57 Knowing and Telling: Content and Noun Clauses


In the previous chapter, I’ve explained how to express complex desires and waiting for anything. But what about sentences like these:

I want [you to buy a car]. Želim [da kupiš auto].
I know [(that) you bought a car].       ???
I know [where you bought the car].
I don’t know [if you bought a car].

Such sentences are really about anything else. For instance, Ana has bought a car. Now, you know it, and you want to tell it. In English, you would say I know (that) Ana has bought a car. You would simply add that + what you know, and the word that is usually left out.

In Croatian, it’s similar, but you must use the ‘magic’ word da:

Znam da je Ana kupila auto.

The word da holds the first position in the clause, as usual, so all second-position words (here just je²) come right after it:

Znam [da je² Ana kupila auto].

Such clauses that can hold any information, but follow the same rules as normal sentences, are called content clauses. The most common verbs used with such clauses are (by descending order of certainty):

znati know
vjerovati (vjeruje) believe
misliti think
pretpostavljati suppose

Out of these verbs, znati and misliti are most used in spoken language. The verb misliti normally means think, but with content clauses it maybe better translates as English guess, suppose, because it’s very uncommon to use it negated. Where you would say this in English:

I don’t think [they have fish].

In Croatian, the sentence would be phrased as:

Mislim [da nemaju ribu]. lit. ‘I think [they don’t have fish].’

Interestingly, the verb vjerovati (vjeruje) believe is mostly used in negative with content clauses:

Ne vjerujem [da imaju ribu]. I don’t believe [they have fish].

Note. The main verb is here negated, but the verb in the content clause isn’t: the all-negative-or-nothing principle works for each clause separately. Each clause – the main one and the inserted one – has its own word counting, and its own verb, which can be negative (which causes certain pronouns and adverbs to be negative) or not!

Such clauses can be used by verbs of information transfer (really, verb pairs). All of them allow for an optional recipient of information expressed in DL and a content clause (or an object in A):

čitati ~* pro- read
dokazivati (-uje «) ~* dokazati (dokaže) prove
javljati ~ javiti inform, let know
govoriti («) ~ reći (reče, rekao, rekla) tell, say
objašnjavati («) ~ objasniti («) explain
pisati (piše) ~* na- («) write
pokazivati (-uje «) ~ pokazati (pokaže) show

For example:

Objasnila je Ani da uči hrvatski. She explained to Ana that she has been learning Croatian.

The present tense forms of reći (...) are rare: the verb kazati (kaže) is usually used instead®. This verb is also sometimes used in the true present tense, as an imperfective verb:

Kažemkazati ti da nisam gladna. I’m telling you I’m not hungry. {f}

Another option, common in colloquial speech in the Zagreb region, but also known elsewhere, is to use the verb (veli) which has present tense forms only:

Velim ti da nisam gladna. (colloq.) I’m telling you I’m not hungry. {f}

This verb considered a bit archaic in other regions.

You can talk about what someone said (reported speech). For instance, someone said:

Učim hrvatski.” “I’m learning Croatian.”

To report about it, you should (as in English) change it to the 3rd person, since you’re talking about someone else (here I assume that that person is female, but the Croatian sentence is here completely unspecific, since it’s in the present tense):

Kažekazati da uči hrvatski. She says she’s learning Croatian.

Znam da će padati kiša. I know it’s going to rain.

However, if you report about the past, in English the reported clause gets time-shifted, e.g.:

She said she was learning Croatian.

I knew it was going to rain.

There’s no time-shift in Croatian. We simply report things in the original tense (that’s one more thing where Croatian is simpler than English):

je da uči hrvatski.

Znala sam da će padati kiša.

Therefore, we literally say ‘I knew it will rain’.

Croatian content clauses are simply normal sentences inserted, with a da put to the front:

  • there’s no replacement of biti (je² +) be with (bude);
  • there’s no time-shift (she said she was...);
  • perfective verbs cannot be used in the present tense unless the verbs can be used in normal sentences, etc.

This is completely different from superficially similar desire or purpose clauses, which also start with da.

(However, like in other clauses starting with da, any second position words must go right after it.)

On to questions! They are simply re-used as clauses in Croatian; da must not be used, since you already have a ‘connecting’ word to start the clause. In this way, you can use any information in your sentence. For example, where the car is:

Gdje je auto? Where is the car?

Znam [gdje je auto]. I know [where the car is].

