Slavic languages often seem a bit daunting with their cases and complex inflection systems. And although Polish grammar may present a bit of a challenge, there is nothing about it that you can’t master if you study it carefully and practice regularly.
This article will give you an overview over the key aspects of Polish grammar to give you the idea of what you should focus on learning.
Polish retains the Old Slavic system of cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. There are seven cases: nominative (mianownik), genitive (dopełniacz), dative (celownik), accusative (biernik), instrumental (narzędnik), locative (miejscownik), and vocative (wołacz).
Polish has two number classes: singular and plural. It used to also have the dual number, but it vanished around the 15th century.
There are three main genders (rodzaje): masculine (męski), feminine (żeński) and neuter (nijaki). Masculine nouns are further divided into personal (męskoosobowy), animate (męskożywotny), and inanimate (męskorzeczowy) categories.
There are no articles in the Polish language.
Adjectives agree with nouns in terms of gender, case, and number. Attributive adjectives most commonly precede the noun, although in certain cases, especially in fixed phrases (like język polski, “Polish (language)”), the noun may come first.
Most short adjectives have a comparative form in -szy or -iejszy, and a superlative obtained by prefixing naj- to the comparative. For adjectives that do not have these forms, the words bardziej (“more”) and najbardziej (“most”) are used before the adjective to make comparative and superlative phrases.
In Polish, adverbs are formed from adjectives with the ending -ie, or in some cases -o. Comparatives of adverbs are formed (where they exist) with the ending -iej. Superlatives have the prefix naj- as for adjectives.
The personal pronouns of Polish (nominative forms) are ja (“I”), ty (“you”, singular, familiar), on (“he”, or “it” corresponding to masculine nouns), ona (“she”, or “it” corresponding to feminine nouns), ono (“it” corresponding to neuter nouns), my (“we”), wy (“you”, plural, familiar), oni (“they”, corresponding to a masculine personal group), one (“they” in other cases; a group where are only girls/women).
The polite second-person pronouns are the same as the nouns pan (“gentleman, Mr”), pani (“lady, Mrs”), and their plurals panowie, panie. The mixed-sex plural is państwo. All second-person pronouns are often capitalized for politeness, in letters, etc.
Subject pronouns can be dropped if the meaning is clear and they are not emphasized.
When the referent of a pronoun is a person of unspecified sex, the masculine form of the pronoun is generally used. When the referent is a thing or idea that does not correspond to any specific noun, it is treated as neuter.
Polish verbs have the grammatical category of aspect. Each verb is either imperfective, meaning that it denotes continuous or habitual events, or perfective, meaning that it denotes single completed events (in particular, perfective verbs have no present tense). Verbs often occur in imperfective and perfective pairs – for example, jeść and zjeść both mean “to eat”, but the first has the imperfective aspect, the second – the perfective.
Imperfective verbs have three tenses: present, past, and future, the last being a compound tense. Perfective verbs have a past tense and a simple future tense, the latter formed on the same pattern as the present tense of imperfective verbs. Both types also have imperative and conditional forms. The dictionary form of a verb is the infinitive, which usually ends with -ć (occasionally with -c).
The present tense of imperfective verbs (and future tense of perfective verbs) has six forms, for the three persons and two numbers. The past tense agrees with the subject in gender as well as person and number.
Other forms of the verb are:
- present adverbial participle (imperfective verbs only), also called gerund, as śpiewając (meaning “(when) singing”, “by singing”, etc.)
- present adjectival participle (imperfective verbs only), formed from the gerund by adding adjectival endings, as śpiewający, etc., meaning “singing” (as an attributive adjective).
- passive participle (all transitive verbs), in -ny or -ty (conjugated as an adjective). This often corresponds to the English past participle, both in fully adjectival use and in the passive voice.
- subjectless past tense, formed as the past participle but with the ending -o (e.g. śpiewano “there was sung”).
- past active participle (perfective verbs only), like zabiwszy “having killed” (from zabić “kill”); this form is invariant.
- verbal noun, formed from the past participle with the ending -ie, e.g. śpiewanie. This is a neuter noun.
In Polish, different prepositions take different cases (all cases are possible except nominative and vocative); some prepositions can take different cases depending on the meaning.
Common prepositions include: na (on, onto), w (in, into), z (with, from), do (to, into), dla (for), o (about), po (after), bez (without).
This is a very brief overview of Polish grammar. To truly master it, you will need to study each of the parts of speech in much more detail. However, this overview will hopefully give you a general idea of the Polish grammatical system and of the main points you should consider when learning.