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All You Need to Know About Polish Verb Tenses

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Did you know that English has 16 tenses? You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that Polish has only 3! Namely, these are the past, the present, and the future tenses. 

Polish verb tenses aren’t overly complicated, but they’re definitely an important part of learning the language. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of each tense so that you can understand how they’re formed and used.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Polish Table of Contents
  1. Polish Tenses: The Present Tense
  2. Polish Tenses: The Past Tense
  3. Polish Tenses: The Future Tense
  4. Polish Verb Conjugations
  5. Final Thoughts

1. Polish Tenses: The Present Tense

A Person Sitting in Meditation

There’s only one present tense in Polish. It’s used for actions that are habitual as well as those that happen in a given moment.

How do Polish people differentiate between the meaning of each verb, then? Well, they can determine this based on the context or additional words that are included (such as adverbs of time). Another very important thing here is the aspect of the verb: 

  • Imperfective (Niedokonany): used when we want to focus on the action being performed, and not on its completion

  • Perfective (Dokonany): used to focus on the completion of an action

Most Polish dictionaries state the aspect of the verb you’re looking up.

Perfective verbs can’t be used in the present tense. When you conjugate a perfective verb and an imperfective verb in the same way, the perfective verb will give you the future tense form. Here are some examples:

  • kupować (imperfective) / kupić (perfective)

    Kupować becomes kupuję in the first person singular. It’s a form of the present tense meaning “I’m buying” or “I buy.”

    Kupić becomes kupię. It’s a verb in the future tense. An example of its use would be the sentence:

    Kupię polską kartę SIM.
    “I will buy a Polish SIM card.”

  • czytać (imperfective) / przeczytać (perfective)

    Czytać -> 1st person singular: czytam – the present tense

    Przeczytać -> 1st person singular: przeczytam – the future tense

  • pisać (imperfective) / napisać (perfective)

    Pisać -> 1st person singular: piszę – the present tense

    Napisać -> 1st person singular: napiszę – the future tense

Now that you understand the general rule, let’s have a look at more complicated examples. Jeść is an imperfective verb, while zjeść is perfective:

  1. Jem obiad. / “I’m eating lunch.” 
  2. Zazwyczaj nie jem obiadów. / “I don’t usually eat lunch.” 
  3. Zjem obiad. / “I will eat lunch.” 

You know how to speak about obiad (lunch), but how about other Polish meals? Click on the link to find out!

A Cup of Tea
  1. Piję herbatę. / “I’m drinking tea.” 
  2. Codziennie piję herbatę. / “I drink tea every day.” 
  3. Wypiję herbatę. / “I will drink tea.”

Pić is an imperfective verb, while wypić is perfective.

2. Polish Tenses: The Past Tense

Currently, there’s only one past tense in the Polish language. However, there used to be a Polish past tense equivalent to the English past perfect (czas zaprzeszły). You can still find it in older books, but it’s very rarely used today.

The Polish past tense that’s used by modern-day Poles expresses all of the English past tenses. Concepts such as anteriority are expressed through adverbs such as “before” (przedtem) and “after” (potem). The relation between the continuous and simple tenses in English is usually expressed by the choice of verbs in the appropriate aspect.

Last but not least, the Polish past tense makes use of gender. This means that a verb conjugates differently depending on whether the speaker is male or female. 

Enough theory! Don’t worry: It will all become more clear as you look through our examples. Here goes:

Cake
  1. Jadłem/am ciasto i czytałem/am gazetę. / “I was eating cake and reading a newspaper.”

The first form is for male speakers and the second one for female speakers. 

Both jeść (“to eat”) and czytać (“to read”) are imperfective. As you can see, the tense used in the English translation is past continuous as the focus of the sentence is on the action and its narrative quality, not on the result/completion.

What cake do you think the speaker was eating? Watch our video lesson about choosing a cake in Poland to learn some relevant vocabulary. 

Now, here are some more examples of the Polish past tense:

  1. Nie zjadłem/am obiadu. / “I didn’t eat lunch.”

The forms are for male speakers and female speakers respectively. Yet again, zjeść (“to eat”) is a perfective verb. In the English translation, it appears as a verb in the past simple because the focus is on the result of the action.

  1. Wypiłem/am herbatę zanim zaszczekał pies. / “I drank tea before the dog barked.” OR “The dog had barked after I drank tea.”

Both wypić (“to drink”) and zaszczekać (“bark”) are perfective, and the focus is on the completion of the action. The anteriority is expressed with the word “before” (zanim), which is also an option in English as shown in the first translation. However, you could additionally express the anteriority of the same Polish sentence by using the past perfect as shown in the second English translation. 

  1. Piłem/am herbatę, kiedy zaszczekał pies. / “I was drinking tea when the dog barked.”

The verb pić (“to drink”) is imperfective and the focus of this verb is on the action itself. This action also serves as a narrative background to the other one. It’s followed by the perfective verb zaszczekać (“to bark”), which refers to a short, completed action.

Dogs bark, but what sounds do other animals make? Visit our vocabulary list to find out!

A Happy Dog

We hope that, after reviewing these examples, you understand the Polish past tense a little better! 

3. Polish Tenses: The Future Tense

You’ve already seen some forms of the Polish future tense. In fact, there are three ways of forming it—two of which can be used interchangeably. 

