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A short guide: What is Genitive Case Useful For

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Do not get misguided by the name of the case, the use of Genitive in Polish language is much broader than the name of the case might suggest.

Genitive Case is used in Polish

1. In negations - when we negate the verb

When we negate the verb - the basic form of negation is with Genitive.

  • "Ojciec(nom.) nie ma koszuli(noun in gen.)" - [The father does not have a shirt]
  • "Nie ma chleba(noun in gen.)" - [there is no bread] (in Polish "nie ma" is a construction with negated verb)
  • "Ja nie robię nic złego(adjective in gen.)" - [I do not do anything wrong]
  • "On nie widzi ciebie(pronoun in gen.)" - [He does dot see you]
  • "Nie dostarczyli świeżego(adjective in gen.) chleba(noun in gen.)" - [(They) did not supply fresh bread]

Sometimes we need to express negation without Genitive - it is when besides "nie", also other negation word is used - e.g. "żaden" [none] : "Żaden ptak(nom.) nie śpiewa" - [No bird is singing] - but this is case when we can't say what is actually negated: the noun, or the verb. It is tricky, because in Polish you sometimes make double, triple or even more fold negation, and it is correct.

ATTENTION: It is very different when we negate noun or adjective. If we look into a wonderful guide on "X is Y" - and we try to revert it to "X is not Y" - we find there situations, that Genetive is not used there:

X (noun) is not Y (noun) - we keep either Instrumental or Nominative:

  • "Pies(nom.) nie jest ptakiem(inst.)" - [A dog is not a bird]
  • "Pies(nom.) to nie jest ptak(nom.)" - [A dog is not a bird]
  • "Pies(nom.) to nie ptak(nom.)" - [A dog is not a bird]
  • "Czerwień(nom) nie jest moim(inst.) kolorem(inst.)" - [Red is not my colour]

X (pronoun) is not Y (noun or name) - we keep Instrumental or Nominative

  • "Ja(pronoun in nom.) nie jestem mężczyzną(inst.)" - [I am not a man]
  • "Ja(nom.) nie jestem Marek(nom.)" - [I am not Mark]
  • "To(pronoun in nom.) nie pies(nom.)" - [This is not a dog]

X (noun or pronoun) is not Y (adjective) - we keep Instrumental or Nominative

  • "Ten stół(nom.) nie jest ciężki(nom.)" - [The table is not heavy].
  • "Ona(nom.) nie jest piękna(nom.)" - [She is not beautiful]

2. To describe ownership

When used with a noun:

  • "koszula(nom.) ojca (gen.)" - [the shirt of the father]

But when the ownership is expressed with a pronoun, the case of pronoun has to be the same as case of possessed noun:

  • "moja(nom.) koszula(nom.)" - [my shirt]
  • "nie ma mojej(gen.) koszuli(gen.)" - [there is not my shirt] - Genitive because of negation ("nie ma" is a verb-like construction), not because of ownership.

3. Partial Genitive

It is used to describe a part of something:

  • "kawałek(nom.) chleba (gen.)" - [a piece of bread]
  • "odcinek(nom.) serialu (gen.)" - [an episode of tv-series]

Because the genitive means a part of something whole, the use of case can change the meaning of phrase:

  • "wsyp sól(acc.) do zupy" - [Pour the salt (all the salt that you have) into the soup]
  • "wsyp soli(gen.) do zupy" [Pour some salt into the soup]
  • "zjedli (cały) chleb(acc.)" [they ate (the whole) bread (a whole loaf or all the available bread)]
  • "zjedli (trochę) chleba(gen.)" [they ate (some) bread]

The use of cały/trochę is optional - without these words the phrase means the same, but with them, it is clearer to understand.

