POLISH IN A NUTSHELL
In a previous thread I've tried to explain Polish in a concise and understandable manner. I succeeded in one or two of my posts but not in others. I will try a different approach here, and eschew the use of all but the most basic linguistic terms. I will let you know what the technical name of the subject being dealt with is, but it's only there so that you can Google easily to learn more.
My aim here is to condense the most common patterns of the Polish language in a single post. It's still going to be a long post, but if I can fit the majority of those patterns in a single long-ish post, then, well, it ain't that bad. The biggest obstacle for Western Europeans isn't really grammar, but vocabulary, which is mostly Slavic with the odd Latin/Greek borrowing, whereas old borrowings and much of the common Indo-European vocabulary have diverged so much that even when they're there, the words are unrecognisable.
Hopefully, this will be useful for somebody as a quick grammar reference. Then, the only thing left for you to do will be to get a hang of the vocabulary and to iron out the creases.
I will divide this into three sections. The first will be a concise summary of the patterns to follow in making verbs. The second will be a summary of the most difficult part of Polish - the patterns in producing Polish nouns and when to use what pattern.
The last will be in a follow-on post, and will include a glossary of common short words and their translations, since they occur often and are hard to find in the dictionary. Hopefully, they will help those who want to, to jump in and start translating something so that so as to actually get a feel for the language and pick up some vocab. Ideally that would be a song, because then you can play it over and over and brand the words into your head.
Now, if you get frustrated about having to look up the same word 10 times, well, that's just the way it goes. When I was originally learning Polish and Spanish, I did it back in the days when you had to pay for dial-up, so I was using paper dictionaries. With ling.pl, Google and autosuggest, looking up words is a lot less painful. That said, the added pain of looking something up manually does make you try harder to remember, since you don't want to do it again. But you inevitably forget anyway.POLISH VERBS - THE SLIGHTLY LESS SCARY PART OF POLISH
Polish verbs almost always come in pairs. One means "to do something" (technical name: perfective) and the other means "to be doing something" (technical name: imperfective). Much like English adds the suffix "-ed" to form the past tense, (for example "wait" -> "waited"), Polish adds suffixes to make four of its five different tenses and the "would" form. It uses a separate word to make its fifth tense. There are only about 20 or so different suffixes, so it's not that
bad. Knowing what order to stack them in and when to use what is a little more difficult, but that comes with practice, and compared to the Romance languages, I think it's actually a little easier.
To get all or most of the forms of a Polish verb, you need to know the dictionary form, the "he/she/it is doing" form and sometimes the "I am doing form." I will do very little explaining this time round, unlike in my original post. All I will do is put the suffixes in bold, and you can do the hard work of working out other verbs by analogy.
So, here's our template verb. To be able to get all the correct forms of a verb, you need the dictionary form and the one for "he/she/it". Sometimes, you also need the "I" form:
brać - to be taking
zabrać - to take
biorę - I am taking
bierze - he/she/it is goingPresent (continuous) tense and future simple
ja biorę - I am takingPast and past continuous
oni/one biorą - they are taking
on/ona/ono bierze - he/she/it is taking
ty bierzesz - you are taking
my bierzemy - we are taking
wy bierzecie - you (plural) are taking
For the future simple, just add the same prefix as in the "to do" version of the verb, which in this case is "zabrać".
zabierzemy - we will take
Note: words where the "I" form ends in the letter "m" typically work slightly differently:
gram - I am playing
grają - they are playing
brać - to be takingFuture continuous
on brał - he was taking
ona brała - she was taking
ono brało - it was taking
oni brali - they were taking (at least one must be human and male)
one brały - they were taking (excluding males)
With the "to do" version of the verb, you do the exact same thing:
zabrać - to take
on zabrał - he took
oni zabrali - they took
And for other people, you add suffixes
ja zabrałem - I took
ty zabrałeś - you took
my zabraliśmy - we took
wy zabraliście - you (pl.) took
To clarify, the difference between braliście and zabraliście is:
zabraliście - you took
braliście - you were taking
In speech, you might hear the suffix added on to "my" or "wy":
myśmy zabrali - we took
wyście zabrali - you (pl.) took
and rarely (and informally):
tyś zabrał - you took
The meaning is the same.
