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Help me understand Polish imperfective vs perfective verbs?


dominik88 1 | 3
26 Sep 2011 #1
Hello! It seems like I can't understand the difference between the use of imperfective and perfective verbs in Polish. How do I know when I should use imperfective or perfective? Please explain very clearly with examples too, so I can understand. It seems like it is hard for me to grasp the difference, when to use which form......

Thank you
Dominik
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,846
26 Sep 2011 #2
do you know some English tenses? It really might help (if English is your native language, that is!)
Have you thought about what you mean when you say,
I smoke....(when, how often?)
I have smoked. I have never smoked......
I had smoked for years before I discovered weed....

for example.

(Please don't jump down my throat, you ardent tefflers out there, I am not in the mood).
Lyzko
26 Sep 2011 #3
The key difference between English, French etc. verb tenses and Slavic aspects, lies in the fact that tenses measure TIME of action completed, whereas for example Polish aspect indicates DURATION of action to be completed.

This point is possibly the most difficult area of Polish language acquisition, since case endings etc.. can essentially be learned mechanically, by rote, as it were, aspects involve thinking anew in a completely different language framework! For instance, here below are several verbs. The forms on the left are the IMPERFECTIVE aspect, or REPEATED, ITERATIVE form. The forms on the right represent the PERFECTIVE or DETERMINATE form(s):

chodzić - to go/come iść/pójść - to go
podobać się - to find pleasing spodobać się - to find pleasing
przemykać - to flit by przemyknąć - to flit by

Ola chodzi do szkoły. = Ola goes to school (attends regularly) vs. Ola idzie do szkoły. = Ola is going/walking to school (right now).

Klasyczna muzyka podoba mi się. = I enjoy classical music. (always) vs. Ten koncert bardzo spodoba mi się! = I really like this concert a lot!
Kot zawsze przemyka każdego wieczora. = The cat always flits by every evening. vs. Nagle przemyknął kot! = Suddenly, the cat flitted past!

Furthermore, perfective verbs can often be distinguished from imperfective ones by the prefix in front of it, e.g. 'Spodobac', 'POchodzić' etc...
Imperfective verbs usually do not have such prefixes.
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,846
26 Sep 2011 #4
Lyzko

English, French etc. verb tenses and Slavic aspects, lies in the fact that tenses measure TIME of action completed

Lyzko, I know you're a good linguist and all, but English tenses do not actually measure time at all.

For example, suppose you came into the room where you knew that Delphiandomine and I had been having dinner together, and you found DD dead, with blood spattered up the walls, and I had disappeared, with my bloody footprints leading out of the door.....you might say..

'Oh no!! Rozumiemnic has murdered DD!!'
Now what does that have to do with time?

I started talking about English tenses and aspects to the OP as so many people have never thought about these things in their own languages, and if they did, it might make learning another language easier.
Leopejo 4 | 120
26 Sep 2011 #5
Ola chodzi do szkoły. = Ola goes to school (attends regularly) vs. Ola idzie do szkoły. = Ola is going/walking to school (right now).
Klasyczna muzyka podoba mi się. = I enjoy classical music. (always) vs. Ten koncert bardzo spodoba mi się! = I really like this concert a lot!
Kot zawsze przemyka każdego wieczora. = The cat always flits by every evening. vs. Nagle przemyknął kot! = Suddenly, the cat flitted past!

I don't know if the first two are very good examples. Chodzić and iść are both imperfective, though the first iterative. Ten koncert bardzo mi się spodoba would be future, wouldn't it?
Lyzko
26 Sep 2011 #6
Well, in a sense though, it still does (..measure time, that is), as WHEN the action has been completed is as important as the action itself.

Let's take a better example such as the Polish 'pisać' vs. NApisać '. In the former, the act of writing is indicated as ongoing, whereas in the latter, the act of writing has a cut-off point:

Piszę list. = I'm writing a letter. vs. Napiszę list = I'm (finishing) writing a letter.
pawian 187 | 17,898
26 Sep 2011 #7
Nagle przemyknął kot! = Suddenly, the cat flitted past!

If it flitted twice within a few seconds, it suggests some shortcuts in Matrix.
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,846
26 Sep 2011 #8
Well, in a sense though, it still does (..measure time, that is), as WHEN the action has been completed is as important as the action itself

no, DD could have been murdered at any time.....your comment would have no relation as to WHEN the murder took place at all.
People who have taught English (as I am guessing u might have) are so hung up on TENSE meaning TIME...when it simply doesn't, it's a misnomer.