4. In comparisons

The second noun or adjective in comparison (the one, the we compare to) should be in Genetive, when the first (the one that is compared) should be in Nominative:

  • "Bułka(nom.) (jest) lepsza od chleba(gen.)" - [A roll (is) better than bread]
  • "Wolę czerwony(nom.) od zielonego(gen.)" - [I prefer the red to the green one]

5. To express separation from sth/sb

  • "oddzielić dziecko(acc.) od matki(gen.)" - [to separate a child from the mother]
  • "wyjąć zapałkę(acc.) z pudełka(gen.)" - [to take a match out of the matchbox]

6. With prepositions

Many prepositions require that the following noun is in Genitive case: "od" [from], "z" [from, off, out of] (attention: "z" also means [with] - but in that meaning the Instrumental case is required), "do" [to], "dla" [for], "u" [at], "bez" [without], "prócz" [except], "oprócz" [except], "obok" [by, by side], "koło" [by, close to], "około" [about, at about], "naokoło" [around], "blisko" [near, close to], "wśród" [between, in between], "znad" [from above], "spod" [from under], "naprzeciw" [in front of], "naprzeciwko" [in front of, opposite], "podczas" [during], "według" [acccording to], "zamiast" [instead of].

  • "od domu(gen.) do domu(gen.)" - [from house to house]
  • "dla mojej(gen.) babci(gen.)" - [for my grandma]
  • "spotkamy się około siódmej(gen.)" - [we meet at about seven o'clock]
  • "jesteś naprzeciwko Sądu(gen.)" - [you are in the front of the Court]

7. With nouns derived from verbs

It is used to describe activities by the noun derived from verb (in English it is gerund - in Polish a new noun) - even if the original verb requires a noun in accusative:

  • "czytać(verb) książkę(acc.)" - [to read a book]
  • "czytanie(noun) książki(gen.)" - [reading of a book]

8. With verbs, that require Genitive

In Polish language, the verb rules the case of the noun used with it (sometimes there are more cases possible, each giving a different meaning to the phrase). There are numerous verbs, that require just Genitive.

  • "używać narzędzia(gen.)" - [to use a tool]
  • "udzielać wywiadu(gen.)" - [to give an interview]
  • "dolać oliwy(gen.) do ognia(gen.)" - [to add fuel (oil) to the flames]

And, here is a list of more common verbs that require the use of genitive (the list was prepared by conor.raff + some additions from me):

  • bać się - to be afraid
  • brakować / braknąć - to be missing, to be insufficient
  • chcieć - to want (in some phrases "chcieć" is used with Accusative, but the meaning is different, and some people consider it a mistake)
  • dokonywać / dokonać - to achieve
  • domagać się - to demand
  • dotyczyć - to apply to
  • dotykać / dotknąć - to be touching / to touch (it may be used also with Accusative, but the meaning is different: dotknąć + Genitive means to touch sth. physically ; dotknąć + Accusative means to offend sob. or suffer from sth.)
  • doznawać / doznać - to experience, to feel
  • lękać się, obawiać się - to be afraid
  • nienawidzić - to hate
  • oczekiwać - to wait for
  • odmawiać / odmówić - to refuse
  • pilnować - to guard
  • potrzebować - to need (a common mistake is using "chcieć" with Accusative)
  • pragnąć - to desire
  • próbować / spróbować - to be trying / to try
  • pytać - to ask (also correct with Accusative)
  • słuchać - to listen
  • spodziewać się - to expect
  • szukać / poszukać - to look for
  • uczyć się / nauczyć się - to study / to learn
  • udzielać / udzielić - to grant
  • unikać / uniknąć - to avoid
  • używać / użyć - to be using/ to use
  • wymagać - to demand
  • wstydzić się - to be embarrassed
  • wystarczać / wystarczyć - to be sufficient
  • zabraniać / zabronić, zakazywać/ zakazać - to forbid
  • zapominać / zapomnieć - to forget (also correct with Accusative)
  • zazdrościć - to envy
  • żałować - to regret
  • życzyć - to wish

Closing Remarks

  • Genitive has taken the function of Ablative case which existed in ancient Polish. Ablative does not exist any more, it was preserved only in some proverbs, e.g. "Gość nie w porę gorszy Tatarzyna" - Tatarzyna ablative case = od Tatarzyna genitive case. This may explain however why Genitive is a particularly complicated and difficult case. You may be also interested in this thread .

  • The form of Genitive singular case is often the same as Accusative plural or Nominative plural (see this thread ), or Genitive plural. You may like to see the tables here or here. Therefore, it is important to understand when Genitive singular/plural should be expected.

