Polish Verb System

Gonzo
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Polish Verb System

Postby Gonzo » 2019-04-30, 20:13

Hi,
I hate to post such a basic question, but seeing as I am having a much better time with the much dreaded declensions than Polish verbs (thanks to my experience with German), I think it's time to look for help. I have to be honest, I don't get the aspectual pairs or how to determine which verb is a pair to which other verb. As I understand it, Polish has three tenses: Present, Past and Future. There is also the Imperative. Polish doesn't have compound tenses like English. There are various classes of conjugation only for the present tense. I think the past tense is broken into three sets of conjugation based on gender, likewise Future. I get the infinitives. That's all I know. I don't know about participles, gerunds etc. I think having a big picture view of the entire verb system will help me a lot. As mentioned earlier, verb aspect is something I don't get. What would the composite verb mean? I have some verbs I am looking at from Duolingo which do not turn up anywhere. Here are a few examples:

cieszyć się (to enjoy)
bawić się (to play/toy)
dziać się (to happen)
śpieszyć się (to hurry)
zaczynać się (to start/begin)

When I look up the first word in the listed verb I get a different meaning. For instance, cieszyć means 'to rejoice'. Why is się there in all of these verbs? Is this to do with aspect?

Again, I appreciate that these are exceedingly basic questions. Certain things are clicking quicker than others, and when they don't I find myself completely bamboozled. Polish is certainly a lot of work, one that I do enjoy. Any help greatly appreciated, thanks for your time.

do widzenia :)

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linguoboy
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby linguoboy » 2019-04-30, 22:03

Gonzo wrote:Hi,
I hate to post such a basic question, but seeing as I am having a much better time with the much dreaded declensions than Polish verbs (thanks to my experience with German), I think it's time to look for help. I have to be honest, I don't get the aspectual pairs or how to determine which verb is a pair to which other verb. As I understand it, Polish has three tenses: Present, Past and Future. There is also the Imperative. Polish doesn't have compound tenses like English. There are various classes of conjugation only for the present tense. I think the past tense is broken into three sets of conjugation based on gender, likewise Future. I get the infinitives. That's all I know. I don't know about participles, gerunds etc. I think having a big picture view of the entire verb system will help me a lot. As mentioned earlier, verb aspect is something I don't get. What would the composite verb mean? I have some verbs I am looking at from Duolingo which do not turn up anywhere. Here are a few examples:

cieszyć się (to enjoy)
bawić się (to play/toy)
dziać się (to happen)
śpieszyć się (to hurry)
zaczynać się (to start/begin)

When I look up the first word in the listed verb I get a different meaning. For instance, cieszyć means 'to rejoice'. Why is się there in all of these verbs? Is this to do with aspect?

I'll start with the easiest question first: się is the Polish third-person reflexive pronoun, the equivalent of German sich. It indicates that the verb in question is grammatically reflexive.

You can find an overview of the Polish verb system here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_grammar#Verbs. Note that there are a few divergences from what you've written above:
Imperfective verbs have three tenses: present, past and future, the last being a compound tense (except in the case of być "to be"). 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 (occasionally with -c).

So Polish does have a compound tense, namely the future tense of imperfective verbs. The simplest way to form this is with the infinitive and the future tense of być "to be". (There is an alternative form consisting of the past tense inflected for number and gender but without personal endings, but that's best left until you're more comfortable forming the past tense.)

The reason for the discrepancy between perfective and imperfective verbs is semantic. Perfective aspect is challenging to grasp for those not used to making the distinction, but basically it consists of viewing the action of the verb as a whole. This is easiest to understand with a pair like czytać (imperfective) vs przeczytać (perfective), both of which can be translated as "to read". The verb czytać refers to the process of reading in general whereas przeczytać indicates a particular act of reading.

Thus, przeczytałem książke implies completion: I read the book to the end, and now I'm finished with it. It views the act of reading as an indivisible whole. Czytałem książke, on the other hand, indicates a process: I was reading the book, but I didn't finish it (either at the particular time under discussion or at all).

So you can see why perfective verbs aren't especially compatible with the present tense, since that by definition refers to an action currently in progress. But a perfective verb describes an act as something without internal structure: it's either completed in the present moment or it isn't. So the present conjugation of perfective verbs has acquired future meaning: if I'm presently reading a book to the end, that means that I will complete it in the future.

If this still seems confusing, don't worry; it's going to take a while to click. English makes a completely different set of aspectual distinctions--progressive vs simple, perfect vs imperfect, etc. that doesn't map exactly to the perfective vs imperfective distinction. The important thing to grasp at the onset is that most Polish verbs come in pairs, one of which has an analytic conjugation with być for the future tense and one of which doesn't.