I was teaching English for years before this clicked.
Lyzko
26 Sep 2011 #9
Sorry, Rozumiemnic, but as a native-born English instructor for many years as well, I simply can't agree with you on this one! Tense is indeed closely connected with "time", as "tense" means "time" and does so in a variety of European languages, in any event-:) If this were not the case, why then would language speakers of languages even closer to English than Polish, for example, German, continue to make umpteen tense-related errors practically every time they open their mouth or write down a slightly more complicated sentence??
rozumiemnic 8 | 3,846
26 Sep 2011 #10
Tense is indeed closely connected with "time", as "tense" means "time" and does so in a variety of European languages,

yes but in the case of English, the word 'tense' has simply been borrowed unthinkingly from the Latin, along with many other nonsense things ("never split an infinitive") and what are described as 'tenses' are in fact, aspects. Think about it, do some reading, so many 'native born English teachers' just get stuck in a rut, and never reflect on what has been set down wrongly for years.

Have you read Yule?
peter_olsztyn 6 | 1,098
26 Sep 2011 #11
Napiszę list

I'm going to write a letter

I'm (finishing) writing a letter

napisałem list or kończę pisać list?
Lyzko
26 Sep 2011 #12
or Będę pisał list = I'm going to (finish writing) the letter

-:)
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #13
Hello! It seems like I can't understand the difference between the use of imperfective and perfective verbs in Polish. How do I know when I should use imperfective or perfective? Please explain very clearly with examples too, so I can understand. It seems like it is hard for me to grasp the difference, when to use which form......

the aspects are best understood for the past and the present

perfective aspect in the past indicates that an action has been finished - Napisałem list - I have written a letter (Or 'W piątek napisałam list do Basi' - I wrote a letter to Basia on Friday)

imperfective in the past just mentions the action and never states if it was finished or not - it just states that an action or process was taking place - W piątek wieczorem pisałem list. I was writing a letter on the Friday evening.

Pisałem list, gdy zadzwonił Heniek. - I was writing a letter when Henry phoned.

if an action was habitual in the past you also often use imperfective - Często pisałaś do Basi? - Did you write Basia often?

(but when habitual or iterative actions are involved you often use yet another aspect in Polish which is called iterative or frequentative)

Now, in the present you can't have completed actions - all the actions and processes in the present are ongoing - that's why there are no imperfective forms of the present

Now a note about creation of 'perfective' forms and often misleading similarity of present tense imperfective forms and future tense perfective forms:

Perfective forms are in the vast majority formed by adding a preposition before an imperfective form - however most prepositions change the semantics of the word (like adding a prepostion after an English verb mostly does too) - but some prepositions added to an imperfective form are semantically neutral

robię - I am doing (or I do - depending on context) - - - > z + robię (z as a preposition means 'with' here*) = zrobię - I will do (you notice the visual similarity of the two forms)

*actually the 'z' preposition has two different meanings and they come from two different words (have different etymologies)
one is '(together) with' - while the other is 'from', 'out of' (generally speaking)

the difficult stuff is often to know what preposition is traditionally semantically neutral for a given verb - mostly you just have to memorize it

zrobię, napiszę, posłucham, uwierzę, (the infinitives are zrobić, napisać, posłuchać, uwierzyć)
a.k.
27 Sep 2011 #14
or Będę pisał list = I'm going to (finish writing) the letter

Still wrong. I will be writing a letter. No information about finishing it here. It's imprefective.
Perfective form will be: Napiszę list = I will write a letter.

robię - I am doing (or I do - depending on context) - - - > z + robię (z as a preposition means 'with' here*) = zrobię - I will do (you notice the visual similarity of the two forms)

It's not a best example because you mixed here 2 tenses: present and future. It would be bettert if you demonstrate the rule in one tense, e.g. robiłem - zrobiłem (both in past) or robić-zrobić (inifinitive forms of verbs).
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #15
It's not a best example because you mixed here 2 tenses: present and future. It would be bettert if you demonstrate the rule in one tense, e.g. robiłem - zrobiłem (both in past) or robić-zrobić (inifinitive forms of verbs).

it was exactly to show that two similar forms are not only two different aspects but also two different tenses - read the post through
Lyzko
27 Sep 2011 #16
Yet, a.k., "I will be writing..." in English is clearly future! There's therefore no intrinsic difference in the translation of "Będę pisał(a)" vs. "Napiszę". I think you were just thrown off slightly by the fact that English has a progessive form and Polish hasn't. Come to think of it, Spanish (escribo/escribando etc..) is one of the few languages which also has a continuous tense comparable with "-ing"-:)
a.k.
27 Sep 2011 #17
Lyzko

I don't know about how it sounds in English but I think that more direct translation of to be going to is zamierzać:
Zamierzam napisać list.
However I agree that Napiszę list or Będę pisał list can be both translated as I'm going to write a letter. It's more about context here.
Lyzko
27 Sep 2011 #18
Your statement nonetheless doesn't negate the former, does it?

