Learning Polish the hard way

My monumental, life-long struggle with the Polish language continues.

I have two questions:

1/ I’m finding recently that I really wish I knew the correct way to say things like – “I wanted to”, “We would have”, “They couldn’t”, “I should have”, “It would have been okay but..”, “If we had X then Y”, “Providing that X happens (in the future)”,”I’m thinking about X but it depends on Y” ………..and so on. I have no idea what these are all called in English but my best guess would be something ‘conditional’. I’d be happy to grasp just a few simple ones for past and future tense but I find I’m missing past tense more than future. Can anyone oblige with a handy list or point me elsewhere, where I can read something?

2/ Is there a really good website or blog somewhere that has all this and more about Polish language that I can bookmark and visit whenever I’m stuck? Needs to be comprehensive and well organised though.

Muchas!!!

i Wesołych Świąt

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13 thoughts on “Learning Polish the hard way

  1. -“I wanted to” = “chcial bym”
    -“We would” = “bysmy”
    -“They couldn’t” = “nie mogli” or “nie mogly” (if “they” are females)
    -“I should” = “powinienem”
    -“It would have been okay but..” = “to bylo by OK ale..”

  2. “I wanted to” = “chcial bym”. Wrong – chciałem. ‘Chciał bym’ mean ‘I would like to’.

    Why dont you take Polish lessons from me? Obviously your wife should be helping you but, if she’s anything like my wife when it comes to sorting out polish/ english conundrums, you’re on a road to annoying the hell out of her. Or is just me, LOL?

  3. 08:41 suggest those were problems before Easter breakfast with Polish family.

    I have to tell I don’t really get to the heart of your problem. It’s somewhere around 2nd and 3rd conditionals in English, but 2nd strictly refers to rather unreal future, 3rd to imaginary past events. If you gave some examples of longer sentences I would help you. I could have used 3rd conditional in that sentence and could’ve written: “if you had given some examples of longer sentences I would have helped you” to tell you your description was too trite. The problem in Polish is that in everyday language both sentences would go: gdybyś podał przykłady dłuższych zdań, mógłbym ci pomóc and you don’t know if it refers to the future or past.

    I don’t know any website for foreigners learning Polisj. My own problems with my native language are usually solved by fellow students, whom I help with English in return. Can’t your wife help you?

    Mokrego dyngusa!

  4. You use the past tense + (gdy)by. The confusing thing is that it can be cut up and stuck to various stems and endings, resulting in ‘bysmy’, etc. I would say get a grammar book which has a chart in the back.

    Conditional clauses (or ‘if’ clauses) work differently in English (of course you know this, but bear with me: it makes it more mathematical). You have 3 types:

    – if I win the lottery, I will buy a car
    (ie the lottery will be drawn tonight, cause and effect)

    – if I won the lottery, I would buy a car
    (hypothetical – I might not even have bought a ticket yet, but if it were to happen, some time in the future, then that is what I would do)

    – if I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car
    (the lottery was drawn last night, and I definitely didn’t win)

    Now we just need a Polish person to translate these three examples. And particularly to clear up whether case 2/3 are different in Polish.

    My guess is
    1) jeśli wygram na loterii, to kupię sobie samochód.
    2) gdybym wygrała na loterii, kupiłabym (or bym kupiła?) sobie samochód
    3) umm… same as two? Or would you have to make it context-specific, like ‘gdybym wygrała na wczorajszej loterii, bym kupiła sobie samochód’?

    Or would you use the imperfect for case 2)
    – gdybym wygrywała na loterii, kupiłabym samochód
    ?

    Looking forward to the corrections!

    For me the most confusing thing in Polish is that the second clause of the sentence isn’t affected by the first clause in the same way that it is in English.
    In English you would say
    – I didn’t know you were home
    and the second clause changes to the past (‘you were home’), while in Polish it stays in the present
    – nie wiedziałam, że jesteś w domu.
    or something like that. Anyway, looking forward to lots of angry comments from native Polish speakers about how I don’t really understand!

    Scatts, I recommend getting a book with a chart: it’s all mathematical, ‘clause + clause’, and the main confusing thing is when they move by, byś, bym and byśmy to different parts of the sentence. I find Dana Bielec is the clearest for native English speakers, but if you can’t get her version in Poland maybe try the series that starts with ‘Jak się masz’… I think the conditionals come under ‘Kiedyś wrocisz tu’, which is B2 level.

  5. Now we just need a Polish person to translate these three examples. And particularly to clear up whether case 2/3 are different in Polish.