Recap of the past forms:The "would" form
brał - he was taking
brała - she was taking
brali - they were taking
Now, here are the words you need to make the future continuous form:
ja będę - I will be
ty będziesz - you will be
on/ona/ono będzie - he/she/it will be
my będziemy - we will be
wy będziecie - you (pl.) will be
oni/one będą - they will be
You add the two together to form the future tense:
będę brał - I will be taking
będziemy brali - we will be taking
You can also say: będę brać and będziemy jechać. This works for almost all verbs, but not all. And if you're a guy, będę brał is the preferred form. If you're a girl, it doesn't matter.
(technical name: conditional)
This is identical to the past tense, except you add "by", which means "would."Other forms
zabraliby - they would take
zabralibyśmy - we would take
zabrałbyś - you would take
And of course, without the prefix:
bralibyśmy - we wouldbe taking
If you add "ja", "ty", "on/ona/ono", "my", "wy", "oni/one", it's generally considered good practice to flip the word order:
my byśmy zabrali - we would take
For making a command (technical name: imperative), you sometimes just drop the end of the "he/she/it" form
bierze - he/she/it is taking
bierz - take it!
bierzcie - you guys, take it!
bierzmy - let's take it!
A lot of verbs also make the command form by adding a -j to the dictionary form:
dawać - to be giving
dawaj - give it!
dawajcie - give it, you guys!
dawajmy - let's give
biorąc - while I/you/he/she/it/we/they were taking
biorący/e/a - taking, who is taking
brany - taken, which is being taken
zabrany - taken, which has been taken
brano - it was being taken
zabrano - it was taken
extremely rare: zabrawszy - after having taken it
Lastly, just like English verbs change meanings when combined with different prepositions, "take out" "take up" "take down", etc., Polish does the same with prefixes. There is some overlap between Polish prefixes and English verb variants, but not much. These prefixed forms also come with a different "to be doing" form.
wybrać/wybierać - to choose / to be choosing
przebrać/przebierać - to change clothes / to be changing clothes
zebrać/zbierać - to gather / to be gathering
ubrać/ubierać - to put clothes on, to take a little / to be putting clothes on, to be taking a little
obrać/obierać - to peel / to be peeling
That's verbs covered! If you can handle verbs, you can produce moderately understandable Polish just by using the dictionary without knowing anything about the noun system.
Now onto nouns.THE EVIL NOUN SYSTEM
Screw grammar. Besides the noun system, it's fairly similar to the Romance languages, and by extension, not too different from English. You only need to get deep into grammar to go from speaking pretty well to speaking like a pro. But to be honest, getting to that level is best done naturally through passive learning by reading or watching TV, once you can already understand the language more or less.
This whole aspect of Polish is about producing a predictable pattern of suffixes after certain words so that if the listener mishears the initial word, they can still have a good guess at what was said. If you follow these patterns, you will produce understandable Polish 95%+ of the time. You can learn about the various sound changes and exceptions in your own time to sound better. But if you want to go from zero to producing understandable, and frequently correct Polish with the least amount of effort (although still considerable effort, since the initial learning curve is quite steep), here's your quick reference guide.
It does need a brief introduction. In all these examples, I will use readily recognisable borrowed words so you can pick out the patterns easily.
I will use: tygrys (tiger), policjant (policeman), telefon (telephone), auto (car) and antena (antenna/aerial)
They correspond to the five categories of Polish words:
those ending in a consonant denoting a human figure
those ending in a consonant denoting an animal
those ending in a consonant denoting a thing
those ending in -e or -o
those ending in -a
While the ending does determine its use most of the time, I recommend learning words together with the word for "this", e.g. "ten tygrys", "ta antena", "to auto," because that will come in useful if you ever want to go pro in Polish.
You will notice that quite often, most of the categories follow a near identical pattern most of the time, with the words ending with 'a' having a special form.
I will also use the verbs "widzę", "nie widzę", "dałem to," "jestem" and "jesteśmy" (I see, I don't see, I gave it, I am and we are) to demonstrate these patterns, and the words "ten mały" (this little) so that you can see how the different types of words change in different circumstances. If you follow these patterns down to a tee and plug in different words, you will either get correct Polish or come close enough to be easily understood.