Oh, I see! Yet, "Będę pisał" could also mean "I will" as well as "I intend". Future in Polish though is admittedly more definite than in English. When Polish declares that something WILL be done, it is as if it already HAS BEEN done, I think-:)
OP dominik88 1 | 3
27 Sep 2011 #19
Maybe I'm starting to get it......so, I should use imperfective for an action that, for example, is a habit, or just happens regularly, or just happens in an undetermined time, while perfective is for determined actions, for example......I'm going to the park today (perfective) vs I always go to park (imperfective)......is that right? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

I think Polish is a great, beautiful and rich language, and I'm not finding it very difficult at all (I think some people really exaggerate a lot when they say it's the hardest language to learn), the only thing that is very difficult for me is the choice of perfective vs imperfective.....but I'm sure I'm starting to understand better now that you all are giving examples, so thank you, I appreciate that.

And yes my native language is English, so it takes more time for me to understand the complicated and amazing Slavic grammar system
boletus 30 | 1,366
27 Sep 2011 #20
Oh, I see! Yet, "Będę pisał" could also mean "I will" as well as "I intend". Future in Polish though is admittedly more definite than in English. When Polish declares that something WILL be done, it is as if it already HAS BEEN done, I think-:)

I am going to be splitting hair a bit here but for me there is definitely big difference between the two: napiszę i będę pisać.

Napiszę - napiszę list, napiszę książkę - is a promise that I am going to make it and the result will be a finished product - no matter how long it will take: one hour, 10 years, or all my life. And it does not need to be done during one session. So all the theories about timings are not that important here. The important part is "dokonanie" - the act of finishing of the action of writing. No one expects me to write a book in one hour, but "słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płota" and my listeners assume that I really intend to finish the thing up, and I will finish it - unless I am a perpetual liar.

Using the perfective in past tense is even easier, because your audience may demand a verification from you. "Napisałeś wreszcie tę książkę? Pokaż!" Show us a copy or prove that it is available in bookstores or libraries. Yeah, yeah - we know that "ty ją pisałeś, ale tak naprawdę nigdy jej nie napisałeś i nigdy nie zamierzałeś jej napisać."

In "będę pisać", however, there is no such promise of "dokonanie". "Będę pisać książkę o Ameryce" - does not contain any qualification about the final result. It is vague; I may never even intend to finish it up. This might be my way of dealing with boredom.

"Będę pisał listy do ciebie" - contains a promise of writing, but it is an open promise, with no definite end.

"Przyrzeknij mi, że będziesz do mnie pisał jeden list dziennie." This sentence is vague, because it may well mean a process of writing, abandoning it in the middle - never mind posting it out. The correct form would be "Przyrzeknij mi, że napiszesz do mnie jeden list dziennie." However, such form is never used because a rational supplicant cannot actually expect "dokonanie" in every circumstances. So she begs to at least try writing to her (Sorry, Mom).

The past form "pisałem", again has no promise of "dokonanie". As someone already say here: "Pisałem list, gdy Jurek wszedł do pokoju." The letter writing was interrupted and there is no promise that it was ever finished.

"Pisałem tę książkę przez wiele lat, aż mi się to znudziło". Again, no final product, but the implication is that the process was repetitive, routine - maybe one page a day, or one page a month.

I do not remember how is it formally defined but there is one more form for all three tenses:
pisywałem
pisuję
będę pisywać

In all this cases the act of writing is sporadic, maybe random, from time to time.

"Pisywałem także do gazet sportowych – 'Barwy sportu', 'Gem, set, mecz', itp.
"Będę pisywał do ciebie od czasu do czasu."
"Gdzie ludzie listy pisują?"
"Jestem staroświecka jak Jan III Sobieski, pisuję słodkie listy miłosne."

