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) plešeplesati 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) plešeplesati. 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 completed:

Želim da pročitaš knjigu. I want you to read the (whole) book.

Of course, you maybe want to say:

Želim da čitaš knjigu. I want you to read the book. (some of it, at least)

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

Htio¹ sam² [da¹ me² nazovešnazvati]. I wanted you to call me. {m}

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.)

Such a clause is actually an object of the verb željeti (želi,...). Of course, it can’t be in A.

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.

Sretna si. You’re happy. {to f}

Želim [da budeš sretna]. I want you to be happy. {to f}

If you now think 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 several types of clauses in Croatian. Desire and purpose clauses belong to atemporal-type clauses (I’ve invented the name, there are no established names).

Atemporal-type clauses – like ones with željeti (želi,...) want above – express the subject, but not tense. True, they’re in the present tense, but the meaning is always relative future, and that will turn out to be essential for understanding them. For example, it makes sense that purpose clause use this type: purpose is essentially about the future – either something you want to happen, or something you want to avoid – being the reason for something you do.

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:

Poslala sam ga da kupi kruh. lit. I’ve sent him ‘that he buys bread’. {f} (= to buy 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-type clauses don’t always have to do anything with purposes or desires. In fact, there’s a common verb that uses atemporal-type da-clauses:

čekati wait

It’s not hard to see why this verb uses the same type of clause as željeti (želi,...) want: both verbs are essentially about the future. You want something (or something to happen), you wait for something (or for something to happen); in both cases, what you want or wait for is not there at the moment of speaking.

The following example illustrates again how Croatian is sometimes simpler than English:

Čekam [da me nazovešnazvati]. 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 phrases (with an experiencer in DL) that can use atemporal-type clauses as subjects (and consequently, verbs must be in the 3rd person, singular, neuter in the past tense):

  + DL + biti (je² +) + da-clause

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

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

Stalo mi je [da dođešdoći]. lit. I care [‘that you come’].

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

To remind you that these clauses are actually subjects, they will be highlighted with a blue frame if you place your mouse over an example, or touch it (on touchscreens). Try the examples above!

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 More Verbs.

Other superficially similar impersonal expressions, like drago mi je... use a different type of clauses – indicative-type clauses, where you can use any tense, but not perf. verbs in the present tense (so rules on tenses are as in normal sentences). They aren’t essentially about the future, they can be about the past or present: you can be glad something happened or something is. For example:

Drago mi je [da si ga nazvao]. lit. I’m glad [‘that you called him’]. {to m}

Drago mi je [da si ovdje]. lit. I’m glad [‘that you’re here’].

Drago mi je [da ćeš ga nazvati]. lit. I’m glad [‘that you’re going to call him’].

More clauses like that will be introduced in the next chapter.

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 možemomoći
razgovarati svaki dan
]. I want [you to buy a cellphone] [so that we can talk every day]. ®

Note how Croatian desire and purpose clauses have the same form, while English clauses are quite different. So, Croatian is simpler in this area, it has fewer constructions.

Finally, there’s a form that extends the rules described above: the verb voljeti (voli,...) used in conditional. (Hopefully, you recall this verb shifts its meaning a bit in conditional.) It is a very common way to express wishes. When talking about possible future things (or even things possible right now) with this verb in conditional, inf is used ®. Using inf is possible only if someone expresses a desire about himself or herself. If the subject is different – or there’s none, i.e. it’s something impersonal – a desire clause must be used:


Voljela bih [imati veliku kuću]. I’d like [to have a big house]. {f}

Voljela bih [da bude sunčano]. I wish [it would be sunny]. {f}

So, with wishes for the future, the conditional of voljeti (voli,...) behaves like any verb expressing desires.

However, this form also allows you to express wishes about the present and the past, like the English verb wish: wishes opposed to the past or the present state. The conditional is then used with da-clauses in both the past and the present tense:


Volio bih [da sam to znao]. I wish [I had known that]. {m}

Volio bih [da imamo veću kuću]. I wish [we had a bigger house]. {m}

(The adjective veći bigger is a comparative adjective; comparatives will be introduced in 63 Bigger and Better: Comparatives).

There’s a very important difference: in English, wishes about the past or present have time-shifted verbs (had known, had...) since they relate to imaginary states or events. Not so in Croatian: there’s no time-shift for unreal, imaginary states and actions.

Be careful. Clauses in sentences #2 are not desire clauses: they can be in the past tense as well, and biti (je² +) be is not replaced by (bude):

Volio bih da je sunčano. I wish it were sunny. {m} (about now: it isn’t)

Clauses of the type #2 are (counter)factual. We’ll meet them again in 70 If I Were: Conditional Sentences. In the present tense, they look almost the same as desire clauses, but when using the verb biti (je² +) be the difference is clear – desire clauses use (bude) instead:

Voljela bih da bude sunčano. I wish it would be sunny. {f} (wish for the future)

In most circumstances, this is a very fine difference. The same construction is possible with the verbs htjeti (...) and željeti (...) in conditional, but they are significantly less used so.

This table sums up use of tenses in clauses (and infinitives) as objects with some verbs (or subjects with drago mi je):

želim volio bih drago mi je
...da si došao
...da si jeo
+ +
...čitati knjigu ®
perf. verb in inf
+ + (rare)
...da čitaš knjigu
impf. verb in pres.
+ + +
...da kupiš knjigu
perf. verb in pres.
+ +
...da bude toplo
the verb (bude)
+ +
...da ćeš doći
...da ćeš jesti

In the next chapter, we’ll concentrate on the clauses of the indicative-type, used by drago mi je and by many verbs.


® In central and eastern parts of Bosnia, instead of kruh, hljeb is used; in Serbia, it’s “Ekavian” hleb.

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

In Serbia, there seem to be no difference in volio bih da... vs volio bih + inf, and infinitives are rare in speech there anyway.

There’s a preference in Serbia (actually, the preference is stronger more you go to southeast) to use atemporal-type clauses starting with da instead of infinitive:

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

Since da bude is then used instead of biti (due to the the rule in atemporal-type clauses) many Serbian grammars consider bude the pres-3 form of the verb biti be, which is just absurd, especially from the Croatian standpoint.

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5 Easy Croatian: 56 Desires and Demands N A  DL  G 24 I Let me explain how to say I want her to dance in Croatian, and more. In such expressions, Croatian has a compl...

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