36 Conditionals and Conditional Clauses

• • • Review: Likes, Wishes and Purpose, Basic Conjunctions

Check in Easy Croatian:
70 If I Were: Conditional Sentences

Present Conditional

In Croatian, there are two 'conditional tenses': present and past conditional (or there is a 'conditional mood' with two tenses... whatever). Basically, they represent desires: you could say almost the same with "I want to", but they are really often used as figures of speech.

For instance, phrases "I would..." or "I could" are often represented by conditionals in Croatian.

Conditional is a compound form — more than one word is involved. The present conditional (abbreviation: cond.) is constructed like the past tense, but instead of säm, si, a 'conditional' verb is used; it's a special verb with the following form:


The past conditional is rarely used in everyday communication and I'll describe it later. Instead of 'present conditional', I will call this form just 'conditional'.

In some dialects, and in everyday speech of many people, just bi is used in all persons and numbers, but it's not standard.

Let's compare sentences using normal tenses (on the left) with the conditional ones (on the right):

Jedem. "I am eating."
Mogu jesti. "I can eat."
Jeo bih. "I would eat."
Mogäo bih jesti. "I could eat."*

I hope you get that the verb mogu was put in conditional in the second sentence! The English sentence marked with an asterisk (*) is ambiguous, since English "could" can mean both future and past abilities. Here it stands for the ability in present-future, and speaker is obviously female.

Simple Use of Conditionals

People use conditionals a lot when trying to be polite or soften expressions, but it could be ironic as well:

Hoću jesti. "I want to eat." (not too polite)
Htio bih jesti. lit. "I would want to eat." (much more polite)

This softening is often used in expressing desires with da:

Htio bih da Ana pjëva. lit. "I would want Ana do sing."
Volio bih da Ana pjëva. lit. "I would like Ana do sing."

Actually, most often desires are expressed using (these are examples for the m gender in 1st pers. sg.; I hope you are able to work out others):

Volio bih...   Htio bih...   Želio bih...  

They all mean "I'd like..", more or less!

Sometimes, bih, bi... is used for every desire, not just with verbs (children mostly talk like that):

Ja bih čokoladu. lit. "I would a chocolate." = "I want a chocolate."

Regarding the placement of the conditional verb, it's really a 'clitic', and it should be placed at the second place in a clause, but before everything else that also requires the second place (that is, short forms of auxiliary verbs and pronouns):

Ivan bi mi ga trëbao dati "Ivan should give it to me."

However, when making questions, it can be freely used at the first place:

Bismo li išli u kino? "Would we go to (the) cinema?"

Expressing Suggestions

Another verb frequently weakened is trëbam "need":

Trëbao bih... "I'd need... / I'd like... / I should..."
[under construction]

Use in Purpose Clauses

It's possible to use the present cond. in the purpose clause:

Palim radio [da bismo čuli vijësti]. "I'm turning on the radio so that we (can) hear the news."
Upalit ću radio [da bih čuo vijësti]. "I'll turn on the radio to hear the news."

I don't think that there's any real difference in meaning between use of the present tense and pres. cond., at least in my view.

Conditional Clauses

Another use of conditionals is in complex sentences aptly named — conditional clauses. In such sentences, one clause is a 'prerequisite' for the main clause. Sounds complicated but examples are quite simple. First, let's take a look at things that can happen (possibilities) now or in the future:

A "If I return, I'll need the car." = meaning "I might return, then I'll need a car." (present - future)
B "Unless I return, you may drive the car." = meaning "I might return, otherwise you may drive the car." (the same)

This lists two out of four possibilities of such sentences in English. The straightforward translations are:

A Ako se vratim, trëbat ću auto (present-future = English)
B Ako se ne vratim, možeš voziti auto. (use ako...ne "if...not")

I hope you get it. Croatian uses ako for things that are possible in the future, but the verb after it is in present (but it may be in future as well). Since we refer to possible events, we were able to use perf. verbs in the present tense.

Instead of säm, bio "be" in ako-clauses, verb budem is mostly used; when translated to English, verbs "get", "become" usually fit:

Ako budem gladän, pojest ću nešto. "If I get hungry, I'll eat something."
Ako bude hladno, trëbat ću auto. "If it gets cold, I'll need the car."

