56 Desires and Demands

Let me explain how to say I want her to dance in Croatian, and more. In such expressions, Croatian has a completely different approach than English, and frankly, Croatian approach is simpler.

English is a subject-oriented language. You have to express a subject even when it does not make any sense (e.g. it rains). When you express desires, you basically express wishes about someone or something (don’t worry, it will get really clear soon). Croatian is quite verb-oriented – subjects are usually omitted, they cannot be expressed when they would make no sense; when you express wishes, you express that you want something to happen.

This sounds really abstract, but an example will make it perfectly clear:

X = ona she

Y = (ona) pleše she dances

Now, how to express that you want X and then Y in English? The sentence I want X just takes an object you wish (X), and if it’s a pronoun, it goes to the object case (the equivalent of the accusative case in Croatian):

I want X = I want her.

However, if you want Y, you have to rephrase the action, you still want her, but to do something:

I want Y = I want her to dance.

From she dances we arrived to her to dance, quite a transformation in English. Spanish is verb-oriented, like Croatian, but it requires a special form of verb (subjunctive) after que in desired or imagined events... Croatian is way simpler:

Želim nju. I want her.

Želim da (ona) pleše. I want her to dance. (lit. da + she dances)

The first sentence uses exactly the same construction as in English, but the second one is completely different. It uses the conjunction da and then simply what you want to happen!

Verbs after da obviously don’t refer to anything going on right now: they are just desired events and processes. Therefore, you can freely use perf. verbs, and you have to do so, if you want something to get accomplished:

Želim da pročitaš knjigu. I want you to read the book. (lit. that you read the book through)

The part starting with da is again a clause – a desire clause, very similar to purpose clause (introduced in 50 Because, In Order To, Why: Reasons). The placement of words follows the same rules:

Htio¹ sam² [da¹ me² nazoveš]. I wanted you to call me.

It will likely be some effort to learn such sentences, since their structure is completely different than in English, and they often use perf. verbs:

Želim da se Ana vrati. I want Ana to come back. (lit. ‘that Ana comes back’, perf.)

There’s nothing special about negation in this kind of clauses:

Želim da ne pada kiša. I want it not to rain. (lit. ‘that the rain doesn’t fall’)

Like in purpose clauses, there are two restrictions. First, you can use only the present tense after da (but you can use perf. verbs). Second, the verb biti (je² +) be is almost always replaced by (bude), for example:

Toplo je. It’s warm.

Želim da bude toplo. I want it to be warm.

If you now think that the conjunction da is some special word that introduces imagined, desired events and processes in Croatian, and that verbs in clauses after it always come in the present tense, stop immediately.

The word da has about a zillion uses in Croatian, and demands on verbs after da are determined by the main verb.

For other verbs in the main sentence, there can be other rules for use of verbs in clauses. There are three main types of clauses in Croatian, regarding behavior of verbs in them (I’ve invented the names, there are no established names):

Main types of clauses in Croatian
(the default)
any tense
no perf. verbs in present
atemporal-type only present tense
perf. verbs allowed
biti (je² +) → (bude)
infinitive-type ® only verbs in inf
perf. verbs allowed
no conjunction used

Atemporal-type clauses – like ones with željeti – express the subject, but not tense; infinitive-type clauses cannot even express the subject – it’s the same as in the main clause. Infinitive-type clauses don’t use any conjunctions:

Želim [piti čaj]. I want to drink tea. ®

The division above is general, it does not say what conjunction you should use with indicative and atemporal-type. Reason clauses start with jer and are of indicative-type. Desire clauses start with da and are of atemporal-type. There are other clauses that start with da and are of indicative-type, as you’ll see soon.

Also, there are clauses that don’t fall into any of types above, like time-clauses with kad – they have special rules.

There are four more common verbs (actually, two of them are verb pairs) that use an object and a clause of atemporal-type:

moliti (+ A) (+ DC) kindly ask
pozivati («) ~ pozvati (pozove) (+ A) (+ DC) call, invite
slati (šalje) ~ po- (+ A) (+ DC) send
zahtijevati («) (+ od G) (+ DC) demand

The DC stands, of course, for a ‘desire clause’. This is how you politely ask someone to do something. For example:

Molim te da zatvoriš prozor. Please, close the window. (lit. ‘I’m kindly asking you that you close the window.’)

Pay attention that in all such sentences, the optional object of the main verb is the same as the subject in the clause: te above is 2nd pers. sing., and zatvoriš is in the same person (and number).

Another example (unfortunately, I don’t know a simple translation to English):

Poslala sam ga da kupi kruh. lit. ‘I’ve sent him that he buys bread.

You could, in principle, use infinitives with slati, instead of clauses, but it’s quite rare in speech.

So far we have seen a few atemporal-type clauses: purpose clauses and desire clauses. Atemporal clauses don’t always have to do anything with purposes or desires. In fact, there’s a common verb that uses atemporal da-clauses:

čekati wait

The following example illustrates again how Croatian is sometimes simpler than English: in Croatian you just wait for an event, while in English you wait for someone to do something (recall, Croatian is verb-oriented):

Čekam da me nazoveš. I’m waiting for you to call me. (lit. ‘that you call me’)

In all these sentences, clauses are really objects – and ‘things’, actually events – therefore you can just ask:

Što želiš? What do you want?

— Da zatvoriš prozor. lit. ‘That you close the window.

Answers are usually short, but they must be full clauses, what is desired, i.e. da is mandatory.

Next, there are a couple of impersonal phrases (with an experiencer in DL) that can use atemporal clauses:

  + DL + biti (je² +)° + da...

They mean it’s important, it matters to DL that... For example:

Bitno mi je da ga nazoveš. lit. ‘It’s important to me that you call him.

Stalo mi je da dođeš. lit. ‘I care that you come.

(The idiomatic use of stalo was introduced in 52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease.)

Of course, you can further strengthen these expressions by putting stvarno really, jako much, a lot or prilično quite a lot in front of adverbs:

Ani je jako važno da vratiš novce. It’s very important to Ana that you return the money.

(In Croatian, the noun novac (novc-) money is sometimes used in plural as well.)

The phrases, except ones with stalo, can be also used without any experiencer, as ‘objective’, ‘independent’ statements:

Važno je da vratiš novce. It’s important that you return the money.

Suggestions and permissions use the same grammar: they will be described in 71 Suggestions, Permissions and Fun with dati.

However, other superficially similar impersonal expressions, like drago mi je... use a different type of clauses – indicative-type clauses, so you can use any tense, but not perf. verbs in the present tense. They will be introduced in 59 Knowing and Telling: Content and Noun Clauses.

If both a desire clause and a purpose clause are used in the same sentence, the purpose clause comes last:

Želim [da kupiš mobitel] [da možemo razgovarati svaki dan]. I want you to buy a cellphone so that we can talk every day. ®

® There’s a preference in Serbian (actually, the preference is stronger more you go to southeast) to use da + atemporal clauses instead of infinitive clauses:

Želim [da pijem čaj]. I want to drink tea. (Serbia, esp. southeast)

In Bosnia and Serbia, mobile phone is called mobilni (changes as an adjective).

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5 Easy Croatian: 56 Desires and Demands Let me explain how to say I want her to dance in Croatian, and more. In such expressions, Croatian has a completely different approach than...

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