Pay attention how English is holds different positions in the question and the I-know sentence. This doesn’t happen in Croatian, there’s no rearrangement whatsoever. (You cannot use any other arrangement, as the question-word, here gdje, must start both a question and a derived clause).

The following examples are a ‘what’ and an ‘opinion’ clause:

Što si rekaoreći
What did you say?

Čula sam [što si rekaoreći
]. I heard [what you said].

Što da radim? What should I do?

Ne znam [što da radim]. I don’t know [what I should do]. (or what to do)

(Colloqually, you’ll often hear šta instead of što.®)

I sometimes make mistakes in English, keeping the question word order – my native language has no rearrangement. You can use questions for reasons, time, etc.:

Ne znam [zašto je otišlaotići
]. I don’t know [why she left].

Next, you can express that you don’t know if something is true or not (or you’re trying to find out, or you’re interested in, etc.). In Croatian, you simply use yes/no questions as clauses:

Je li kupila auto? Did she buy a car?

Ne znam [je li kupila auto]. I don’t know [if she bought a car].

Again, the English sentence must be transformed – from a question (did she...) to a report (if she...) – but the Croatian one is not changed at all.

However, you cannot use shortened forms of questions. In the following examples, shortened questions (S) cannot be used as clauses, only the full forms (F):

(F) Da li da kupim auto? Should I buy a car?

(S) Da kupim auto? (the same, but shortened)

Ne znam [da li da kupim auto]. I don’t know [if I should buy a car].

This applies to colloquial forms (jel, dal...) as well:

(F) Jel idemoići u kino? (colloq.) Are we going to cinema? ®

(S) Idemoići u kino? (the same, but shortened)

Zanima me [jel idemoići u kino]. (colloq.) I wonder [if we’re going to cinema].

In Croatian, you simply use questions as clauses, without any rearrangement or change.

You cannot use shortened forms of questions in clauses.

We can now fill the table we started with:

I want [you to buy a car]. Želim [da kupiš auto].
I know [(that) you bought a car]. {f} Znam [da si kupila auto].
I know [where you bought a car]. {f} Znam [gdje si kupila auto].
I don’t know [if you bought a car]. {f} Ne znam [jesi li kupila auto].

Besides znati know, and two verbs vidjeti (...) see and čuti (čuje) hear, introduced long ago, there are following common verbs of knowledge and perception:

osjećatiosjetiti feel
primjećivati (-uje «) ~¹ primijetiti («) notice
razumjeti (razumije,...) understand
shvaćati ® ~~ shvatiti understand

You have likely noticed some special notation in the verb pair list (~¹, ~~). Actually, the perf. verbs in such pairs are not ordinary perf. verbs. They rather indicate start of state or a single instance. Therefore, osjetiti means feel for a moment, while shvatiti indicates the moment you understood something – it’s implied you understand it from then on (like e.g. come to understand). Such verbs are explained in detail in 68 Sneeze Once and Start Blooming.

As with znati know, these verbs are used either with objects in A or content clauses:

Primijetila je da nema Ane. She noticed that Ana wasn’t there. (lit. ‘that there was no Ana’)

Osjećam da će padati kiša. I feel it’s going to rain.

Razumijemrazumjeti da nemaš puno vremena. I understand you don’t have much time.

Very similar are the following verbs and verb pairs:

nadati se² hope
sanjati dream
zamišljati («) ~ zamisliti imagine

For example:

Sanjao sam da sam na odmoru. I dreamed I was on vacation.

Nadam se da je Ana došladoći
I hope Ana has arrived.

(Observe again the tense shift in English vs. no shift in Croatian.)

You will sometimes see (mostly in writing) using kako instead of da when content clauses are objects of the verbs above. Recall this line from the example in the chapter 52 Stand, Become, Exist, Cease:

On sanja [kako beskrajno pada] lit. ‘He’s dreaming [he’s falling endlessly]

You can talk about content clauses, making them really subjects. Since they are not nouns, they behave as if neuter singular, as you can see from the past tense:

Dobro je [da ne pada kiša]. It’s good [it’s not raining].

Bilo je dobro [da nije padala kiša]. It was good [it wasn’t raining].

The second clause is in the past tense: we’re not reporting what somebody else said, but what was.

As in other constructions where clauses are subjects, they will be highlighted with a blue frame if you place a mouse over an example, or touch it on a touchscreen.

