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Aspect of Verbs in Polish, Verbs of Singular, Multiple and Completed actions

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There are many questions about the usage of different Polish verbs that translate to one single verb in English. Here is some explanation on that subject.

In Polish there is not Present Continuous, Simple Present or Present Perfect, there is only one present tense and similarly, one future tense and one past tense (+ plus another past tense which is very rarely used). Instead, for some actions there exist different verbs to mean something that is taking place once (in given time: present, past or future), and different verbs for something that is happening repetitively or continues during a longer period of time (in present, past or future), there are also verbs to describe something that happens from time to time with some irregularity, some to describe state or potential, and different verbs to describe finished actions (in past or future). Most of them are derived one from another using inflection (parts of word, added at beginning or at the end) or by changing one or a few letters within the verb.

However, there are not strict rules to cover all the types of all the verbs. The verbs are "officially" divided by their aspect. There are two aspects of verbs in Polish language durative and perfective .

The aspect is a property of the verb (i.e. it is not any form applied on the verb - although it is only a recent decision; some time ago the linguists tended to consider verbs of different aspect to represent one verb in different forms, but that caused too many irregularities and exceptions). The aspect should be described in any dictionary of Polish language: "ndk" for durative (niedokonany), "dk" for perfective (dokonany) and "dk/ndk" or "dk a. ndk" for verbs having both aspects. (I suggest not to use a dictionary that does not specify the aspect of verbs)

1. ASPEKT NIEDOKONANY ( durative aspect )

These verbs express actions that are in progress, actions potentially possible, and states. More below.

2. ASPEKT DOKONANY ( perfective aspect )

Many verbs of perfective aspect do not have forms of Polish present tense, some have forms of present tense that are purely virtual or rarely used. Verbs having the perfective aspect are usually derived from verbs of durative aspect, and often there are many perfective verbs for one given durative verb. Sometimes, out of these perfective verbs there are derived more durative verbs, different than the basic ones.

The perfective verbs describe:

A. Actions that are finished - this is the case of majority of the perfective verbs. Samples: "powiedzieć" [to 'have spoken'], "pokazać" [to 'have shown'], "wejść" [to enter], "dojść" [to 'have come' to a target], "zjeść" [to 'have eaten'], "wypić" [to 'have drunk'].

B. Actions that are started with focus on the begin. These are some verbs of motion: "wyjść" [to go out], "odjechać" [to 'have gone' away], "odpłynąć" [to 'have sailed' away]. The verbs describing feelings: "pokochać" [to 'have fallen' in love with sb.], "znienawidzić" [to start hating sb.] and some other: "rozpalić" [to 'have inflamed', to kindle], "przytulić" [to 'have hugged', to 'have clasped'].

C. Actions that are started and may be finished but without any particular focus on the beginning: "odwiedzić" [to pay a visit], "pojechać" [to 'have gone' by a vehicle in a direction], "pójść" [to 'have gone' on feet in a direction].

There is also a small group of verbs which do not really have a defined aspect, e.g. "chcieć" [to want], "móc" [to have power to], "potrafić" [to be able to] - however, according to most of the linguists hey fall into category of durative verbs. There are also some verbs that have both aspects, e.g. "anulować" [to nullify, to cancel], "adoptować" [to adopt] - their aspect depends on the actual usage in the phrase and in most cases (if not all) these are verbs of non-Polish origin.

AD 1. VERBS OF DURATIVE ASPECT - detailed explanation

With the durative verbs, the things complicate a bit. They do not have strict official grammatical structure, there are only distinguished two grammatical categories for the verbs of motion.

  • Verbs of directed motion (Determinate) - for which you can ask a question about the target or direction of the motion.

  • Verbs not-directed motion (Indeterminate) - for which such a questions do not apply.

  • Verbs of state.

However, there are verbs that behave similarly to the verbs of motion, but they do not describe relocation. So here, just for better explanation, we can divide them into:

A. Verbs of "singular or continuous action". They describe actions happening in given time. Samples: "jeść" [to eat], "pić" [to drink]. Here fall also all the verbs of directed motion: "iść" [to go by feet], "jechać" [to go by a vehicle], "nieść" [to carry, to drive], "biec/biegnąć" [to run]. They usually go with a specific date or are otherwise located in time: "wczoraj" [yesterday], "dziś" [today], "w niedzielę (singular, accusative case)" [on Sunday], and with negation "nigdy nie" [never, never-ever] for a given particular purpose.

B. Verbs of "repetitive or habitual action". They describe states or actions that are happening either over a longer period of time, or are happening always or with some regularity. Here fall also all the verbs of not-directed motion: "chodzić" [to go by feet], "jeździć" [to go by a vehicle], "nosić" [to carry, to drive], "biegać" [to run]. They often go with words like "często" [often], "zawsze" [always], "w niedziele (plural, accusative case)" [on Sundays], "raz na rok" [once per year] - or with negation "nigdy nie" [never, never-ever] for general purpose.

