Are there rules to form plurals?
Yesterday I was doing some of the lessons in the plurals skill and I noticed that generally plurals are formed by adding 'i', 'y', 'a' or 'e' to the nouns. I tried to figure out if there were any patterns but I didn't arrive at any conclusions :(. Could someone tell me if there are any rules to form the plurals?
The most obvious ones are:
- Neuter nouns ending in -o take -a in plural (okno, n.sg., = ‘window’; okna, n.pl., = ‘windows’).
- Masculine not personal (animate and inanimate) ending in hard (non-palatal consonant) take -y (kot, m.sg. = ‘cat’; koty, m.pl. = ‘cats’) which changes to -i after /k/ or /g/¹ (ptak m.sg. = ‘bird’; ptaki, m.pl. = ‘birds’; targ m.sg. = ‘market, marketplace’, targi, m.pl. = ‘markets’).
- Masculine personal take -i (which palatalises last stem consonant) or -owie, and there is hardly any rule for when is which (pan, m.sg. = ‘sir, man, lord’; panowie, m.pl.; kat, m.sg. = ‘executioner’, kaci, m.pl) but -i changes into -y after /sz/, /ż/, /rz/, /c/, /cz/, /dz/, /dż/² (kupiec, m.sg. = ‘buyer’, kupcy).
- Feminine with stem ending in hard consonant take -y similarly to masculine not personal (krowa, f.sg. = ‘cow’, krowy, f.pl.).
- Those ending in soft (palatal) consonant take -i or -e with no clear rules (ciocia, f.sg. = ‘aunt’; ciocie, f.pl.; gość, m.sg.personal = ‘guest’; goście, m.pl., kość, f.sg = ‘bone’; kości, f.pl.).
Soft consonants here would be: ś, sz, ź, ż, rz, c, ć, cz, dz, dź, dż, l, ń, j (and sometimes m, p, b, f, w, when they change to mi, pi, bi… in inflection).
Hard consonants would be: s, ch, h, z, r, k, t, d, g, ł, n (and most of the times m, p, b…).
You can also look at declension tables on Wikipedia, which gives some basic rules.
¹ Because of Polish phonology and orthography, which both prohibit /y/ (as a letter and a sound) after /k/ and /g/.
² Again because of phonology and orthography, -i is prohibited here and it must change the other way around.
Learn the distinction between hard consonants and their corresponding softs (there is a nice table on Wikibooks). Knowing which can have only -y, which only -i, and how they change when before -i will make it all pretty easy.
The only real problem is to decide when to apply -i and when -e in soft endings, and when -i or -owie in masc. personals – sometimes both are correct (Norweg m.sg. = ‘Norwegian man’, Norwegowie or Norwedzy m.pl = ‘Norwegians’).
PS. I’ve updated the post above, because I had left some consonants before. Now the lists are exhaustive.
No. The most crude division of nouns distinguish only 3 categories: masculine, feminine and neuter. It is much more convenient to subdivide masculine into 3 new categories: masculine personal, masculine animated and masculine inanimated.
Masculine personal encompasses: proper names and functions, jobs that are being done by men. Examples: Piotr (Peter), Paweł (Paul), lekarz (physician), pilot (pilot).
Masculine animated -> animals.
Masculine inanimated -> rest, so things, ideas etc.