Now, let's take a look at the missed opportunities at the present time and past (they could happen, but did not):

C "If I had money, I'd buy the car." (past - conditional)
D "If I had had money, I would have bought the car." (past perfect - past conditional)

I have written that sentences C and D use English past tenses, but it's more precisely the subjunctive mood that looks really similar to the past tense (except for the verb "to be" where the subjunctive is "I were").

English tenses distinguish possible events in the future from unlikely options or missed opportunities. Well, Croatian does not use tenses for such purposes. The straightforward translations are:

C Da imam novca, kupio bih auto. (present - cond. — unlike English)
D Da säm imao novca, kupio bih auto. (past - cond. — unlike English)

I hope you get it: instead of ako (used for real possibilities), Croatian uses da for things that are not real, either now or in the past. Also, you cannot use perf. verbs in the present tense here!

The clause after da can be either in the present or in the past tense and that determines timing of the whole sentence.

Since people use just the conditional for possible consequences in the past and now, you will hear people adding sada "now" or tada "then". In any occasion, present of perf. verbs (e.g. vratim can be used in both types! It implies a slight future, since it really cannot happen right at the moment of speaking, and if it was to happen before, you would have used the past tense. So present of perf. verbs in this use is means "right now or from now on".

There's one more type of conditionals: things that would happen (or not) despite some condition is met or was met. In English, one puts "even" in front of the condition:

C* "Even if I had money, I wouldn't buy the car."
D* "Even if I had had money, I wouldn't have bought the car."

In Croatian, slightly surprising, one just puts the mighty 'inclusion conjunction' i in front of the da:

C* I da imam novca, ne bih kupio auto.
D* I da säm imao novca, ne bih kupio auto.

If main clauses are negative (not ones starting with da) — like in the examples above – ni should be used in principle instead of i:

C* Ni da imam novca, ne bih kupio auto.
D* Ni da säm imao novca, ne bih kupio auto.

In practice, i is used as well, as shown. Such sentences can be emphasized by adding čak "even" before i:

C* Čak i da imam novca, ne bih kupio auto.
D* Čak i da säm imao novca, ne bih kupio auto.

Finally, there are "in despite of" sentences, meaning something happened or is going to happen despite some prerequisite not being fulfilled. One uses iako "even though":

E Iako säm se vratio, ne trëbam auto. "Even though I came back, I don't need the car "
E Iako nëmam novca, kupit ću auto. "Even though I don't have money, I'll buy the car."

Clauses after iako refer to reality, not possibility, and present of perf. verbs cannot be used! Despite looking just like i + ako... they refer to facts, and use mostly present or past tense!

The placement of sub-sentences can be changed. Commas are not written then.

A Trëbat ću auto ako se vratim.
B Možeš voziti auto ako se ne vratim.
C Kupio bih auto da imam novca.
D Kupio bih auto da säm imao novca.
C* Ne bih kupio auto ni da imam novca.
D* Ne bih kupio auto ni da säm imao novca.
E Ne trëbam auto iako säm se vratio.

Warning: these sentences are not about certain, but possible events. To talk about things bound to happen, use kad(a) "when". It's a different type of clause, this is just a preview.

Trëbat ću auto kada se vratim. "I'll need the car when I return."

You will often hear conditional with A-type, things in future (Trëbao bih auto ako...). It means just as any normal conditional — your desire for a car if something happens.

Wishing Impossible

Conditional clauses with da... (type C and D) can be used on their own, as 'wishes' for something that is not or was not:

Da imam više vrëmena! "If I had more time!" (about the present situation)
Da säm imao više vrëmena! "If I had had more time!" (about the past situation)

They are often further emphasized by adverb bar or barem which in this context means something like "just":

Da bar imam više vrëmena! "If I just had more time!"
Da säm bar imao više vrëmena! "If I just had had more time!"

Conditional vs. Purpose Clauses

How to distinguish sentences of type C and D from purpose clauses, since they all have the same conjunction da? Of course, sentences C and D use conditionals in the main clause (e.g. Kupio bih). But it's possible to use conditionals in the main clause with a purpose clause:

Kupio bih auto da brže dođem na posao. "I'd buy a car to get to work faster."

Use your common sense! Besides, it's actually preferred to start a sentence with a conditional clause (da imam novca) and starting a sentence with a purpose clause is not common. If a sentence contains both a conditional and a purpose clause, the conditional clause always comes first.