C. Verbs of "infrequent action" for something taking place sometimes or from time to time. They are in many ways similar to verbs of "repetitive or habitual action", and there is actually not that many of them. They often go with words like "od czasu do czasu" [from time to time], "czasem/czasami" [sometimes]. Here also fall some verbs of not-directed motion: "chadzać" [to go by feet, from time to time], and other verbs like "jadać" [to eat, from time to time], "pijać" [to drink from time to time] "bywać" [to be from time to time (somewhere / in a condition), to frequent].

Some verbs form groups that cover all types of actions. Many verbs exist only in two of the types A, B,C. Some (e.g. describing states or feelings) exist only in type B.


TO GO BY FEET {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Iść" - [to go, now], translated to Present Continuous: "Idę do szkoły (teraz)" [I am going to school (now); I am on my way to school]. "Idę do szkoły (zaraz)" [I am going to school (just in a moment)]. In other tenses it takes different forms: iść - click on "[pokaż▼] pozostałe formy" to see all.

  • "Chodzić" - [to go always or often, to attend] translated to Simple Present: "Chodzę do szkoły" [I go to school], Other tenses: chodzić

  • "Chadzać" - [to go sometimes], translated to Simple Present - "Chadzam do szkoły (ale często wagaruję)" [I sometimes go to school (but I often skip off)]. Other tenses: chadzać. Actually, it is not very often heard.

Perfective verbs:

  • "Pójść" [to 'have gone'], "przyjść" [to 'have come', to 'have arrived by feet']; "przejść" [to 'have crossed' (a bridge, a desert)] ( -> derived durative verb "przechodzić" [to cross]).

TO FLY {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Lecieć" - [to fly, now]

  • "Latać" - [to fly, always or often]; This may may be used also in meaning " to fly sometimes" when applied to humans - but then the word "czasami" (sometimes) must be added: "On czasami lata do domu samolotem" [Sometimes he flies home on a plane].

  • "Polatywać" - [to fly sometimes] (may apply to a wounded bird or some lazy butterflies, but rather not to a human, who can not fly by himself)

Perfective verbs:

  • "Polecieć" [to 'have flown']; "przylecieć" [to 'have arrived by flight']; "przelecieć" [to 'have flown' across]

TO RUN {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Biec" - [to run, now]

  • "Biegać" - joins two of meanings [to run, always or often] and [to run sometimes]

Some perfective verbs:

  • "Pobiec" [to 'have run'], "przybiec" [to 'have arrived by running']; "przebiec" [to 'have run' across, through] ( -> derived durative verb "przebiegać" [1. to flash; 2. to pass thruogh something, e.g. about a road through a village, or a bridge over a river])

TO PLANT {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Sadzić" - joins two of meanings [to plant (plants), now], and [to plant, always or often]

  • "Sadzać" - [to plant sometimes]. (This one has also another meaning, actually more used: "to make somebody sit down".)

Some perfective verbs:

  • "Posadzić" [to 'have planted'] (about bigger plants, trees, etc.); "zasadzić" [to 'have planted'] (about smaller plants, esp. planted seeds); "przesadzić" [to 'have replanted' to another place] ( -> derived durative verb "przesadzać" [1. to replant; 2. to exaggerate])

TO EAT {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Jeść" - joins two of meanings [to eat, now], and [to eat, always or often].

  • "Jadać" - [to eat sometimes, from time to time].

Some perfective verbs:

  • "Zjeść" [to 'have eaten']; "wyjeść" [to 'have eaten' something that was supposed to be preserved, to eat up]; "przejeść" [to 'have spent' all the money on food]; "przejeść się" [to eat too much].

TO DRINK {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Pić" - joins two of meanings [to drink, now], and [to drink, always or often].

  • "Pijać" - [to drink sometimes, from time to time].

Some perfective verbs:

  • "Wypić" [to 'have drunk']; "popić" [to 'have drunk' something after eating]; "zapić" [1. to 'have drunk alcohol' after eating, 2. to 'have drunk alcohol' in order to forget problems].

TO SWIM, TO CRUISE, TO SAIL {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Płynąć" - [to swim, now] (about a human), [to cruise, to sail now] (about a ship, yacht, or a human going by ship/yacht )

  • "Pływać - [to swim, always or often] (about a human), [to cruise, to sail always or often] (about a ship, yacht, or a human going by ship/yacht)

  • a form for swimming/cruising "from time to time" does not exist, is created with "pływać" + "czasami".

Some perfective verbs:

  • "wypłynąć" [to 'have sailed' out of the harbour] ( -> derived durative verb "wypływać" [1. to be sailing out of the harbour] 2. to drain, to be flowing off the source); "odpłynąć" [to 'have sailed' away]; "dopłynąć" [to 'have sailed' up to the target] ( -> derived durative verb "dopływać" [1. to be sailing already close to the target; 2. (about a river) to be flowing to a sea])

TO GO BY A VEHICLE {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Jechać" - [to go by a vehicle equipped with wheels, now] (may apply to going by a car, train, bike, rollerblades, etc..).