There is one more conjugation you haven't mentioned, the conditional. Although we typically talk about the conditional as a tense, it's really a mood. In Polish it's formed in a similar way to the past tense (for historical reasons that I'll get into in a future post).
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby Gonzo » 2019-05-01, 2:12

Thanks for that excellent explanation Linguoboy, I'll pdf this thread and review everything. Let it all sink in. Very much appreciated. There may be hope for me yet!

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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby linguoboy » 2019-05-01, 18:12

You'll want to check whatever I say with a fluent speaker of Polish before you commit it to memory! I'm no expect which is why I keep linking to authoritative sources.

So I said I'd get into the past tense. Remember how I told you the only compound tense in modern Polish is the future imperfective? This is only mostly true. In fact, the past (and conditional) conjugation is actually a combination of a historical participle (inflected for gender and number) and a verbal clitic. This clitic is pretty transparently derived from the present tense of być.
Compare:

jestem < > byłem
jest < > był
jest < > był
jesteśmy < > byliśmy
jesteście < > byliście
są < > byli

As you can see, the historical conjugated forms of być were very short so to make them more salient, the first- and second-person forms were attached to the third-person form jest. (It's a bit like if in English we said "is'm", "is're", etc.) These same forms were attached to a historical past participle ending in after it had been inflected for person/number. So:

był (masculine singular) + em "I (masculine) am been" = "I was"
była (feminine singular) + em "I (feminine) am been" = "I was"
byli (masculine animate plural) + eśmy "we (masculine animate) are been" = "we were"
etc.

Note how the weak vowel e gets "overwritten" by stronger vowels like a, o, i, and y when these are added to the participial stem. Note also the parallel to the English perfect "I have been", etc. (There's an even closer parallel in French, where some past participles still inflect for person and number, e.g.: il est sorti, elle est sortie, elles sont sorties, etc.)

A bit of this history is preserved in the way that, in certain circumstances, these clitics can separate from the rest of the verb and attach to some other word in the sentence. For example:

Co zrobiliście? "What did you do (perfective)?"
Co żeście zrobili? "What did you do (perfective)?" (emphatic)

Note that the conditional works the same way, keeping in mind that the clitic verbs are from a different conjugation of być. (I assume the historical aorist conjugation, but I don't know for sure.) Viz.:

Śpiewałabym "I (fem.) would sing (imperfective)"
Gdybym śpiewała "If I (fem.) sang (imperfective)"

(Cf. Co żeś śpiewała? "What were you singing?")

I hope I haven't confused you, but personally I find the past tense and conditional forms easier to remember if you can see how they're built up from smaller bits.
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby Gonzo » 2019-05-03, 0:56

No, that's a great explanation! I really appreciate your time in writing all of this out. It's starting to make more sense now. :D

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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby yellow hoist » 2019-05-05, 20:46

linguoboy wrote:English makes a completely different set of aspectual distinctions--progressive vs simple, perfect vs imperfect, etc. that doesn't map exactly to the perfective vs imperfective distinction.


Which is why learning English tenses made my head hurt during English lessons

I never fully grasped that in English.
Or is it
I have never fully grasped that in English
Or even
I have never been fully understanding that
🤔

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linguoboy
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby linguoboy » 2019-05-06, 15:16

yellow hoist wrote:Which is why learning English tenses made my head hurt during English lessons

:yep: I never fully grasped that in English.
Or is it
:yep: I have never fully grasped that in English
Or even
:nope: I have never been fully understanding that

Either of the first two is acceptable depending on the context.

The simple past ("grasped") implies that you've stopped trying to grasp that. The action of grasping belongs to a time period that is now viewed as closed.

The perfect ("have...grasped") implies that the attempt is ongoing. The action began in the past and the possibility that one day you will fully grasp the distinction is left open.

Could you use both the perfective and imperfective here in Polish and what would be the distinction? Or is only the perfective acceptable?
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby yellow hoist » 2019-05-06, 19:54

linguoboy wrote:Could you use both the perfective and imperfective here in Polish and what would be the distinction? Or is only the perfective acceptable?

Nigdy w pełni tego nie zrozumiałem.
vs
Nigdy w pełni tego nie rozumiałem.

Surely both are correct. I cannot really feel any practical difference in meaning between the two. If I used them interchangeably nobody would notice.
I think that's because it takes place in vague, past times.

