts while the action in the clause lasts (which is a period of time, since it has an impf. verb):

Kuham dok su djeca u školi. I cook while children are at school.

Negated perfective verbs indicate that some event (still) didn’t happen; we can do something while it still didn’t happen, i.e. until it happens. And that’s how Croatian expresses ‘until’:

Kuham meso dok ne postane mekano. I cook meat until it gets soft.

The verb postati (postane) perf. become is another verb that can be translated as get. Actually, we could have used (bude) in this sentence, with almost no difference in meaning. The conjunction is not dok ne, the verb in the clause is just negated. Let’s put it to the past tense:

Kuhala sam meso dok nije postalo mekano. I cooked meat until it got soft.

The action (cooking) lasts until the event in the time clause happens (which is an instant, since it’s a perf. verb). Also, we don’t use a subject pronoun in the clauses above, since it’s obvious that the subject is meso meat.

However, negation in this case is not an ordinary one: it’s a kind of limited, almost ‘empty’. It implies that something will be accomplished. Therefore, words like nikad(a) never, ništa nothing and so are normally not used in such clauses. Despite the negated verb, the overall meaning of the clause is not negative. So it’s normal to say:

Pokušavao sam dok nisam našao nešto. I tried until I found something.

This is an apparent exception to the ‘all-negative’ rule. Actually, the sentence implies that the speaker eventually found something, not nothing. So nešto something will be used here.

It’s common to emphasize dok (in this role) as sve dok:

Kuhala sam meso sve dok nije postalo mekano.

You must pay attention when you need prije nego što and nakon što: Croatian cannot simply reuse prije or poslije with clauses. For example:

(1) I’ll clean the yard before the rain. (before + noun)

(2) I’ll clean the house [before the guests arrive]. (before starts a clause)

Here English just uses the same word to start a clause as the one put before a noun. The Croatian conjunction is more complicated:

(1) Očistit ću dvorište prije kiše.

(2) Očistit ću kuću prije nego što dođu gosti.

The three words prije nego što behave as one unit, and second-place words must come right after it. The same holds for nakon što, corresponding to both prepositions nakon and poslije. The word order is illustrated by the sentence #2 put to the past tense:

Očistio sam² kuću prije nego što su² došli gosti.

This compares prepositions with conjunctions (used to start time clauses):

+ noun (in G) + clause
while za vrijeme dok
before prije prije nego što
after poslije
nakon što

(Of course, nouns can be with one or more adjectives, with appended nouns in genitive etc.)

You will sometimes hear and read just prije nego without što. It’s not common in speech, at least mine.

It not uncommon to start a sentence with a time clause; as in English, a comma (,) is used then:

Čim padne noć, idemo spavati. As soon the night falls, we are going to sleep.

5 Easy Croatian: 54 When, While, Until, Before, After How to say we’ll go to the beach when the rain stops ? Like this: O t i ći ćemo na plažu kad kiša pr e st a ne. This sentence is very...

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