1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Polish
  4. >
  5. About possessive and reflexiv…

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/silmeth

About possessive and reflexive pronouns in Polish.

Hi, I am starting this thread, because I’ve seen a lot of sentences in this course that use Polish possessive pronouns incorrectly. I decided to describe them more thoroughly here, maybe it would help somebody with their Polish. :)

In sentences, where object is described as belonging to the subject, in Polish one always uses possessive reflexive pronoun swój/swoja/swoje. Basic meaning of this pronoun in English is one’s own.

The reflexive possessive pronoun has identical forms for every person (I, thou, he, she, it, we, they-personal-and-masculine, they-not-personal-or-masc), although it does decline like adjective – changes its form in different cases, genders and numbers.

Because in English you can be both singular and plural, I’ll be making unnatural distinction in English examples and use archaic thou, thy for singular and dialectal y’all, y’all’s for plural.

So to say eg. Dost thou like thy car? in Polish, you would say:

Czy ty lubisz swój samochód?

Or just Lubisz swój samochód?, because question word and subject pronoun aren’t necessary.

And They are selling their house:

(Oni) sprzedają swój dom.

And I am visiting my mother:

(Ja) odwiedzam swoją matkę.

Anna is giving her (ie. Anna’s) book to Kasia.:

Anna daje swoją książkę Kasi.

My cat is biting its tail.:

Mój kot gryzie swój ogon.

In each of these sentences one uses swój, because the object (car, house, mother, book, tail) belongs to the subject (respectively: thou, they, I, Anna, cat).

It means that sentences such as:

are incorrect, and should be changed to:

  • Dlaczego nie chcesz odwiedzać swojej babci?,
  • Odwiedzacie swojego wujka?,
  • and Wychowujesz swoje dzieci? respectively.

I mean, they would be understood in their current form but they do sound weirdly and no sane sober Pole would say them in normal conversation.

On the other hand, when the object belongs to somebody else than the subject, we do use regular possessive pronouns: mój (my), twój (thy), jego (his), jej (her), nasz (our), wasz (y’all’s), ich (their). Third person pronouns jego, jej, ich are special and easy, because they do not decline (they are actually just genitive case of personal pronouns on, ona, oni/one).

So, eg. He is selling thy grandma would be:

(On) sprzedaje twoją babcię.

Y’all are buying his book:

(Wy) kupujecie jego książkę.

I am washing y’all’s cat:

(Ja) myję waszego kota.

In a somehow special case, when you speak to a group of people about an object that belongs to one of the group, in my opinion, you could use both forms:

Y’all, wash his car (where the car belongs to one of y’all):

Umyjcie twój/jego samochód.

But when saying twój, you would point at the owner, so it would be obvious about who you are talking.

And that also means that these sentences:

are perfectly correct, because the object in the first two (flaga, flag; siostra, sister) belong to someone else than the subject (flag belongs to us and not to this, and sister belongs to me and not to my brother) and in the last two possessive pronoun is used to describe the subject itself (mój brat, my brother and nasze dzieci, our children).

Polish also have other reflexive pronouns, that are used as the object of the sentence, when the subject does something to themselves:

  • się, siebie, oneself in accusative and genitive,
  • sobie, in dative (to oneself) and in locative.
  • sobą, in instrumental (using/with oneself)

They are used basically in the same manner, eg Thou dost not see thyself.:

(Ty) nie widzisz siebie.

I bought myself a Christmas gift.:

Kupiłem sobie prezent na Boże Narodzenie.

My cat is doing itself harm.:

Mój kot robi sobie krzywdę.

The hammer is pounding a nail with itself.:

Młotek wbija gwóźdź sobą.

And again, on ther hand, if the subject does something to somebody else, you use regular personal pronouns:

She gives a book to her (some another girl).:

Ona daje jej książkę.

I killed him.:

(Ja) zabiłem go.

December 18, 2015

21 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/roman_f1

silmeth, thanks for your article.

It is very interesting and useful.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/jalarkar

Extremely well written, I understand now. Thanks.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/silmeth

Thank you. I am glad it is helping learners of Polish. :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/BronwynYoung

This is awesome! Thank you :)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Mrocznooki

Czyli dobrze zrobiłem, że się uczę tu polskiego ;) To "Odwiedzacie swojego wujka" brzmi mi strasznie nienaturalnie, pomimo że faktycznie jest poprawne. Czyli nie jestem sane :( Ale z linku wynika, że nie tylko ja. http://portalwiedzy.onet.pl/140789,,,,moj_swoj,haslo.html


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/silmeth

From those three sentences odwiedzacie waszego wujka actually sounds somehow OK to me, the other two are very unnatural IMO. Anyway, I’d still say swojego wujka, and not waszego, and I didn’t want to complicate things in the post by adding that in some contexts, and especially in plural, using the regular non-reflexive possessives might sound not-that-bad.