When the context is nearer in time it would be more specific:

Proszę pana, nie zrozumiałem tego. - "Sir, I didn't quite catch that."
If I change the verb in this sentence the meaning changes, and sounds a little bit weird, like it's lacking a next part.
Proszę pana, nie rozumiałem tego. - "Sir, I was not understanding that [but now I am]."

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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby silmeth » 2019-05-10, 21:07

Nitpicking a typo:

linguoboy wrote:(…)
Thus, przeczytałem książkeę implies completion: I read the book to the end, and now I'm finished with it. It views the act of reading as an indivisible whole. Czytałem książkeę


And to add to your, very good, explanation, I’d just say that Polish imperfective verbs are mostly used when English uses the continuous tenses: I was readingczytałem, I’ll be doing that when you comebędę to robić, kiedy przyjdziesz, etc.

That's not a 1-to-1 correspondence, but it is a pretty good rule of hand.

Another thing to add is that Polish (as other Slavic languages do) in many verbs has a three-way aspect distinction. Habitual / iterative / indeterminate – determinate imperfective – perfective. Most verbs of motion have all of those, and some others verbs sometimes do too.

Eg. ‘to walk’ might be translated as chodzić, iść and pójść (and some other perfective forms of a bit different specific meaning). chodzić means ‘to walk around, to wander, to take walks repeatedly, etc.’, iść means just ‘to walk’, as a started but not finished action, and pójść is ‘to have walked’, to start walking and finish it.

So: ‘I walk in a park daily’ is chodzę codziennie po parku, ‘I am walking toward you right now’ is idę w tej chwili w twoją stronę and ‘I will walk there (and reach the destination)’ is pójdę tam.

Another example would be czytywać, czytać, przeczytać. General ‘I read books’ (from time to time, in free time) is czytuję książki, ‘I am reading right now’ is czytam w tej chwili, and ‘when I have read it…’ is kiedy to przeczytam…. Although in the case of this verb, many native speakers will just use the regular imperfective for iterative too (czytam książki instead of czytuję).

księżycowy wrote:Note that the conditional works the same way, keeping in mind that the clitic verbs are from a different conjugation of być. (I assume the historical aorist conjugation, but I don't know for sure.)


A remnant of old aorist root and present-tense endings. Eg. the Proto-Slavic first-person aorist was *byxъ (compare Polish dialectal and Czech bych). There is no form similar to Polish bym in PSl., but seeing Slovak equivalent by som shows directly how bym came to existence – it’s just by (the old aorist root and 3rd.sg. form) + -(e)m (1st.sg.pres. ending).

Czech actually retained the aorist forms (bych, bys, by, bychom, byste, by), bych and bychom might have survived in some Polish dialects (as also some other relics of aorist in other verbs), but I am not sure.
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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby Saim » 2019-05-11, 12:58

silmeth wrote:And to add to your, very good, explanation, I’d just say that Polish imperfective verbs are mostly used when English uses the continuous tenses: I was readingczytałem, I’ll be doing that when you comebędę to robić, kiedy przyjdziesz, etc.

That's not a 1-to-1 correspondence, but it is a pretty good rule of hand.


I know you've already said it's not a 1-to-1 correspondence, but I'd just like to point out that in my experience massive overuse of the continuous forms is pretty common in the English of L1 Polish speakers (even among some who otherwise have rather native-like, idiomatic English), which I guess might come from the fact that they perceive habitual actions as imperfective ("I am always going to the supermarket after class"), so I'd be extremely cautious with this rule. :)

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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby voron » 2019-05-11, 19:18

yellow hoist wrote:Nigdy w pełni tego nie zrozumiałem.
vs
Nigdy w pełni tego nie rozumiałem.

Surely both are correct. I cannot really feel any practical difference in meaning between the two.

It's interesting that in Russian, you can only use the imperfective with "never" in the past tense.
Я никогда этого полностью не понимал.
*Я никогда этого полностью не понял.

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Re: Polish Verb System

Postby pittmirg » 2019-05-12, 12:43

silmeth wrote:Czech actually retained the aorist forms (bych, bys, by, bychom, byste, by), bych and bychom might have survived in some Polish dialects (as also some other relics of aorist in other verbs), but I am not sure.


Indeed, =bych (or =byk) is normal in the Silesian dialect. I've never heard bychom, I think =by=my is typical in the first person plural.

Interestingly, the =ch~=k ending (derived from an aorist suffix) behaves just like the other endings derived from the verb 'to be', it can cliticize to various parts of speech: nerwowo=k 'I'm nervous [female speaker]'. Here it means 'I am' although its historical origin is totally different.
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