There are a lot of similar ways to comment content, e.g. with the following words instead of dobro:

bolje better
čudno strange, weird
glupo stupid
jasno clear
loše bad
očito obvious
strašno terrible
šteta too bad

You can use many other adjectives to comment on content, including colloquial super great and more. You can add also who thinks/feels that in DL:

Ani je jasno da... It’s clear to Ana that...

Ani je bilo jasno da... It was clear to Ana that...

There’s one special rule – if you just comment (without who feels/thinks in DL) in the present tense, you can leave je² out (I’m not completely sure if that’s accepted in standard or not, but it’s quite widespread):

Dobro da ne pada kiša. It’s good it’s not raining.

There are two very common and similar expressions, with stronger meaning than dobro da...:

srećom da...
sva sreća da... 

The expression sva sreća da... is especially common to express that something might have been much worse (e.g. a building collapsed, but, fortunately, nobody was in it at that moment):

Sva sreća da ne pada kiša. Fortunately, it’s not raining.

You can express feelings with dative phrases involving drago and žao:

Ani je žao da... Ana was sorry that...

Ani je bilo drago da... Ana was glad/happy that...

You can like content (here content clauses are again subjects):

Sviđa mi se da je Ana došladoći
I like that Ana came.

You can also refer to the content expressed before using the general pronoun to. That’s often used in conversation, but also common in writing:

Ana je kupila auto. Ana bought a car.

— Nisam to znao. I didn’t know that.

You can use to and a content clause anywhere, even after prepositions (you have to change to into the right case):

Razgovarali smo o tome da je Ana kupila auto. We discussed about Ana buying a car. (lit. ‘about that Ana has bought a car’)

If you comment on a known fact, you can use što instead of da – it doesn’t change when in this role:

Dobro je što ne pada kiša. It’s good it’s not raining. ®

This construction is also used to thank somebody for something, but it’s mandatory to use što then:

Hvala [što ne pušite]. Thank you for not smoking. (lit. ‘Thank you [that you don’t smoke].’)

Hvala ti [što mi pomažeš]. Thank you for helping me. (lit. ‘Thank you [that you’re helping me].’)

The DL in the main clause (e.g. ti² in the second example) is optional. English uses a completely different construction here, while Croatian simply uses a content clause; however, da cannot be used, only što.

You can also ask about things within content clauses, using the same way as in English:

Što misliš [da sam kupila]? What do you think [I’ve bought]?

Gdje misliš [da je Ana]? Where do you think [Ana is]?

Such questions are mostly ‘decomposed’ in speech, into two questions (the first starting always with što what):

Što misliš, što sam kupila? lit. ‘What do you think, what have I bought?’ ®

Što misliš, gdje je Ana? lit. ‘What do you think, where is Ana?’

Something interesting (but expected from everything above) happens when we ask yes/no questions and they contain context clauses. Such questions are ‘decomposed’ less often, and the interesting part are the answers – they are simply re-used as content clauses:

Misliš li da je more toplo? Do you think the sea is warm?

Misliš da je more toplo? (the same, but colloq.; you can use other forms too)

— Mislim da je. I think it is.

— Mislim da da. lit. ‘I think that yes.’

— Mislim da nije. I think it isn’t.

— Mislim da ne. lit. ‘I think that no.’

As you can answer a yes/no question with a verb or with a da or ne, you can answer such questions with mislim da + verb or mislim da da or mislim da ne. Again, the verb misliti is not negated, but the content clause can be: such answers are similar to English I guess so and I guess not.

Of course, you can remember some event, forget to do something, then you can expect or fear that something might happen, etc.; I will explain all such uses in 69 Memories, Expectations and Fear.


® You’ll encounter rečem and so on from time to time, especially in Dalmatia, where it’s often used in everyday speech.

Instead of kino, the word used for cinema in Serbia and most of Bosnia is bioskop.

Instead of shvaćati, a slightly different verb shvatati, is common in most parts of Bosnia and in Serbia.

The form šta what is considered standard in Serbia, Montenegro and most of Bosnia. It’s very common in Croatia (including the cities of Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, etc) but not standard.

Although što is colloquially replaced by šta, and such replacement is complete in Bosnia and Serbia, in both the standard languages and the actual speech, it’s almost never replaced when što starts a content clause. However, it is often replaced in colloquial speech in Dalmatia. Of course, when što starts a real question (što misliš...?) it’s normally replaced by šta.

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5 Easy Croatian: 57 Knowing and Telling: Content and Noun Clauses N A  DL  G 24 I In the previous chapter, I’ve explained how to express complex desires and waiting for anything. But what about s...

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