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74 It Just Happened to Me

Croatian has an interesting way of expressing that something happened, you were involved, but you weren’t in control, it just happened – to you.

As you can probably guess, it involves the DL case, which usually corresponds to English to + person / personal pronoun:

To mi se dogodilo. It happened to me.

It’s kind of similar to expressions like hladno mi je, but now subjective feelings are not important. Consider the following sentence:

Čaša je pala. The glass fell.

We don’t know why it happened. Just adding a person in DL changes its meaning subtly:

Čaša mi je pala. I dropped the glass (accidentally).

If you know some Spanish, you can notice that’s exactly the same as adding an "indirect object pronoun" (which, of course, corresponds to the Croatian DL case) to sentences like these:

(Spanish) Se cayó. It fell.

(Spanish) Se me cayó. I dropped it.

If you look into an English-Croatian dictionary, you will probably find that there’s the verb pair ispuštati («) ~ ispustiti («) listed having one meaning drop, but that verbs are not the first choice, especially in speech, when you accidentally drop something!

If you want to stress that somebody dropped something intentionally, another verb pair is used:

bacati ~ baciti (A) throw, intentionally drop

A similar difference is expressed with two a bit similar verb pairs that both translate to English as leave:

  ostavljati ~ ostaviti   + A  
  ostajati ~ ostati (ostane)   + DL   (accidentally!)

The case roles in the second pair are "rotated": what is left is in N, while one who was affected (that is, the person who left something by accident) is in DL:

Jakna mi je ostala u autu. I left the jacket in the car (accidentally).

If we would use the first verb pair, it’s not said whether is was intentional or not, could be either way. Notice how the person affected is now the subject, and what is left is object:

Ostavio sam jaknu u autu. I left the jacket in the car.

With many verbs, the same verb is used for both meanings: unintentional events are expressed using the ‘mediopassive’ (also called se²-passive, introduced in 64 The Door Opens: Fun with se²) and the DL case. Nobody caused the event (at least that’s what we want to say), but the one in DL is somehow involved, or affected. This is a common example:

razbijati (razbija) ~ razbiti (razbije) break
  + A = intentionally
  + se² + DL = accidentally

For example:

Razbio sam čašu. I broke the glass.

Čaša mi se razbila. The glass broke (‘on me’).

The English has a similar thing, but only colloquially: ‘on me’.

Again, in the accidental construction, what is broken is the subject (observe how the past form is in feminine).

The DL case is a common way to add who’s affected – always a person/animal or a group – to anything. Consider:

Grijanje ne radi. The heating doesn’t work.

The sentence above lacks context: what heating. If it’s not working in your house, you would add a possessive in English: our heating. It can be also done in Croatian, but the preferred way in speech is to add DL:

Grijanje nam ne radi. Our heating doesn’t work. (lit. ‘doesn’t work to us’)

Again, if you know some Spanish, this will all be very familiar to you. This usage is so common that some people call it possessive dative.

The accidental construction is really just the ‘mediopassive’ – that is, using se² to express that we don’t know or don’t want to say who caused it – with a person in DL who was somehow "affected" or "involved". This is an elegant way to say that what has happened was not intention of that person.

As you hopefully remember, there’s another construction that uses the ‘mediopassive’ and the DL case: the "feel-like". However, it’s easy to distinguish them, since the "feel-like" uses impf. verbs (usually, but not always, related to fulfilling needs, like drink, eat, sleep, smoke). Taking the "feel-like" to the extreme, we could say that somebody felt like breaking glasses, but there would be still a difference:

1 Razbile su mi se čaše. The glasses have broken. (‘on me’)

2 Razbijale su mi se čaše. also: I felt like breaking glasses.

You can see clearly how the sentence #1 uses an perf. verb, while the sentence #2 uses and impf. counterpart. However, the sentence #2 is ambiguous: it could also mean, depending on the context, that glasses were breaking (e.g. you worked in a bar, and glasses were constantly breaking, but it was not your fault, the dishwasher did it, etc.) This is really an extreme, stretched example, which would be very rare in the real life.

Since persons/animals or groups added in DL are just affected by the event, this use of DL is also called dative of interest. Its use extends – mostly colloquially – to sentences where we want somebody to get interested, or when we just emphasize who is/should be interested. So, in colloquial communication, among friends, it’s common to add the DL ti² to many sentences when you say something about yourself or someone else, similar to colloquial English you know:

Ja ti sutra ne radim. I don’t work tomorrow. (you know)

Of course, if you’re talking to a group, you would use another pronoun:

Ja vam sutra ne radim.

On the other side, when you ask a question, the DL mi² is sometimes added to emphasize that you’re interested:

Kako si mi? How are you doing? (I’d like to know)

All these DL’s to express interest are used only colloquially, among close friends and family.

Another way used in colloquial communication is literally the same as in English, adding znaš you know to the beginning:

Znaš, sutra ne radim. You know, I don’t work tomorrow.

(the rest is coming soon...)

5 Easy Croatian: 74 It Just Happened to Me Croatian has an interesting way of expressing that something happened, you were involved, but you weren’t in control, it just happened – to ...

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