These are the most common forms, and while there are alternatives (some that I will list, so that you're not confused), if you become familiar enough with these patterns to be able to use them without thinking too much about it, then you'll be in a similar or better position than the speakers of related Slavic languages with regard to grammar, and then it'll only be a case of building up your vocabulary and polishing your Polish like a rough diamond to make it shine.
Let's get going.The dictionary form
(technical name: nominative)
The singularThe "not/of" pattern
ten mały policjant
ten mały tygrys
ten mały telefon
to małe auto
ta mała antena
ci mali policjanci
te małe tygrysy
te małe telefony
te małe auta
te małe anteny
Occasional alternative pattern: fotograf -> fotografowie
(technical name: genitive)
ja nie widzę tego małego policjanta
ja nie widzę tego małego tygrysa
ja nie widzę tego małego telefonu
ja nie widzę tego małego auta
ja nie widzę tej małej anteny
Very common alternative pattern for things: telewizor -> telewizora
ja nie widzę tych małych policjantów
ja nie widzę tych małych tygrysów
ja nie widzę tych małych telefonów
ja nie widzę tych małych aut-
ja nie widzę tych małych anten-
Occasional alternative pattern for people: stolarz -> stolarzy
Using the "not/of"
1) You use this pattern after verbs saying that someone is NOT
doing something. This includes the special Polish phrase, "nie ma", which means "there is/are no". So "nie ma małego telefonu" means "there is no little telephone"
2) If you delete the "nie widzę" part, you get the possessive pattern, meaning "OF
that little policeman" and so on.
3) You use this pattern after these prepositions. Note, that if you use a different pattern after some of these prepositions, they may take on a different meaning:
od - from
do - to
z - out of
dla - for
u - at
bez - without
prócz, oprócz - apart from
obok - beside, next to
koło - by, near, around
wokół, około, naokoło, dokoła, dookoła - around
blisko - near
wśród - among
znad - from above
spod - from under
naprzeciw, naprzeciwko - oppositve
podczas - during, at the same time as
według - according to
zamiast - instead ofThe "to" pattern
(technical name: dative)
dałem to temu małemu policjantowi
dałem to temu małemu tygrysowi
dałem to temu małemu telefonowi
dałem to temu małemu autu
dałem to tej małej antenie
Occasional alternative pattern: brat -> bratu, Bóg -> Bogu, Pan -> Panu
dałem to tym małym policjantom
dałem to tym małym tygrysom
dałem to tym małym telefonom
dałem to tym małym autom
dałem to tym małym antenom
Using the "to"
1) You use this pattern when you're talking about doing something "TO" something else. "Dałem to temu małemu policjantowi" translates to "I gave it TO this little policeman." You can say, "Towarzyszyłem temu małemu policjantowi", which translates to "I accompanied this little policeman", but it literally works like, "I was a companion TO this little policeman."
2) You use this pattern after these prepositions:
ku - TOwards
dzięki - thanks TO
przeciw, przeciwko - againstThe "is doing it" pattern
(technical name: accusative)
ja widzę tego małego policjanta
ja widzę tego małego tygrysa
ja widzę ten mały telefon
ja widzę to małe auto
ja widzę tę małą antenę
ja widzę tych małych policjantów
ja widzę te małe tygrysy
ja widzę te małe telefony
ja widzę te małe auta
ja widzę te małe anteny
1) This pattern is identical to the "not/of" pattern for some words. You use this pattern when someone IS doing something. "Widzę ten mały telefon" means "I see this little policeman."
To reiterate, when someone IS DOING something, you use the "is doing it" pattern. If someone is NOT doing something, you use the "not/of" pattern.
