69 Memories, Expectations and Fear


There are three areas in Croatian – memory, expectations and fears – which are a bit different than in English. Each has a twist.

First, these verb pairs are used to express remembering and forgetting:

pamtiti ~~ za- (+ A/CC) memorize, remember
sjećati se² ~~ sjetiti se² (+ G/INF/CC) remember, recall
zaboravljati ~ zaboraviti (+ A/INF/CC) forget

The twist is that Croatian distinguishes storing into memory (zapamtiti) and retrieving something from memory (sjetiti se²) by means of two perfective verbs (as you can see from the double tildes, they are not ordinary perf. verbs, but it’s not important for the moment). However, the two impf. verbs – pamtiti and sjećati se² – largely overlap in meaning; the latter verb is much more common in speech. In the meantime, English uses usually just remember:

Zapamtio sam [gdje je automasc.]. I remembered [where the car is]. (and now I know it)

Sjećam se [gdje je automasc.]. I recall [where the car is]. (I can get it from my memory)

The perf. verb sjetiti se² in past tense is often used to express that you have recalled something just now (and previously you couldn’t):

Sjetila sam se gdje je automasc.. I remember now where the car is. (female speaking)

It’s also very common to use this verb when you remembered (or didn’t) to do something (expressed in inf), so you did it (or didn’t):

Jesi li se sjetio zatvoriti prozor? Did you remember to close the window?

If you didn’t remember at some moment, you can also use the verb zaboraviti perf. forget, it’s not necessarily permanent loss of memory:

Nisam se sjetio zatvoriti prozor. I didn’t remember to close the window.

Zaboravio sam zatvoriti prozor. I forgot to close the window.

If you forget something, it’s simply an object in A; but you can also forget about some event you were supposed to attend, or any other noun that implies your involvement: then, na¨ + A is used as the object:

Zaboravio sam jaknu! I forgot my jacket!

Zaboravio sam na utakmicu! I forgot about the match!

These differences don’t really correspond to English forget vs. forget about. In most cases, English forget about corresponds to a simple object in A in Croatian.

However, to memorize that you have to do something, you cannot use just inf – a content clause must be used:

Zapamtio sam [da moram zatvoriti prozor]. I ‘memorized’ I have to close the window. (i.e. I know it, I’ll do it, you don’t have to remind me)

The basic verb to express fear in Croatian is:

bojati (boji) se² (+ G/INF/clause)

For example:

Ana se bojibojati se zmija. Ana is afraid of snakes.

Another way is using the noun strah + the verb biti (je² +) + one who’s afraid in A (+ what is afraid of in G):

Anu je strah zmija. Ana is afraid of snakes.

Anu je bio strah zmija. Ana was afraid of snakes.

Anu je bilo strah zmija. (the same meaning, more common)

The noun strah fear is the subject, as you can see from the past tense, but the sentence is usually treated as impersonal, so using neuter singular in the past is actually more common. As with other expressions where the person who feels something is not in the nominative case, the person is nevertheless usually placed at the first position.

The complex biti (je² +) strah behaves like one compound verb. What if you want to convert it to a verbal noun (i.e. gerund)? You would use then just strah, but what causes fear is then expressed with od¨ + G:

strah od zmija fear of snakes

strah od letenja fear of flying

There’s one more way, less used in speech, more in writing – the verb pair:

plašiti ~ u- scare

The verbs can be used in both ways:

Ana se plaši zmija. Ana is scared of snakes.

Anu plaše zmije. Snakes scare Ana.

You can also be afraid to do something – the just use an infinitive clause with any way of expressing fear:

Goran se bojibojati se voziti bicikl. Goran is afraid to drive bicycle.

Anu je strah roniti. Ana is afraid to dive.

On the other hand, there’s just one verb to express expectation:

očekivati (ekuje) expect (+ A/clause)

It’s simple to use – what is expected is in A:

Očekivali smo tvog brata. We expected your brother.

Now, all the constructs described above can be also used with clauses: you can both be afraid that something might happen or you can expect that something is going to happen.

All such clauses start with da and in principle can use any tense, e.g. future:

Ana se boji
da će biti hladno.
nećemo pobijediti.