Anyway, your link makes a very good point about using regular pronouns for emphasis (like in Wzięłam moje klucze, nie twoje, I took my keys, not yours). When writing the post I wasn’t thinking about that.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Mrocznooki

Also according to an audio file from this article http://j.mp/mojswoj starting from 1:33 "bardzo kocham moją żonę" is better than "bardzo kocham swoją żonę". But this seems to be an another example of the same rule.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Yola448704

To sound natural in Polish, skip the obvious
("my", "your" function as... articles and, after
all, there are no articles in Polish)

Dzwoniłem do mamy (swojej mamy - my mom)
Odwiedzacie wujka (swojego wujka - your uncle)
Sprzedałem samochód (swój samochód - my car)
Bardzo kocham żonę (moją/swoją żonę - my wife)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/paweuszek

Yeah, that's true. If you say "zadzwoniłem do brata" the only possible meaning is it's your brother. The form of verb determines that it's yours (because you made this call, it's your brother). Otherwise you would add possessive "Zadzwoniłem do twojego brata", "Zadzwoniłem do jej brata", etc. If you say "sprzedali dom" (they sold a house) it implies, that it was their own house. Otherwise you have to add possessive, i.e. "Sprzedali mój dom" (they sold my house).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jellei

If they work in real estate, then it may be "They sold a/the house", but apart from that, yeah, it should guarantee it's theirs ;)


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jantek_Jantek

Using possessive reflexive pronouns where one should use regular possessive pronouns is a grammatical calque from English and is a quite popular language mistake. You are going to face it many times but it's not right. Just as swapping it's with its, and than with then (though these ones are only matter writing and can't be heard in speech).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pumpernick1

Thank you very much for this article! I just did the first two lessons "possessive pronouns" and felt a bit lost. Also, it seems that some of the pop-up explanations in the lessons are wrong, they are indicating 2. pers. singular for "wasz".


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/yab401

thanks, very helpful


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Veva392105

Thanks! It's a great explanation, including some inevitable weird examples like selling a babcia and killing someone. Love it!


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/paweuszek

Wow... a lot of work, Silmeth, it's impressive :) The only thing: I would never say "Umyjcie twój samochód". That doesn't make sense in polish, because using "Umyjcie (Wash) implies you are talking to the group of people, so you can say "Umyjcie jego samochód" (Wash his car, pointing at the person) or "Umyjcie ten samochód" (Wash this car, pointing at the car).


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Jellei

Well, it's possible, but odd. But I can imagine that a father has two sons, one of them is an adult (or in the US, even younger) and already has his own car. The father says to the son "Umyjcie twój samochód", implying that his younger brother should also help, even if it's not his own car.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/paweuszek

Jellei no, you cannot say "umyjcie twój samochód" in polish, it not isn't odd, it just doesn't make sense. There have to be consistency: umyjcie implies that you're talking to both of them so you cannot say twój, because if you're talking to both of them you can say wasz or ten (this particular car). Hope that helps.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/silmeth

Yeah. On the one hand I can imagine situation when this sentence could be produced by a native speaker (that’s why I included it in this post years ago) – on the other hand you’re right that it does sound completely ungrammatical. So most likely it would be phrased entirely different (eg. jego/twój samochód jest brudny said to one person, and only after that, to both of them umyjcie go). And I’m sure if one were writing a book, they wouldn’t write it this way (with umyjcie coupled with twój in one clause) exactly because it sounds so ungrammatical.


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/paweuszek

Alright, after rethinking it... you are right, it IS possible - if there is only one person present in front of the speaker (so i.e. father talking to his son, while the other son isn't present), and he wants to propose to both of them, that a car owned by the one present should be washed by both of them :)))


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/mduncan50

I offer an option to distinguish "you"'s singular and plural form without needing to use either archaic or slang. Though not often used, "youse" is a correct version of you for use when referring to more than one person. Therefore using you and youse would be a more correct way of differentiating. If you still do not wish to use "you" as a singular to prevent confusion, "ye" would be the correct current form of the singular "you". Hope that helps some.

Learn Polish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.