  • "Jeździć" - [to go by a vehicle equipped with wheels, always or often].

  • a form for going on wheels "from time to time" does not exist, is created with "jeździć" + "czasami".

Some perfective verbs:

  • "wyjechać" [to 'have gone' away]; "dojechać" [to 'have arrived' by a vehicle]; "przejechać" [to 'have driven' across]

TO BE {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Być" [to be, to exist] - joins two of meanings [to be, in given time in certain state or location], and [to be, always or often].

  • "Bywać" [1. to be, sometimes] e.g. "bywam w Warszawie" [sometimes (I am in / I go to) Warsaw], "bywam wkurzony" [sometimes I am sneaky]; [2. to frequent] - "bywam w teatrach" [I frequent theatres]

Perfective verbs: do not exist.

TO HAVE {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

Perfective verbs: do not exist.

TO LIKE {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Podobać (się)" [to like, as an impulse or over short period of time, it is quite superficial and related to senses or evaluation of qualities rather than emotions]. Used with pronoun in Dative case and noun in Nominative case, it means relation to an object: "podoba mi (Dat.) się ten obraz (Nom.)" [I like this picture]. When used with pronoun (or without a pronoun, but only a form of verb that indicates subject) in Nominative case and noun in Dative case - it means relation from an object: "podobam (ja - Nom.) się tej dziewczynie (Dat.)" [this girl likes me]. I would say that this verb joins the meanings A and B, but I am not sure whether it would make sense to translate it to Continuous tenses. I would translate it to Simple Present, Simple Past ("podobała mi się ta książka" [I liked that book] or Simple Future ("wycieczka będzie się wam podobać" - attention, a complex form of future tense [you will like the trip]).

  • "Lubić" [to like, as emotion or a deep feeling] this verb is completely different from "podobać". It has only the meaning B [to like, always or over long period of time]

Some samples to show the differences between these two above: "Lubię tę książkę, przeczytałem ją 5 razy" [I like this book, I have read it 5 times] - "Podoba mi się ta książka, ale drugi raz jej nie przeczytam" [I like this book, but I will not read it again]. "Lubię Warszawę, to moje ulubione miasto" [I like Warsaw, it is my favourite city] - "Podoba mi się krajobraz w tym miejscu" [I like the landscape in this place]. "Lubię cię, ale cię nie kocham" [I like you, but I do not love you] - "Podobasz mi się, może zrobisz karierę w mojej firmie" - [I like you, maybe you'll make a career in my company]. It is perfectly correct to say "Ona mi się podoba, ale jej nie lubię" - but the translation to English could be tricky, maybe [She appeals to me, but I do not like her].

Perfective verbs:

  • "Spodobać się" [to please, to appeal to sth/sb]

  • "Polubić" [to start liking]

TO LOVE {@style=text-decoration: underline}

Durative verbs:

  • "Kochać" [to love] has only the meaning B [to love always or over longer period of time]

  • "Podkochiwać się" - from its structure we would guess that this is the case C [to love sometimes] - but not this time. That one means an immature kind of love, like of a pupil to his/her colleague from the class.

Perfective verbs:

  • "Pokochać (kogoś)" [to fall in love (with sb.), as a deep, decided feeling oriented towards the weal of beloved person]; "zakochać się (w kimś)" [to fall in love (with sb.), as an impulse or superficial feeling, concentrated on the emotions of person in love and neglecting the faults of the beloved one].

Further reading


ATTENTION, to not mistake the aspect of the verb for the mood.

Unlike aspect, the mood is not a property of the verb, but is applied to a verb by its specific forms. It can be:

  • Indicative (tryb oznajmujący) for verb in informative function. It applies to verbs of durative aspect in present tense (czas teraźniejszy), and to verbs of both aspects in past tense (czas przeszły), plus-past tense / past perfect tense (very rarely used czas zaprzeszły) and future tense (czas przyszły) - but the future tense has different forms for verbs of durative and perfective aspect. Samples: durative - "ja jem" [I am eating/I eat], "jadłem" [I ate], "będę jadł" [I will be eating]; perfective: "zjadłem" [I have eaten (if related to present)/I had eaten (if related to past)], "zjem" [I will have eaten].

  • Imperative (tryb rozkazujący) used only in present tense to express orders or instructions, and it applies to verbs of both aspects. Samples: "jedz! [eat!] / "zjedz!" [finish eating!, eat it all!].

  • Subjunctive (tryb przypuszczający) used in past and future tenses to express assumption, doubt, hesitation or remoteness towards described events. It applies to verbs of both aspects. Samples: "jadłbym" [I would be eating] / "zjadłbym" [I would have eaten].



I am not a linguist, but an engineer who loves his mother tongue. If there is something missing above, something is wrong or unclear, please do not hesitate to suggest corrections.


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