A good example is Samo za taj osjëćaj "Just for that feeling" by Hladno pivo. The song begins with two different da-clauses. The first one is a conditional, unreal clause ("If I were..."), and the second one indicates a purpose (what would he use a "thicker brush" for?):

[Da säm prazan list, potpuno čist],
koristio bih puno, puno deblji kist,
i samo jarke i šarene boje

[da napišem ime tvoje i moje].

"[If I were an empty sheet, completely clean],
I'd use a much, much thicker brush,
and only strong and motley colors
[to write your and my name]."

The following verses use exactly the same constructs:

[Da säm prazna glava, potpuno zdrava],
ne bih više ništa učio za badava,
samo onolko kolko mi treba

[da još ostanem paf od tolikog neba].

"[If I were an empty head, completely sane],
I wouldn't learn anything more in vain,
only so much as I need
[to stand amazed by so big sky].

More Clauses

Yet another type are jer-clauses ("because") but I have already shown them. Naturally, the part after jer cannot happen after the action before it, but it's the same in English:

Trëbam auto jer säm se vratio. "I need the car because..."
Kupit ću auto jer imam novca. "I'll buy the car because..."
Kupujem auto jer imam novca. "I'm buying the car because..."

Such sentences cannot be reordered, it's always "action" jer "reason".

Desires and preferences (or non-preferences!) can be expressed like želim + inf. or želim da... where the part after da can be in the present tense only. Another option is to use conditional sentences of types C and D; there are frequent impersonal expressions in conditional used to express desires:

"Bilo bi lijëpo da... "It would be nice..."
"Bilo bi dobro da... "It would be good..."
"Bilo bi odlično da... "It would be great..." (lit. "excellent")
"Bilo bi divno da... "It would be great..." (lit. "excellent")
"Bilo bi super da... "It would be awesome..." (colloq.)
"Bilo bi loše da... "It would be bad..."
"Bilo bi strašno da... "It would be terrible..."

For instance:

"Bilo bi divno da Ana pjëva. "It would be great if Ana sang."

Here any difference between conditional sentences and expressing desires is quite blurred, especially since Croatian uses basically the same structure (conjunction da, part after it in the present tense, perf. verbs can be used). Compare it with:

Želio bih da Ana pjëva. "I'd like Ana to sing."

While English sentences are quite different, Croatian ones are quite similar!


With all such sentences, da, ako, kad(a), iako and jer restart the word counting: the short words are immediately after them (e.g. jer säm se...). If da, ako, iako, or kad(a) start the whole sentence, the second part is usually separated by a comma, after which the counting restarts (e.g. ... trëbat ću...)


A possible future action condition for another(consequence) ako (condition)
An unrealized past action was condition for another(consequence in cond.) da (condition)
Something happens despite an unrealized past/present condition(consequence in cond.) i da (unrealized condition)
A certain future action precedes another(consequence) kad(a) (condition)
A reason for another action(action) jer (reason)
An action despite expected(action) iako (expected)

All these words start word-counting; short words of clauses come after them.

Tenses have different uses than in English:

  • Present of perf. verbs is often used in conditions.
  • Opportunities use the conditionals.


JavaScript must be enabled. You don't have to use my special notation (i.e. ä, ë) in answers, normal spelling will do as well. Letter case is ignored.

Fill in the missing words, assuming you're male:

pivo. "I'd drink beer."
pivo. "I could drink beer."

Create conditional sentences. Again assume you're male, and use verbs prolazim ~ prođem "pass" and učim ~ na- as "study":

, ispit. "If I had studied, I would have passed the exam."
, ispit. "Although I haven't studied, I passed the exam."
Ni , ispit. "Even if I had studied, I wouldn't have passed the exam."


Updated 2014-09-30 (v. 0.4)


Duja said...

Zapravo, moguće je imati dva infinitiva u nizu, kada je jedan glagol nepotpun (pravi modalni): "Oni moraju početi rješavati probleme". Zbunio si nekog, izgleda. Evo pričali smo o tome ovde:


Daniel N. said...

U pravu si. No koji bi to bili glagoli? Početi, prestati, moći, htjeti.

Nastaviti? Mislim isto.

A odlučiti? Oni moraju odlučiti rješavati probleme? Mislim da ne...

OK, dodajem primjedbu :) Hvala na ispravci.

lp Daniel

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