    Haven’t I stated in the comment above they aren’t different and it leaves room for confusion?

    My guess is
    1) jeśli wygram na loterii, to kupię sobie samochód.
    2) gdybym wygrała na loterii, kupiłabym (or bym kupiła?) sobie samochód
    3) umm… same as two? Or would you have to make it context-specific, like ‘gdybym wygrała na wczorajszej loterii, bym kupiła sobie samochód’?

    1st in correct, in 2nd use kupiłabym, bym kupiła is not incorrect, but unnatural, in 3rd sentence it wouldn’t hurt to emphasise the sentence refers to the past as you did – gdybym wtedy wygrała na loterii, kupiłabym samochód would sound best. Note once again there’s no difference between English ‘would do” (2nd conditional) and ‘would have done’ (3rd conditional).

    Or would you use the imperfect for case 2)
    – gdybym wygrywała na loterii, kupiłabym samochód
    . This would mean you would win the lottery every day, wygrywała signals a repetitive action or a habit.

    For me the most confusing thing in Polish is that the second clause of the sentence isn’t affected by the first clause in the same way that it is in English.
    In English you would say
    – I didn’t know you were home
    and the second clause changes to the past (‘you were home’), while in Polish it stays in the present

    The other way in this kind of sentences Poles tend to make errors, becasue they speak as if they spoke Polish. English is logical (I don’t know if I’m letting you down).

    B2? When I learnt conditionals they were on B1 level, the mixed ones come later around B2 or C1, depending on the course :)

  6. Bartek, thanks! As you can see, the dokonany/niedokonany issue is still a little bit of a shaky area for me :)

    I think foreigners learning Polish get conditionals at a later level because there’s so much other stuff to learn first… bear in mind I’ve been learning for – oh crap – about three years now and I’m still only around B2 level, if that. Not a lot of progress made since this time last year come to think of it, must find a teacher in Brussels.

    And what about detaching the components ‘by’ ‘byś’, ‘byśmy’ etc and moving them around within the sentence? Are there any rules for that?

  7. Pinolona, if you’re on B2 level after three years of learning you must be really gifted. The other story is that in a foreign country you learn faster becasue you simply have to assimilate new words and constructions.

    Four years ago I was somewhere around B2 in English, after 8 years of learning, since 2006 I’ve been studying English seriously – in such a pace one can get a level higher in around one and half or two years, though I think the distinction between C1 and C2 is very blurred and very few non-native speakers can reach C2 level, described as “proficiency the well-educated native spekaers stand for”.

    Anyway, we normally should add ‘by’, ‘byś’, etc. at the end of a verb – poszlibyśmy, zrobiłbym, this more offical and characterstic for written Polish. bym zrobił(a) is typical for common parlance and casual language, for example you when your friend furnishes their room and you think layout of furniture should be different, you’d say ja bym te meble ustawiła inaczej, but you should never split it in writing or during official talks, like job interviews of presentations.

    Frankly speaking I never analysed the use of ‘by*’ suffix that carefully. The above is what my common sense tells me is right.

  8. Thanks everyone, plenty of food for thought. Those are the things I’m talking about – I need to start throwing around a few – mogli, bym, powinien, gdyby and what forth!! Also looks like I should use sobie more than I do, which is never at the moment! It always seems like such a waste of good letters.

    Pino – are you suggesting the top three books on this page?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=azs_osd_mozuk?tag=amznsearch.uk.moz-21&link_code=qs&index=aps&field-keywords=dana+bielec

  9. I’m not certain but I think the use of ‘sobie’ in speech is more colloquial and not compulsory in this sort of case. Similar usage of the reflexive comes up in other languages too, like in Italian you often ‘drink yourself a little beer’ or something like that. I think you can either buy a car or buy yourself a car.

    Yep, the top couple of books look good! (I have them) I also recommend getting ‘301 Polish verbs’ or something like that – very useful because it puts perfective/imperfective pairs on the same page: grammar books written by Polish authors tend to ignore or overlook the fact that this is not obvious for non-native speakers!

  10. I have found that it is impossible to learn to ‘speak’ from reading or writing and trying to learn the grammar of any language. We don’t start to learn to speak until we’ve ‘heard’ the language enough times. Heck, all of us could talk 4 or 5yrs before we could read or write.

    I’ve found 2 extremely useful programs for learning languages. One totally focused on English and the other focused on many languages, unfortunately the latter doesn’t not have a Polish ESL version,yet.

    The first is http://www.EffortlessEnglishClub.com.
    The second, http://www.pimlsuer.com

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