2) You use this pattern after these prepositions. Note, that if you use a different pattern after some of these prepositions, they may take on a different meaning:
na - onto
w - into
o - for, about
po - for the purpose of
przez - through
pod - under (indicating movement to a location)
nad - over (indicating movement to a location)
przed - before (indicating movement to a location)
za - in exchange for, to become as, behind, in front (indicating movement to a location)
między - in between (indicating movement to a location)The "being/using" pattern
(technical name: instrumental)
ja jestem tym małym policjantem
ja jestem tym małym tygrysem
ja jestem tym małym telefonem
ja jestem tym małym autem
ja jestem tą małą anteną
my jesteśmy tymi małymi policjantami
my jesteśmy tymi małymi tygrysami
my jesteśmy tymi małymi telefonami
my jesteśmy tymi małymi autami
my jesteśmy tymi małymi antenami
The only rare exceptions: oko -> oczyma, ręka -> rękoma. The regular forms, oczami and rękami are also considered correct.
Using the "being/using"
1) You use this pattern when something IS something. "Ja jestem policjantem/tygrysem/telefonem" means "I am a policeman/tiger/telephone."
2) If you delete "ja jestem", the pattern means you were USING something, or achieved something BY MEANS OF something else. "Dzwoniłem tym małym telefonem" means "I was making a phone call USING/BY MEANS OF this little telephone."
3) You use this pattern after these prepositions. Note, that if you use a different pattern after some of these prepositions, they may take on a different meaning:
z - together with, with
nad - above, over
pod - beneath, under
przed - before, in front
za - behind, after
między - betweenThe "on/about" pattern
(technical name: locative)
na tym małym policjancie
na tym małym tygrysie
na tym małym telefonie
na tym małym aucie
na tej małej antenie
Words ending in -ek or -ko follow a slightly different pattern: tygrysek -> tygrysku, autko -> autku
Words ending in -ka also follow a slightly different pattern: antenka -> antence
Words ending in -ga, by analogy: Praga -> Pradze
na tych małych policjantach
na tych małych tygrysach
na tych małych telefonach
na tych małych autach
na tych małych antenach
Using the "on/about"
1) You use this pattern to say where something is at. Not where it's going, but to describe it's current position. "Na tym małym telefonie" means "ON this little telephone." If you want to say where something is going and use the pattern for the word "onto", you use the "is doing it"
2) You use this pattern when something is ABOUT something else. "Książka o tych małych tygrysach" is "a book about these little tigers".
3) You use this pattern with prepositions, and never without them. Note, that if you use a different pattern after some of these prepositions, they may take on a different meaning:
na - on
w - in
o - about
po - all over
przy - by, next to, besideThe "hey you!" pattern
(technical name: vocative)
ty mały policjancie!
ty mały tygrysie!
ty mały telefonie!
ty małe auto!
ty mała dziewczyno!
Words ending in -ek follow a slightly different pattern: tygrysek -> tygrysku
same as the dictionary form
Using the "hey you!"
1) You use this pattern when you're addressing something directly. "Ty mały tygrysie" means "Oh, you little tiger."
2) In colloquial language, this pattern is optional for people's names, but is required in all other situations. In formal language, this pattern is always mandatory.
That's it!GLOSSARY OF COMMON SHORT WORDS
If you're trying to translate Polish text, this may be quite helpful.
a : whereas, and, but
aby : so that, in order to, for x to
albo : or
ani : neither, nor, not even
by : would, so that, in order to, for x to
ci : to you
ciebie : you
cię : you
co : what
cóż : what
czemu : why, what
czy : whether, or, [question]
czym : which
gdy : while, when
gdyż : because, since
go : him
i : and, even
ich : them, their
im : to them
jak : how, like, as though, when, if
ją : her
je : it, them
jego : him, his
jej : her, to her
jemu : to him
już : already
który : which
lub : or
mi : to me
mną : me
mnie : me
mu : to him
nam : to us
nami : us
nań : at him/her/it, onto him/her/it
nas : us
nią : her
niby : as if, seemingly
nie ma : there is not
niego : him
niej : her
niemu : him
nim : him
nimi : them
ów : that
siebie : oneself
się : oneself
sobą : oneself
sobie : to oneself
tego, że : what, the fact that
to, że : what, the fact that
tobą : you
tobie : to you
tuż : right
tym, że : what, with the fact that
wam : to you (plural)
wami : you (plural)
was : you (plural)
więc : so, therefore
zaś : conversely, whereas, while
zbyt : too much
żeby : so that, in order to, for x to