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Beata: All About Polish Lesson 3 - Learn Polish Grammar
Nick: Hi, everyone. And welcome to the grammar portion of PolishPod101.com's All About Series!
Beata: Oh, no. Not grammar.
Nick: I'm sure some listeners are having that very same reaction right about now. But we're here to tell you that there's nothing to worry about. We'll try to introduce briefly you to the basics of Polish grammar, and hopefully this knowledge will come in handy in the future.
Beata: You'll be surprised to learn that in comparison with English or some other foreign languages, some aspects of Polish grammar are amazingly easy.
Nick: Easy, you say? How can that be possible!? Well, we're about to show you.
Beata: Okay, so let's get started!
(inflected parts of speech)
Nick: So if we were to compare Polish grammar to English grammar, which one would you say is more complicated?
Beata: Each one of these languages presents a unique set of grammatical challenges. In some aspects, English grammar is going to be definitely much easier than Polish; and the opposite will hold true as well.
Nick: So let's start with those more difficult features. This way you will know that it can't get any harder than that.
Beata: I think that's a great idea.
Nick: So what would you say makes students' lives so hard when they study Polish?
Beata: Polish has what we refer to as declined parts of speech, such as nouns, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns.
Nick: Could you tell us a little bit more about what that means exactly?
Beata: Absolutely. Nouns, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns change their endings depending upon gender. Gender can be either masculine, feminine, or neuter. They will also change their form based on number, whether they appear in the singular and plural number.
Nick: I've also heard about some grammatical cases that influence those parts of speech.
Beata: Yes, in Polish there are seven grammatical cases. They are the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, and vocative. Each of these cases has a specific role to play, a specific set of endings, and expresses a specific meaning within the sentence.
Nick: Let's go very quickly through each one of those cases and let's explain to our listeners when they would use each of them.
Beata: Okay, let's start with the nominative case—the easiest. If you have a noun or a pronoun that is the subject of a sentence, it will appear in the nominative case. The nominative case is the basic form of a word and is the form that you would find in a dictionary.
Nick: So, for example, if we have the sentence "Tomasz jest wysoki" ("Tom is tall."), the noun "Tomasz" is the subject of this sentence and that's why it is used in its nominative form. I think it's quite straightforward. What about the next case?
Beata: The genitive case is mostly used to express possessiveness. For example, in the phrase "dom Tomasza" ("Tom's house"), the noun "Tomasz" takes on the genitive form. If you compare the genitive form "Tomasza" and the nominative form "Tomasz," you will see that their forms differ.
Nick: We have a very similar situation in English when expressing possessiveness. We always have to add an apostrophe and the letter "-s" to express that something belongs to someone. So in English there's also a difference between the form "Tom" and "Tom's."
Beata: Exactly. I think this is a very helpful observation that will make it easier for our listeners to get a general idea about the cases and their usage.
Nick: So the possessiveness feature is the only one that requires the usage of the genitive case?
Beata: No. Unfortunately, there are others. The genitive case is also used after certain prepositions, such as "do" ("to") or "bez" ("without"). It's also used with certain verbs that always require the genitive case. For example…"słuchać" ("to listen to") or "uczyć się" ("to learn").
Nick: Let's move on now to the next case. That is...
Beata: dative. The dative case mainly appears as the case taken by the indirect object of a sentence. For example…"Kupiłem Tomaszowi gazetę." ("I bought a newspaper for Tom.")
Nick: So now the noun "Tomasz" becomes "Tomaszowi," the dative form, in the above sentence because it's the indirect object. Anything else about the third case?
Beata: No, I think we can move on to the accusative case.
Nick: I know that the accusative case is one of the most used cases in the Polish language.
Beata: Yes, that's correct, for the simple reason that it appears after the majority of verbs in the Polish language and is the form taken by the direct object of a sentence. For example…"Lubię Tomasza" ("I like Tom."). The form Tomasza is the accusative form because it's the direct object of this sentence.
Nick: What about the next case, the instrumental case?