Try to substitute "pisuję" by "piszę" in the last sentence and you should intuitively see that the effect is not quite the same. The lady here is not in a habit of writing love letters routinely; she does it from time to time.
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #21
so, I should use imperfective for an action that, for example, is a habit, or just happens regularly, or just happens in an undetermined time, while perfective is for determined actions, for example......I'm going to the park today (perfective) vs I always go to park (imperfective)......is that right? Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

perfective is almost solely restricted to actions/processes that have been completed (past tense) napisałem- I have written or are thought (or speculated) to be completed or thought will be completed - napiszę - I will have written - napisałbym - I would have written

habitual or regular actions can be expressed either by imperfective forms or frequentative forms (which I will not expand into here because it's gonna mud the picture for you now)

there is a class of verbs that are one time actions - these are perfective by default - such verbs are for example: kupić (to buy) - puknąć (to knock (but not to keep knocking) - kopnąć (to kick (but not to keep kicking) - krzyknąć (to cry (shout)(but not to keep crying) - there are forms thought to be iterative (less so imperfective) forms of such verbs though
Leopejo 4 | 120
27 Sep 2011 #22
To make it as simple as possible:

past, future, infinitive (to + verb):

- perfective means completing something one time: napisałem list, przeczytałem książkę - I wrote the letter, I read the book as in I completed reading it.

- imperfective means either being doing something, where the action is more important than the (attained or probably not attained) result, AND/OR when something is repeated: pisałem list, czytałem książke - I was writing a letter, I read a book (all day long)

present:
- you have only imperfective, as in the present you ARE doing something, you can't complete something exactly now.

imperative:
- as a very rough rule of thumb, positive imperatives are usually perfective, negative ones imperfective: zrób to! nie rób tego!

While one aspectual pair usually corresponds to one only verb in English, sometimes there are two different verbs in English, which might let you understand the difference better. For example zdawać egzamin means "to take an exam", while zdać egzamin "to pass an exam".

As for verb formation, it roughly goes like this:

- from a given imperfective (gotować) you get the perfective by adding a prefix (ugotować).
- you can also form other perfectives with other prefixes and with different meanings: przygotować
- the new perfective may in turn form imperfectives, often adding -yw-, -aw- or -ow-, as in przygotowywać

Though often imperfective/perfective pairs are formed otherwise. For example the imperfective might end in -ać and the perfective in -ić or -yć; other times in -ąć. Sometimes there are bigger changes, sometimes no relation at all (wziąć/brać, -kładać/-łożyć)
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #23
For example zdawać egzamin means "to take an exam", while zdać egzamin "to pass an exam".

Lyzko
27 Sep 2011 #24
"pisywać" is an even more imperfective verb, which though can also be 'perfectivized' through those prefixes... e.g. "ROZpisywać" = to keep writing and writing until your fingers hurt etc...

Other imperfective forms of common perfective verbs:

mawiać mówić
chadzać
etc....
Leopejo 4 | 120
27 Sep 2011 #25
For example zdawać egzamin means "to take an exam", while zdać egzamin "to pass an exam".

Oops! What was I thinking? Shamelessly edited.

In addition, I wouldn't introduce iterative verbs to the OP, or he'll abandon Polish immediately... Imperfective vs. perfective should already keep him busy for some time.
Lyzko
27 Sep 2011 #26
Nice one! "zdawać"/"zdać" is an especially razor-edged pitfall!!!
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #27
In addition, I wouldn't introduce iterative verbs to the OP, or he'll abandon Polish immediately... Imperfective vs. perfective should already keep him busy for some time.

I just mentioned them not even given an example - I know it's just too much to swallow for one time - perfective vs imperfective is enough to ponder for good couple of months if you are not born into it I presume

oh and well DAĆ (and zdać as its developement though with a completely different semantic field) is a very good example of a one time action verb = perfective (of which Leopejo has actually given the imperfective/iterative form - you should be more careful Leopejo ;)
Leopejo 4 | 120
27 Sep 2011 #28
you should be more careful Leopejo

You are not the first to tell me that ;-D
Lyzko
27 Sep 2011 #29
Don't sweat it, Leo! Typos are bound to occur, and I presume same in your case-:)

Aspectual distinctions are a tough nut to crack, even for educated Poles, teachers of Polish themselves, I'm toldLOL
gumishu 11 | 5,993
27 Sep 2011 #30
Aspectual distinctions are a tough nut to crack, even for educated Poles, teachers of Polish themselves, I'm toldLOL

it's not that we are not able to use them correctly - it's about being conscious when and where we use them which is the firts thing if you want to explain it to learners of Polish


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