1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Polish
  4. >
  5. Perfective verbs


Perfective verbs

Hi Polish learners (and, hopefully, native speakers too)!

I am really struggling with the unit on perfective verbs. I have bookmarked and read through br0d4's wonderful and extensive post on the aspect of verbs (https://www.duolingo.com/comment/12724322), but I still have some questions.

My biggest question is that, in every explanation of perfective verbs, it emphasizes that they are for past and future but never (/rarely?) for present, but so far in all the sentences I have encountered, they seem to be translating into English present tense.

For example, Duo gives the following sentence:

Nie mogę tego przeczytać. — I cannot read this.

Can you also say:

Nie mogę tego czytać. ?

If so, how are they different from each other? And if not, can you explain why that is and how specifically the perfective verb is being used in sentences like this one?

January 17, 2016



"Nie mogę tego czytać." sounds for me as if the speaker was forbidden from taking a single glance at the text. Generally, "nie mogę" + imperfective implies inability to or prohibition from starting the activity, or activity in general as opposed to particular, and "nie mogę" + perfective implies inability to finish/complete/succeed at the particular activity.

"Nie mogę czytać" means the speaker cannot read anything, due to either prohibition, bad mood, or temporary health problems.

More often, you can express inability due to lack of skill with "nie umiem" + imperfective, and prohibition from completing a particular action with "nie wolno mi" + perfective (prohibition from starting an action, or from action in general is "nie wolno mi" + imperfective).

All the verbs from now on will be perfective.

"Przeczytać" implies completing the action of reading. "Nie mogę tego przeczytać." = "I'm unable to finish reading this. I'm not necessarily specifying if I can/could start reading it"

"Nie mogę przeczytać" sounds incomplete. People will guess that the missing object of the sentence is "tego", but it's much better to include it specifically.

"Doczytać" means "finishing reading something one started reading", or "reaching a target point in the text". "Nie mogę tego doczytać" means "I have started reading this but I'm unable to finish it.". "Nie mogę (dotąd/do tego) doczytać" means "I have started reading this but I'm unable to reach this point in the text."

There's also odczytać, doczytać się, poczytać, sczytać, naczytać się, zaczytać się, wczytać się, wyczytać.


You cannot form present forms of perfective verbs. Why? We call them in Polish "dokonane" (perfective or to put it simply "done"). So something can be done in the past (and the action is completed) or it will be completed it the future (and the action is not completed). But not now, although you can say: "Zrobiłem to przed chwilą/Właśnie to zrobiłem" (I've just done it).

In your sentences you use "przeczytać" and "czytać" in infinitive forms. Both your sentences are correct but I would interpret them in other ways.

1) Nie mogę tego przeczytać

I can't finish reading something because I don't have enough time, something disturbs me/interrupted me or because of any other reason.

It can also mean that I can't decipher what someone wrote because handwriting is illegible, I don't understand a languge in which the text was written or because of any other reason.

To sum up I cannot complete the action.

2) Nie mogę tego czytać

This one would be interpreted differently. I can't read this text because it's too boring, poor, ridiculous, nonsensical or offensive/insulting to me.

But in other contexts it can have other meanings, for example:

Nie mogę czytać codziennie - I can't read every day.

Nie mogę teraz tego czytać, bo jestem zajęty - I can't read it now because I'm busy.


Dziękuję bardzo! That is really helpful. So, just to see if I'm understanding this correctly:

The perfective verbs (at least in this context when used with modal verbs, i.e. to want, be able to, have to, etc.) carry the sense of doing something completely / finishing it. In English, we use the present infinitive for this, but literally it would be something more like future perfect (i.e. "I want to have finished reading this"). (?)

And the durative verbs mean either doing something in the general sense / regularly (i.e. "I read every day") or an action that is currently in progress ("I am reading right now").

Is that sort of how it works?

I'm sure I will encounter many other uses of the perfective verbs further along in my studies, but right now I am just trying to understand this one particular use. I think it's finally starting to make more sense :)


Excellent! You are a very clever student ;)


Phew! Thanks. I really appreciate you taking the time to help me! :)


What do you mean "you cannot form"? przeczytam - przeczytasz... is formed using the present tense endings. Did you mean that those forms don't translate to the English present tense?


They are not present forms.

  • 2

czytać - czytam (I read/I am reading)

przeczytać - przeczytam (I will read)

also: będę czytać/czytał/czytała (I will be reading)


Nie mogę tego czytać. - It sounds and looks funny for me. In this case you should use "przeczytać", because you think about reading and finishing it. przeczytać - to read, it means that it's done, for example: Przeczytałam książkę - I've read a book. (I was reading and ended). czytać - also to read, but it means that it's undone, for example: Czytałam gazetę - I was reading a newspaper (I started reading,but I didn't end it. It's also used to say about something that we know it started, but we don't know that it ended or not). Sorry for my English

  • 1843

Thank you :)

Just to add to a very good explanation by mihxal - I would not translate "Nie mogę tego przeczytać" to "I cannot read this" but to "I cannot read this through". I do not know, if you mother-tongue is English or another language, so to explain - "to read something through" means "to read a whole text from the beginning to the end". It is not completely wrong to translate it as "I cannot read this" - but some part of the meaning is lost in such translation. It may be acceptable in the course for the beginners, but it is worth however to understand the difference...

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