  • There are some words which have two or more meanings with the same spelling, but they have different forms in Genitive. Some samples:

    • "bal - bala" [wooden log] ; "bal - balu" [ball, party]
    • "model - modela" [a person working as a model] ; "model - modelu" [pattern; a type of (car, dress); maquette]
    • "Kisiel - Kisiela" [the pen-name of a Polish writer] ; "kisiel - kisielu" [a jelly-type dessert]
    • "Mania - Mani" [diminuation of feminine name Maria] ; "mania - manii" - [ obsession, fixation]
    • "cis - cisu" [yew, tree genus] ; "cis - cisa" - [misical note c#, c-sharp]
  • Here is a concise guide over the 17 main types of declension . Other good declension tables in pl.wiktionary.org . The model of declension containing 17 types (5 male, 6 female and 6 neutral) is however somewhat general and has some exceptions. There are also other models of declension. Some of them are more detailed - on this page you can find a detailed specification of 146 types of declension (some of which have also numerous subtypes), with sample words (you can browse the exhausive list here and associated tables of declension are accessible from here )

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DISCLAIMER

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.

===============================================

You may also want to check:

2 years ago

11 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/LICA98
LICA98
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"Czerwień(nom) nie jest moim(inst.) kolorem(inst.)" - [Red is not my (favourite) colour]

why is there no favourite in the Polish sentence, is it implied in this type of sentence? also what's the difference between czerwień and czerwony?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/br0d4
br0d4
Mod
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"Czerwień" is a noun, which is name of "the red colour" - czerwony (adjective) kolor (noun). While in English a word may serve the function of noun or an adjective, in Polish there are separate words for noun and adjective (it may happen, that a noun and an adjective have the same spelling in nominative case, but surely they would have different declension; however none such case comes to my mind at this moment, so it's just theoretical).

I remove the (favourite), because, actually, there are more options - in this case one may mean also a colour that fits somebody (refering f.ex. to one's hair colour or body build). But the expression "X (noun) jest moim Y (noun)" in most cases refers to something, that somebody likes very much or likes the most. And, BTW, I move this to part "X (noun) is not Y (noun)", where it belongs. I give instead another sample with an adjective.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LICA98
LICA98
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so can they be used interchangeably then, or are there situations where only 1 works?

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/br0d4
br0d4
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The answer to that question is a little bit complicated. In most situations the colour name and the adjective describing the colour can be used interchangeably. If you are talking about colours using adjectives, you do not even need to repeat the noun "kolor" every time. It only sounds better if you decide which one you want to use, and do not mix the noun names with adjectives.

But If we go deeper into the language, as for example in poetry, there are some nuances. Most obvious, is that when using noun names, the phrase may be more concise, because you do not need to mention even once the colour of "what" you are talking about. Then, a poet or writer may need a given number of syllables to match the rhythm of the poem, word endings to match the rhyme, and stress to match or to contrapose tonal accents in lines, because in most cases the noun and adjective have different endings, number of syllables and sometimes different word accent. Accented vowels are bold here - see: czer-wień / czer-wo-ny [red]; nie-bies-kość / nie-bies-ki [blue] ; błę-kit / błę-kit-ny [azure]; zie-leń / zie-lo-ny [green]; biel / bia-ły [white]; czerń / czar-ny [black]; brąz / brą-zo-wy [brown]; żółć / żół-ty [yellow]; sza-rość / sza-ry [gray]; fio-let / fio-le-to-wy [violet]; pur-pu-ra / pur-pu-ro-wy [purple]; róż / ró-żo-wy [pink]; po-ma-rańcz / po-ma-rań-czo-wy [orange].

Besides, adjectives are always assigned to nouns. Even if you do not mention the nouns, still in the back of your head you know that you are speaking of colour of given objects - like flowers, sky, or the colours itself. Nouns are more abstract and they can exist, at some measure, as though separated from anything. If you speak about the colour balance on a painting, you can say that the "red of poppies is contrasting with the blue of the sky and white of the clouds" - then nouns are more handy than adjectives, because the adjectives describe poppies, sky and clouds, but you do not want to talk about poppies, sky and clouds - only about their colours and the colour composition. Even if you mention these poppies, sky and clouds - while using noun names, you make it clear, that not the objects, but their colours are important. If you describe a landscape "bathed in the yellows, oranges and reds of the sunset", you may like to talk about the colours of the light - and then adjectives are more handy, but if you want to talk about the colours itself, disregarding that they come from the light of the sun - then nouns are better.

