The imperative form, negative, in the Croatian language
...or how to tell someone not to do something

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After learning how to tell people to do something in our previous post, now we’ll learn how to tell them not to do something! This might bring up childhood (and not only childhood) memories to some of you who grew up surrounded by Croatian cousins and family:

Nemoj to dirati! – Don’t touch that! 
Nemoj ostati dugo! – Don’t stay long! 
Nemoj me sramotiti! – Don’t embarrass me!

Sounds familiar?

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There are two ways to form a negative sentence:

a) Using nemoj, nemojmo or nemojte

Niječni imperativ – prvi način
The negative imperative – the first mode
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. -* 1. nemojmo + the infinitive
2. nemoj + the infinitive 2. nemojte + the infinitive
3. neka + the negative present tense** 3. neka + the negative present tense**

*There is no imperative form for the first person singular. For more info on why that is, see the paragraph below: Why is that one spot in the table above blank?
**There is no “real” imperative form for the third person singular (he/she/it) or plural (they), since you can’t give a direct command to the third person. For more info on this, see the paragraph below: What’s the catch with the neka form?

So, let’s have a look at the negative imperative forms, first mode, using the čekati (to wait) as an example:

Niječni imperativ glagola čekati – prvi način
The negative imperative of the verb to wait – the first mode
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. 1. nemojmo čekati let’s not wait
2. nemoj čekati don’t wait 2. nemojte čekati don’t wait
3. neka ne čeka don’t let him/her/it wait* 3. neka ne čekaju don’t let them wait*

*For more clarification and alternative translation possibilities, see paragraph below: What’s the catch with the neka form?

Here are some more examples: 

Nemoj se brinuti! – Don’t worry!
Neka ne gleda televiziju. – Don’t let him/her watch TV.
Nemojmo jesti smeće. – Let’s not eat junk food. 
Nemojte voziti prebrzo. – Don’t drive too fast. 
Neka ne zakasne! – Don’t let them be late! 

Exercise 1: Insert the negative imperative form of the verbs in brackets. There is a pronoun in brackets (ti, vi, mi…) telling you which person the imperative is directed at.

b) Using ne

Niječni imperativ – drugi način
The negative imperative – the second mode
Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. -* 1. ne + the imperative
2. ne + the imperative 2. ne + the imperative
3. neka + the negative present tense** 3. neka + the negative present tense**

*There is no imperative form for the first person singular. For more info on why that is, see the paragraph below: Why is that one spot in the table above blank? 
**There is no “real” imperative form for the third person singular (he/she/it) or plural (they), since you can’t give a direct command to the third person. For more info on this, see the paragraph below: What’s the catch with the neka form?

You might have noticed that the third person singular (he/she/it) and the third person plural (they) are the same in the first and the second mode. That’s because there’s only one “standard” way to tell the third person not to do something in Croatian

Let’s have a look at the negative imperative forms, second mode, using again the verb čekati (to wait) as an example:

Niječni imperativ glagola čekati – drugi način
The negative imperative of the verb to wait – the second mode

Jednina
Singular
Množina
Plural
1. 1. ne čekajmo let’s not wait
2. ne čekaj don’t wait 2. ne čekajte don’t wait
3. neka ne čeka don’t let him/her/it wait* 3. neka ne čekaju don’t let them wait*

*For more clarification and alternative translation possibilities, see paragraph below: What’s the catch with the neka form?

Have you already noticed that both modes are translated the same in English? So yes – nemoj čekati (the first mode) and ne čekaj (the second mode) both mean don’t wait. See below for some more information on which mode to use. 

Here are some more examples:

Ne brini se! – Don’t worry!
Neka ne gleda televiziju. – Don’t let him/her watch TV.
Ne jedimo smeće. – Let’s not eat junk food. 
Ne vozite prebrzo! – Don’t drive too fast!
Neka ne zakasne! – Don’t let them be late! 

Exercise 2: Insert the negative imperative form of the verbs in brackets. There is a personal pronoun in brackets (ti, vi, mi…) telling you which person the imperative is directed at.

Which mode should I use?

In most situations, you can use either of the two modes. However, the difference is that the first mode (nemoj + the ) sounds more suggestive, more like a warning or advice not to do something, while the second mode (ne + the imperative) sounds more prohibitive, like a request to stop the action that already is, or might be, in progress. That is why the latter is used with continuous/progressive verbs, which is something we will write about in our future blog posts. 

What have your Croatian friends or family been telling you not to do? 🙂 Please, comment below.

Why is that one spot in the table above blank?

As explained in our previous post about the imperative forms, the imperative form for the first person singular (the “ja form”) doesn’t exist. Even if we want to give a command to ourselves, we usually speak to ourselves as if we were speaking to another person. For example, my name is Antonia and if I want to tell myself not to panic, I’ll say it like this:

Mateja, nemoj paničariti! – Mateja, don’t panic! 

So, I would say it in exactly the same way as if I were speaking to another person whose name happens to be the same as mine.

What’s the catch with the neka form? 

And finally, you may also remember from our previous post that there are no actual imperative forms for the third person singular (he/she/it) and the third person plural (they), because you can’t directly address or give command to the third , i.e. to someone who is not here – but you can use neka + their respective negative present tense forms instead. Simple? Yes, until you try to find a perfect translation in English! While writing this post, I did some brainstorming with my colleague (we both have a university degree in languages) and with an English native speaker. Believe it or not, the three of us still didn’t come up with a perfect translation! This is a nice example of how things are not always black and white when it comes to translating. And that is the beauty of it! Take a look at these examples:

Neka ne ide.

🡲 3rd person singular of the present , negative, of the verb ići (to go) is ne ide (meaning: he/she/it doesn’t go). By using neka ne ide, I am telling you that I want him/her/it to not go – because I expect you to make sure that it happens. So, the possible translations can be:

1. Don’t let him/her/it go.
2. Get him/her/it not to go. (OR: Make him/her/it not go.)

Can you see it? I am pretty sure that you found the second translation pretty awkward and that there may be better ways to express this in English – but this is what I’m talking about when I say you can’t always find a perfect match to some Croatian sentence constructions in English. 
And finally – with this form you can also express the “impersonal” wish that is not aimed at anyone in particular and sounds more like giving a toast – equivalent to the English expression may he/she/it (not do something). So:

3. May he/she/it not go!

Again, I am aware that there are better ways to say this in English, but the problem is that by saying this differently, we are losing the “touch” of the negative imperative mode. 
Tangled? Yes, I know! So, to sum up, the point here is that I am perfectly aware that English speakers would express themselves differently in situations like these, but if we say something like I want him/her/it to stay or Get him/her/it to stay, we do articulate our thoughts correctly, but we are not using the negative imperative. And that is the topic of this post.

Neka ne zaborave.

🡲 3rd person plural of the present tense, negative, of the verb zaboraviti (to forget) is ne zaborave (meaning: they don’t forget). By using neka ne zaborave, I am telling you that I want them to not forget – because I expect you to make sure that it happens. So, keeping in mind what we’ve just said about the difficulties of finding the “perfect” match in English, the possible translations can be: 

1. Don’t let them forget. 
2. Get them not to forget. (OR: Make them not forget.)
3. May they not forget! 

Do you have a better idea of how to translate the neka imperative construction without losing the “negative imperative touch” in English? Do you have any questions or comments? Let us know in the comment section below! 

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Learning Croatian continues… Next Tuesday we are learning about adverbs in the Croatian language. If you want us to send you an email with the next Croatian grammar lesson, put your email address here.

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