53 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 prestaneprestati.

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 event verb prestati (prestane) perf. stop, cease (introduced in the previous chapter) in the present tense, because we refer an event at an unknown point in time, likely 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. But it’s not the true present, this is not the moment of speaking, so we can use perf. verbs! The verb otići (...) perf. go, leave is used in the future tense, but since it’s an event pair, we could also use the matching impf. verb in the present to refer to the future:

Odlazimo na plažu kad kiša prestaneprestati. (the same meaning)

Note that kad(a) with a perf. verb implies after the event (or completion):

the time

kad kiša prestaneprestati when the rain stops

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):

¹ smo² na plažu [kad¹ je² kiša prestala]. We went to the beach [when the rain stopped].

We can use impf. verbs in time clauses too:

the time the time

Idemići 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

Like in purpose clauses, the present tense forms of the verb biti (je² +) be is replaced by (bude) in such time clauses – but only for future events:

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)

Odemootići 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 real life, you’ll often see and hear just the common future tense as well:

Trebat ću kišobran kad će padati kiša. (a bit colloq., the same meaning)

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 došladoći
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 doesn’t happen, i.e. until it happens. And that’s how Croatian expresses until:

the time

Kuham meso dok ne postanepostati 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. {f}

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.

Something important: 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 našaonaći
I tried until I found something. {m}

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 (this works in the same way as in sve do):

Kuhala sam meso sve dok nije postalo mekano.

Perfective-like verbs, such as vidjeti see are usually understood as plain perfective verbs, so they can be used only with dok + negation (i.e. meaning until); so, we can’t say while I see... in Croatian:

Ne znam dok ne vidim. I don’t know until I see.

If something happens when you see something, use kad(a).

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 dođudoći 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 (we assume masculine sex of the speaker):

Očistio sam² kuću prije nego što su² došlidoći

Sometimes, when perfective verbs are used after prije nego što, you will find ‘empty’ negations:

Zaustavi ga prije nego što ne bude prekasno. (sometimes) Stop him before it’s too late. (or: it gets)

This is not mandatory (unlike when expressing until), you don’t have to use it, but be prepared to hear and read such negations once a while, and apply your common sense then.

Expressing after with nakon što is very similar:

Očistit ću kuću nakon što oduotići gosti. I’ll clean the house after the guests leave.

There’s never an ‘empty’ negation with nakon što.

After prije nego što and nakon što you can use any tense. It includes using perfective verbs in the present tense (as in the examples above) – it refers to the future then. If you want to express that something happened before something else, and both things happened in the past (from your point of speaking), both verbs should be in the past (see the examples above). You can also put both parts in the future, but with perf. verbs, using the present tense for future events is much more common.

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

+ noun (in G) + clause
while za vrijeme dok (impf.)
until do¨ dok (perf.) + “neg.”
before prije prije nego što
after poslije
nakon što

Here “neg.” stands for the mandatory, but ‘empty’ negation. (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’s not uncommon to start a sentence with a time clause; as in English, a comma (,) is used then:

Čim padnepasti noć, idemoići spavati. As soon the night falls, we are going to sleep.

Sometimes, you’ll encounter two weird things involving dok. First, in some regions, colloquially, it’s used also in the meaning when, that is, instead of kad(a).® This is from the Internet:

Dok dođedoći vrijeme ručka baš i nisam gladna. (colloq., sometimes) When the lunch time comes, I’m not really hungry. {f}

(The baš i is here a way to say really. There’s no comma: in colloquial writing, commas are often left out.)

Second, the mandatory negation after dok + perf. verb to express until is... not 100% mandatory. It can be (rarely) left out. It’s not really clear if there’s a small difference in meaning or not; I don’t think there is.

These two weird things collide. Due to the first thing, dok + perf. verb cound mean when; due to the second thing, until. You’ll have to apply your common sense if you hear or read a weird sentence with dok.®


® Instead of kuhati, the form kuvati is used in Serbia, and in parts of Bosnia and Croatia (however, it’s not standard in Croatia).

Leaving the ‘empty’ negation out after dok seems to be more common in Serbia; however, using dok in meaning when is known only in Croatia, and likely mostly in the northern regions. It seems that people who use dok as when never leave the ‘empty’ negation out when expressing until, which could explain why leaving the ‘empty’ negation out is less common in Croatia.

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5 Easy Croatian: 53 When, While, Until, Before, After N A  DL  G 24 I 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...

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