Then, there are colours that do not have a noun to describe them - in these cases you have no choice, and have to use adjective. The noun "bursztyn" is only a Polish word for amber, and it is not used as colour name, but the adjective for colour "bursztynowy" is commonly used, for example as colour of some beers. There also other colours derived from some meterials, notably metals - "złoty" [golden], "srebrny" [silver], "miedziany" [copper], "platynowy" [platinium], "ołowiany" [lead]. These nouns exist only as metal names, not as colour names. Other case is "khaki" - the proper noun would be "khakość", but it does not exist, because it would sound weird, as "khaki" is not a word of Polish origin, while ending "-ość" is clearly Polish. So, the word "khaki" while an adjective, is sometimes used also in the function of noun. Also there are no noun-only names of colours that consist of two words, they are called by pairs noun+adjective, e.g. "róż indyjski" [Indian rose] (which is actually not pink, but a shade of light purple), or "błękit paryski" [Parisian azure]. You can make composed adjectives out of them: "błękitny paryski" or "różowy indyjski", but a pair noun+adjective sounds just a little bit better in these cases.

Due to that, there is a difference in using names of colours that are only abstract names (czerwień, zieleń, biel, etc...) and those that do not have noun names, but are names of physical object (like metal names or amber). A special case is "brąz", which is at the same time name of metal and name of colour. So the correct way of describing colours by adjectives would be:

  • (an object) jest czerwony/czerwona/czerwone [an object is red] - most natural and neutral phrase
  • (an object) ma kolor czerwony [an object has the red colour] - also natural and neutral phrase
  • (an object) o czerwonym kolorze (+ verb) - [an object, which is red + verb] - the whole phrase "rzecz o czerwonym kolorze" can be the Subject in a sentence, but rarely would be found outside of full sentence. It is a bit sophisticated, or can be used if you cannot say what is the thing you are talking about, you may describe it by its colour: e.g. Coś widzę, jakąś rzecz o czerwonym kolorze. - [I can see something, a thing which is red].

But you have more choices. If you want to use noun, you can do it. With colour names are abstract (czerwień) - this is not so complicated:

  • (an object) jest (cały) w czerwieni (singular) - [an object is (all) red]
  • (an object) jest w czerwieniach (plural) - [an object is coloured in shades of red]

It is different for nouns that are not purely abstract (brąz) - there are more options:

  • (an object) jest w brązie - [an object is in bronze / in brown] - this has double meaning: may be understud that something is brown, but also that is made of bronze .
  • (an object) jest w brązach - [an object is is coloured in shades of brown]
  • (an object) jest z brązu - [an object is made of bronze]
  • (an object) ma kolor brązu [an object has the same colour as bronze (metal)] - a comparative figure
  • (an object) jest w kolorze brązu - [an object is of the same colour as bronze (metal)] - also a comparative figure like the previous

And last but not least, there are issues with some individual colours. If you do not want to bring to your interlocutor associations with some objects, or just the opposite, you want to bring these associations - you choose to use either adjectives or nouns:

  • The noun "brąz" as the name of the brown colour has in Polish the same spelling as Polish name of bronze (metal), which itself has associations with arms or bravery or with elevating somebody (as bronze is a traditional material for monuments). However, this association of bronze with brown is so strong, that even the adjective has some of it.
  • The colour name "żółć" has the same spelling as Polish name of bile (liquid formed in the liver), and also gall (anger). You may however avoid these associations by using alternate colour name for yellow: "żółcień".
  • The colour name "czerń" is also an old-fashioned nick-name for crowd, especially a crowd of people treated with one-upmanship, or lower class people.
  • Noun "puprura" is sometimes a nick-name for Catholic Church bishops (although a derived out of it, more personalised noun "purpuraci" is more popular).
  • The colour name "karmazyn" (a shade of red) is an old-fashioned nick-name for peerage and aristocracy ("szlachta"); "karmazyn" was also the shade of red used in the Flag of Poland, nowadays the shade is slightly different: vermillion, in Polish "cynober" - but the association "karmazyn - the Flag of Poland" has remained in literature.
  • Plural for "pomarańcz" as name of the orange colour has the same spelling as plural of the orange (fruit).
  • The adjective "czerwony" is a nick-name for communist.
  • The adjective "zielony" may be a nick name for environmental activist or for socialist (an "unripe communist"), or for somebody inexperienced in some field. Also, being "zielony", notably "całkiem zielony" or "zupełnie zielony", means to be unprepared (e.g. for a test exam).
  • The adjective "niebieski" is a nick-name for police officer.
  • Aslo, in some contexts, "niebieski" as a synonym of "niebiański" which means "heavenly".
  • The adjective "czarny" is a nick-name for catholic priest.