The usual rules of word order in clauses apply:

Ana se bojibojati se [da¹ će² biti hladno]. Ana is afraid that it will be cold.

The verb očekivati (ekuje) expect is, of course mostly used to expect future events.

With both expectations and fear, it’s common – but not obligatory! – to express future events with the present tense of perf. verbs. It’s the twist: it’s both OK to say:

ekujemočekivati da će pasti kiša. ‘I expect that rain will fall.’

ekujemočekivati da padnepasti kiša. (more or less the same meaning)

We have here used the perf. verb pasti (padne, pao) fall. Maybe there’s small difference in meaning – if you use the present tense of perf. verbs, it’s a bit less certain, and more speculative.

With the impf. verbs, it’s not possible to use present tense to refer to future events in such clauses – if you use the present tense, it refers to ongoing processes:

ekujemočekivati da će padati kiša. ‘I expect that rain will be falling.’ (later)

ekujemočekivati da pada kiša. ‘I expect that rain is falling.’ (now)

(Of course, this applies to the verb (bude) as well, it behaves as any perf. verb here.)

The same holds for expressing fear, with an important detail – the third twist – if you use perf. verbs in present to refer to future, possible events, they must be negated:

Bojimbojati se se da će pasti kiša. ‘I’m afraid that rain will fall.’

Bojimbojati se se da ne padnepasti kiša. (more or less the same meaning)

This negation is ‘empty’, it’s just a grammatical feature. If we use a negative-demanding word as e.g. nitko, the sentence sounds wrong and ungrammatical:

(wrong!) Bojimbojati se se da nitko ne dođedoći. "I’m afraid that nobody will come."

That’s because the negation has no effect, it’s obligatory, but empty, it carries no meaning, other words are not negated. The following sentence, however, is completely acceptable:

Bojimbojati se se da netko ne dođedoći. I’m afraid that somebody might come.

Of course, the same automatic negation applies to (bude):

Bojimbojati se se da ne bude prekasno. I’m afraid that it might be too late.

Keep in mind that it’s not mandatory to use (bude), you can use the present or the future tense of biti (je² +) be as well:

Bojimbojati se se da je prekasno. I’m afraid that it’s too late.

Bojimbojati se se da će biti prekasno. I’m afraid that it will be too late.

Consequently, this means if you are afraid that something might not happen, you will have to use the future tense, where negation, if used, really has a meaning:

Bojimbojati se se da neće biti mjesta. I’m afraid there will/might be no room.

For impf. verbs, if there’s a negation, it usually means that you are afraid of something not happening:

Bojimbojati se se da nemam vremena. I’m afraid that I have no time.

However, you will see sometimes empty negations even with impf. verbs – you have to apply your common sense then.

Since verbs behave so specially in clauses starting with da after verbs of fear, they are sometimes called fear clauses. (If by any chance, you know some Latin grammar, you should notice similarities!)

There’s one more common verb that uses fear clauses:

brinuti (brine) (se²) care (o DL); worry (+ clause)

This verb has more uses and meanings, e.g. care and so on, but with clauses, it means worry. (According to the Standard, it should have an obligatory se², but it’s often dropped in a colloquial context.) For example:

Brinem se da ne zakasnim na posao. I worry that I’ll be late to work.

Brinem se da ću zakasniti na posao. (about the same meaning)

The empty negation is completely automatic, most speakers are not aware of it at all (check the Examples).

What about fear clauses and perf-like verbs, i.e. čuti (čuje) hear, razumjeti (razumije,...) understand and vidjeti (vidi,...) see? First, they are not frequently used in fear clauses. When they are used, and the present tense is used to refer to the future, there’s usually an empty negation:

Bojimbojati se se da ne vidim nešto strašno. I’m afraid I might see something terrible.

However, when they refer to the present, the negation is not empty; here, the speaker is afraid that there’s a problem with her or her eyes, or something similar:

Bojimbojati se se da ne vidim dobro. I’m afraid I don’t see well.

You will have to use your common sense to understand such (rare) sentences. It’s best to use the future tense to refer to the future if you have to use such verbs in fear clauses.

↓ Examples (click to show)

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