Beata: One of the good things about the instrumental case is that it's one of the easiest cases in Polish. It's used in sentences such as "On jest lekarzem" ("He is a doctor."), where the noun "lekarz" appears as "lekarzem," its instrumental form. Another example would be "Ona jest Amerykanką" ("She is an American") with the noun "Amerykanka" taking its instrumental form "Amerykanką."
Nick: Is this case used in connection with any verbs or prepositions that we should know of?
Beata: The verb "interesować się" ("to be interested in") and the preposition "z," meaning "with," always take the instrumental case.
Nick: Okay, so we only have two cases left. We have the locative case. What could you tell us about it?
Beata: The interesting thing about the locative case is that it's the only case that appears only after prepositions and never after verbs.
Nick: So what prepositions indicate that we have to use the locative case?
Beata: There are many prepositions; however, we will limit ourselves to the most important ones, such as "na" ("on" or "at"), "o" ("about" or "at") and "w" ("in").
Nick: And finally the last case, vocative? When do we ever use the vocative case?
Beata: The vocative case is used less and less these days, and I'm afraid that it's going to pass out of use in the near future. We use it mainly in greetings and farewells. For example..."Dzień dobry, Tomku" ("Good morning, Tom"), where the form "Tomasz" takes on its vocative form, "Tomku."
Nick: So, to sum it up, we know that in Polish we decline nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and numerals. By declension we understand that they change their forms depending on their gender, number, and grammatical case.
Beata: I want our listeners to know that it takes a lot of time to memorize all the endings particular to the different grammatical cases that we have in Polish. Be patient and don't give up, because it's possible to master them all…
Nick: Especially since you mentioned at the beginning of this class that declension is one of the most difficult features of the Polish language.
(verbs, conjugations, and tenses)
Nick: Is there anything else in Polish grammar that might seem unmanageable? What about Polish verbs? I know that in a lot of languages the verb conjugates, or changes, its form according to who is doing the action. And if I'm not mistaken, it's the same for Polish.
Beata: Yes, we do conjugate Polish verbs. In the present tense, we have three basic conjugation types, each named after the endings in the first- and second-person singular. They are conjugations "-m," "-sz"; "-ę," "-isz," or "-ysz"; and "-ę," "-esz."
Nick: Could you please give us an example of the conjugation "-m," "-sz?"
Beata: Sure. For example, the verb "czytać," meaning "to read," represents this conjugation, with the first-person singular form "czytam" ("I read") and second-person singular form "czytasz" ("you read").
Nick: I see. So the first-person singular form, "czytam," ends with "-m," and then the second-person singular form, "czytasz," ends with "-sz." That's why you call it the "-m," "-sz" conjugation. What about the next one, the "-ę," "-isz"/"-ysz" conjugation?
Beata: For example, the verbs that belong to this conjugation are "robić" ("to do") with the forms "robię" ("I do") and "robisz" ("you do") and "tańczyć" ("to dance") with "tańczę" ("I dance") and "tańczysz" ("you dance").
Nick: I see. So since the verb "robić" ("to do") ends in the "-ić" particle, you chose the "-ę," "-isz" conjugation. Whereas the verb "tańczyć" ends in "-yć," hence the usage of the "-ę," "-ysz" type.
Beata: Yes, that's correct.
Nick: So there's one more conjugation that we haven't discussed so far, right?
Beata: Yes, that's the "-ę," "-esz" conjugation. This conjugation, out of the three, is the most irregular one. Conjugated forms very often look much different than their infinitive forms, so basically students need to memorize the infinitive plus the first- and the second-person singular forms.
Nick: Could you give us some examples?
Beata: Sure. Let's take, for example, the verb "brać" ("to take"). The first-person singular form in the present tense would be "biorę" ("I take") and the second-person form would be "bierzesz" ("you take"). Do you see how different they are from their infinitive? When you look back at the conjugations "-m," "-sz" or "-ę," "-isz/-ysz," the conjugated forms are very often quite similar to the infinitive forms. With the conjugation "-ę," "-esz," this is very often not the case.