A- Imperfective Verbs

Imperfective verbs require a compound form of the future tense. First of all, you need the verb “to be” (być) conjugated in the present tense: 

SINGULARPLURAL
Ja będę – I will beMy będziemy – We will be
Ty będziesz – You will beWy będziecie – You will be
On/ona/ono będzie – He/she/it will beOni, one będą – They will be

Then, you have a choice between two interchangeable forms. The first one is easier as it simply requires adding the infinitive (bezokolicznik) of the second verb: 

  • Będę czytać. / “I will be reading.”

The second form requires the use of the conjugated form of the past tense of the second verb. This also means that you have to pay attention to the gender: 

  • Będę czytał/czytała. / “I will be reading.”

The choice is up to you. The meaning of both forms in English is close to that of the future continuous. The focus is on how/when the action is performed rather than on its completion. 

Speaking of reading, if you would like to incorporate reading Polish books into your language learning strategies, find out what to say at a Polish bookstore.

B- Perfective Verbs

A Person with Binoculars

Perfective verbs used in the future tense undergo conjugation like they would in the present tense, as we mentioned earlier. Here’s an example using the perfective verb przeczytać (“to read”): 

  • Przeczytam gazetę. / “I will read a newspaper.” 

As you can see, the emphasis is on the completion. Namely, the fact that when I’m done, the newspaper will be finished/read by me. 

C- Examples

Here are a few more examples to help you better understand the difference between the forms of the Polish future tense: 

  1. Jutro o 6 będę jadł/jadła kolację z Tomkiem
  1. Jutro o 6 będę jeść kolację z Tomkiem

Both sentences mean, “Tomorrow at six, I’ll be eating dinner with Tomek.” The verb jeść (“to eat”) is imperfective, which is why it has to be used with one of the two compound forms. The focus of both sentences is on what will be happening in a given moment in the future.

Pssst… Are you about to have dinner with your Polish friends? Check out our lesson Out at Dinner beforehand. 

  1. Zaraz coś zjem. / “I’ll eat something right now.”

This sentence uses the perfective verb zjeść (“to eat”). It focuses on the completion of the action, not on the action being performed. 

  1. Nie będę pił/piła na imprezie. 
  1. Nie będę pić na imprezie. 

Both sentences translate to, “I won’t be drinking at the party.” The focus of the verb is on the behavior of the speaker throughout the party, not on the completion of an action. This meaning requires an imperfective verb and thus the compound future tense. 

  1. Wypiję najwyżej jedno piwo. / “I will drink one beer at most.”

This sentence focuses on the completion of an action (or more precisely here, the lack thereof). It requires a perfective verb with a simple form of the future tense. 

Speaking of, do you like beer? Then head over to our lesson I like beer!

Now that we’ve discussed the Polish future tense, it’s time for a few more words about verb conjugations. 

4. Polish Verb Conjugations

Verb Forms

Now that we’ve covered Polish-language tenses, let’s discuss how they apply to conjugation. 

Polish doesn’t have distinct verb groups like the Romance languages do, where you can tell the group from the verb’s ending. This is why we recommend learning the first and second form of each verb. Doing so will allow you to predict the rest of the conjugations. You can learn more about Polish conjugations in our other blog post and on Cooljugator.

To summarize our discussion of tenses, let’s just re-examine the different ideas that can be expressed with them: 

SENTENCETRANSLATIONTENSEASPECT AND FOCUS
Jem obiad.I’m eating lunch.PresentImperfective

Focus is on the activity, which is taking place in a given moment
Zazwyczaj nie jem obiadów.I don’t usually eat lunch.PresentImperfective

Focus is on the habitual activity itself
Jadłem/am ciasto.I was eating a cake.PastImperfective

Focus is on the activity
Nie zjadłem/am obiadu.I didn’t eat lunch. PastPerfective

Focus is on the completion of the action
Zjem obiad.I will eat lunch.FuturePerfective

Focus is on the completion of the action
Jutro o 6 będę jadł/jadła kolację z TomkiemTomorrow at six, I’ll be eating dinner with Tomek.Future (interchangeable with the form below)Imperfective

Focus is on the action being performed at a given time
Jutro o 6 będę jeść kolację z Tomkiem.Tomorrow at six, I’ll be eating dinner with Tomek.Future (interchangeable with the form above)Imperfective

Focus is on the action being performed at a given time

Remember that if there are two verbs in Polish, the second verb almost always remains in the infinitive form. The future tense is an exception, however, as it allows forms such as będę jadł (“I will be eating”) as discussed above. 

Another important thing is the marking of the gender in the past, which applies to all persons and numbers. 

Last but not least, it’s crucial to remember the aspect of the verb in order to correctly express yourself in Polish. 

5. Final Thoughts

Today you’ve learned how Polish verb tenses work and what they can describe. Understanding the logic behind them and their relation to English tenses will definitely help you. 

Do you understand tenses in Polish better after reading this article? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Don’t forget to read our article about conjugations in order to learn about verb tenses in Polish in more detail.

Learning about how tenses work and memorizing conjugations is a crucial part of language learning. That said, grammar and vocabulary won’t get you far unless you’re getting enough exposure to the language as it’s used in the real world. PolishPod101 offers several customized learning pathways with hundreds of audio and video recordings by native speakers.

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