I hope these explanations are satisfying for you :)

Addendum: as a side note, I would add, that there are separated colour (adjective) names for human hair and horse fur.

  • Human hair can be "blond", "siwe" (grey), "szantynowe" (lighter shades of dark hair), "kasztanowe" (clear brown), "rude" (red), "brunatne" (dark hair) and "czarne" [black] - the darkest shades are called "kruczoczarne" [crow black]. Besides of humans, also squirrels are rather "rude" than "czerwone". Noun names derived of these adjectives are rather descriptors for humans, than colour names.
  • Horse fur ("śierść", a feminine gender noun) can be "kasztanowata" also called "cisawa" (yellowish-red or yellowish-brown), "gniada" (brown and dark brown with very dark or black mane and tail), "izabelowata" (yellowish-red with yellow or pale mane and tail), "bułana" (yellowish-ashy with black legs and mixed colour dark mane and tail), "kara" (black), "srokata" (large brown and white spots), "biała" (white), "siwa" (gray), "tarantowata" (small spots on white-gray), "dereszowata" (mixed colours with head, neck and legs darker and body white-gray). These are only basic colours for horses - there are also numerous sub-types. Also, for horses we do not use the word "kolor", but old Slavic words "maść" or "umaszczenie" (those can be used optionally for colours of other animals, but the word "kolor" is never used for horses). Also these colours are adjectives, and nouns made out of them are not colour names, but horse descriptors.
2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Niquest
Niquest
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My brain is getting twisted!!!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/br0d4
br0d4
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Why? :-)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/marcofrago3

am i wrong or chcieć requires Biernik in affermative sentences and Dopełniacz in negative? np. ja chcę chleb - nie chcę chleba

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/br0d4
br0d4
Mod
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Yes, you are right.

  • "Chcę chleb (Accusative)" is good. It means "I want a whole bread".
  • But "chcę chleba (Genitive)" is also good, it means "I want some bread". (see point 3. above)

But there are also cases, when "chcieć" may go with Accusative or Genitive, but then it means something completely different:

  • Ja chcę żonę (Accusative) - it is very ambiguous, depending on context it may mean anything from "I want to talk to my/someone's wife", through "I want to see my/someone's wife" up to "I want to kill/imprison/violate my/someone's wife" or just the opposite "I want to get my wife out of the prison".
  • Ja chcę żony (Genitive) - "I want to get married and have a wife".
  • "Chcę krew (Accusative)" - "I want the blood" - is something that a nurse can hear at transfusion (if a physician is in bad mood or in a hurry; also a patient might say so).
  • "Chcę krwi (Genitive)" means "I want to (spill/draw) blood" - is something that you might hear in one of "Game of Thrones" or some Viking saga movies (and I think it is an idiom, but I am not sure).
2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/marcofrago3

Thank you! this is a very thin shade, but very important i think. None of my polish teachers ever mentioned this. In every language, some verbs are very important, making difference between being mean or polite.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mizinamo
mizinamo
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  • "zabić drozda(gen.)" - [to kill a mockingbird]

Is this not just masculine animate accusative, rather than genitive?

For example, would "to kill a tit" be zabić sikory (gen.) or zabić sikorę (acc.)?

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/br0d4
br0d4
Mod
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You are right, that was a mistake: "zabić" connects Accusative. I have removed this example. Have a lingot or two :)

1 year ago