Dialogue

Vocabulary

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Lesson Notes

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Lesson Transcript

Intro

Michael: How do you know if a Polish word is spelled with an open U or a closed U?
Igor: And are there any tips to help remember which letter to use?
Michael: At PolishPod101.com, we hear these questions often.
In the following dialogue, SASHA LEE (@HERO-DAUGHTER), a high-school exchange student, is making a poster with her classmate, ANETA ADAMSKA (@HIGHSCHOOL-CLASSMATE). She starts out writing the word for “system,” but is unsure how to finish it. She asks,
“System... Is that with an open u or with a closed u?"
SASHA LEE: Ustrój... Przez u otwarte czy ó zamknięte?
Dialogue
SASHA LEE: Ustrój... Przez u otwarte czy ó zamknięte?
ANETA ADAMSKA (@HIGHSCHOOL-CLASSMATE): Pierwsze “u” otwarte, drugie “ó” zamknięte. 
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
SASHA LEE: Ustrój... Przez u otwarte czy ó zamknięte?
“System... Is that with an open u or with a closed u?"
ANETA ADAMSKA (@HIGHSCHOOL-CLASSMATE): Pierwsze “u” otwarte, drugie “ó” zamknięte.
“First is an open “u,” second is a closed “u.” 

Lesson focus

Michael: 
Learners sometimes find spelling Polish words challenging — in part because the same sound can be represented by different letters. In this case, the word for “system” has two /u/ sounds, but they’re spelled with two different letters. In fact, there are two ways to write this /u/ sound in Polish.
The first way is using 
Igor: 
“u” otwarte
Michael: 
This is perhaps the easiest to remember because it is exactly the same as the English letter “u.” The name of this letter in Polish is literally translated as “an open u.”
The second way to write /u/ is using 
Igor: 
“ó” zamknięte
Michael: 
or literally “a closed u”. When it is written, it looks like an “o” with an acute accent.
How do we know which one to use when writing? A lot of exposure and practice is the key, but knowledge of inflection patterns and some general rules also helps greatly.
Michael: 
Let’s take a closer look at Sasha’s question.
Do you remember how she said,
“System... Is that with an open u or with a closed u?"
[Beep. Pause 5 seconds.]
SASHA LEE
Ustrój... Przez u otwarte czy ó zamknięte?
[Pause 4 seconds]
SASHA LEE
Ustrój... Przez u otwarte czy ó zamknięte?
Michael: 
Here, Sasha is unsure about the spelling. In this particular case, the rule indicating that the /u/ sound at the beginning of a word is often denoted with an open "u", comes in handy. 
Notice that the first /u/ sound in the word
Igor: 
ustrój,
Michael: 
meaning "system," comes right at the beginning, and thus will most likely be written with the open "u". Indeed, the first /u/ sound in the word
Igor: 
ustrój
Michael: 
is written in this way. There are few exceptions to this rule, such as in the word
Igor: 
ósemka
Michael: 
meaning “the number eight”, or 
Igor: 
ówczesny 
Michael: 
meaning “of that time,” but this is only the case for a very small group of words, so you can easily keep them in mind as exceptions. 
It’s also worth remembering that if the /u/ sound is the final sound in a word, it will always be written with the open "u" For example, this is the case, for the word 
Igor: 
bratu,
Michael: 
which is the masculine noun “brother” declined for the dative case.  
Here are some more tips: 
verbs forms ending in 
Igor:  
-uje
Michael: 
such as 
Igor: 
maluje
Michael: 
meaning "[he] is painting," and infinitive verb forms ending with 
Igor: 
-uć
Michael: 
such as
Igor: 
psuć
Michael: 
meaning “to spoil” or “to destroy,” will also be written with an open "u" Quite easy, isn’t it?
Now, let’s talk about the closed "u". Practically all words ending with  
Igor: 
-ów, -ówka, -ówna 
Michael: 
such as the city name “Kraków,” are written with a closed "u".  The key rule, though, is this: 
when cognates, or words sharing the same etymological root, of a noun drop the /u/ and replace it with “o,” then we know that we will write this noun with a closed "u".  Let’s consider one example. The word for “salt,” or 
Igor: 
sól
Michael: 
exchanges the /u/ sound for /o/ in its cognates, such as 
Igor: 
solony, solić
Michael: 
meaning “salted” and “to add salt.” Because the /u/ sound is dropped in the cognates, we know that the original word,  
Igor: 
sól
Michael: 
will be written with a closed "u".  
Michael: 
We have learned that while memorization is key, paying close attention to word beginnings and endings will help us to decide how to denote the /u/ sound when writing Polish words.
Remember that at the beginning of a word we usually use the open "u" , and that the closed "u" never appears as the last letter of a word. And remember another key rule: if other words sharing the same root drop the /u/ sound, you can be sure to write our original word with a closed "u".

Outro

Michael: 
Well done! Now you know some guidelines to help you spell words with the /u/ sound in Polish. That’s all there is to it! Be sure to download the lesson notes for this lesson at PolishPod101.com — and move onto the next lesson!

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