Nick: So I would say that students probably have a lot of problems with this conjugation. It's not only the fact that, first of all, you have to remember what conjugation a particular verb belongs to, but then you have to apply all the changes and endings. Wow, this is a lot.
Beata: Yes, but again, the more you practice, the faster you will know what conjugation to use and what endings to apply.
Nick: Okay, so we just covered the present tense. We know that in total there are three tenses in Polish…present, past, and future, which makes it a lot easier for prospective students. Tell us, then, what's the story with the past tense? Is it nearly as complicated as the present tense?
Beata: Actually, the past tense is quite simple. All Polish verbs, the regular or the irregular ones, follow the same rules to form the past tense.
Nick: Could you give us a few examples?
Beata: Let's take the same verbs that we used to illustrate present tense conjugations, but this time they will be presented in the past tense. Okay, so the verb "czytać" ("to read") will become "czytałam" ("I read" for females) and "czytałem" ("I read" for males) in the past tense.
Nick: I will try the forms for "robić" ("to do"). It's going to be "robiłam" ("I did" for females) and "robiłem" ("I did" for males).
Beata: Very good. And now the verb "brać" ("to take"). It's going to be "brałam" ("I took" for females) and "brałem" ("I took" for males). No irregularities here. Everything is based on the infinitive form of a given verb.
Nick: So I see that in the past tense, depending on the gender of the subject, we can either have masculine or feminine endings added. The neuter ending is only used in the third person. What about the future tense?
Beata: The compound future tense is also quite straightforward. To be able to form it, you need to simply conjugate the verb "być" ("to be") in the future tense, and then add the infinitive form of the desired verb. For example…"Będę czytać" ("I will read.").
Nick: How do we know when a verb in Polish is in its infinitive form?
Beata: The infinitive form of a verb is easy to recognize by its ending "-ć." For example…"pić" ("to drink"), "czytać" ("to read"), "brać" ("to take"). We can also recognize it by the ending "-c." For instance…"móc" ("can," "to be able to").
Nick: Okay, that's quite simple. So you told us about three tenses in Polish so far. They are the present, past, and the compound future. Is there anything else that you would like to add here?
Beata: There's one more thing that needs to be mentioned, and it kind of affects the tenses. It's a feature of the Polish language called the aspect of verbs, and it can be challenging at times. It's broken down into two categories…the imperfective aspect (for example, "czytać," meaning "to read") and the perfective aspect (for example, "przeczytać," also meaning "to read"). Each of these aspects refers to the state of an action of a particular verb.
Nick: Okay, this sounds a little complicated. We might need some more information on that.
Beata: There are a lot of rules as to when to use the imperfective or perfective aspect of a verb; however, we will again limit ourselves to the most important ones. The imperfective aspect is used to express an action that is repeated on a regular basis or is in progress, whereas the perfective aspect is used to express an action that has been completed or will be completed in the future.
Nick: So, if I were to use the imperfective form "czytać," it would mean that I'm either reading right now or that I read something pretty much every day, right?
Beata: You got it.
Nick: And if I were to use the perfective form "przeczytać," it would mean that I either finished reading something or that I plan on reading it completely through?
Beata: That's it in a nutshell.
Nick: In that case, it looks like one English verb will have two Polish counterparts…one imperfective and one perfective.
Beata: Not all of the English verbs will have two Polish equivalents, but a lot of them will.
Nick: You have mentioned that this feature affects the tenses in Polish. Could you be more specific?
Beata: Perfective verbs only form the simple future tense. To be able to create the future tense of perfective verbs, you simply have to conjugate the perfective verbs the same as in the present tense (using your knowledge of the three conjugations) and these will be your future forms. Do not add the verb "to be" in the simple future tense; it is not necessary. For example…"Przeczytam tę książkę" ("I will read this book.").
Nick: I can see why this might be confusing and require a lot of practice on our listeners' part.
Beata: As always, practice makes perfect. We hope this short introduction has prepared you for your journey into the Polish language. Hopefully after this, there should be no major surprises!
Nick: Keep up with PolishPod101.com for more lessons that will teach you Polish the easy and fun way.