https://www.duolingo.com/profile/br0d4

The verbs *znać*, *wiedzieć*, *umieć* and *potrafić*

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In Polish, there are 4 verbs that share a similar meaning: "znać", "wiedzieć", "umieć" and "potrafić". They all translate into the English verb "to know". Their meanings partially overlap, but they are used with different prepositions (thus forcing other cases of the object in the phrase) and form different phrasal structures. The verb "znać" has additionally a slightly different meaning, when used as the reflexive verb "znać się".

Here is a short description of how to distinguish them in Polish.


"Wiedzieć"

Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN; Słownik prof. Doroszewskiego; Wielki Słownik Języka Polskiego

Concerns knowledge on a particular subject. The verb "wiedzieć" can also be an introduction to a dependent clause.

  • to know a single piece of information
  • to know a lot or everything in a very narrow or specific field of knowledge
  • to be aware of something specific
  • to be familiar with something specific
  • to know about something, to know that something is...

Samples:

  • Wiem, co to słowo znaczy = I know what this word means
  • On wie, co to jest alfabet = He knows what the alphabet is (but it does not say whether he knows the letters of the alphabet or knows how to read)
  • Ona wie, jak się ubrać na każdą okazję = She knows how to dress for every occasion
  • Wiem, kim jest John (John in Nominative)= I know who is John
  • Wiem gdzie jest Warszawa (Nominative) = I know where Warsaw is
  • Wiem, co myślisz = I know what you think
  • Wiem, co ludzie o mnie mówią = I know what people say about me
  • Wiem, co to oznacza = I know what it means
  • Nie wiem nic o tej sprawie = I know nothing on that matter
  • Wiem, że tu jesteś = I know that you are here
  • Wiemy, co zrobiłeś = We know what you have done

"Znać"

Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN; Słownik prof. Doroszewskiego; Wielki Słownik Języka Polskiego

Concerns wide knowledge or general acquaintance. The verb "znać" cannot be an introduction to a dependent clause.

  • to have knowledge on a given matter, to know something
  • to know some part of required knowledge
  • to be felt, to be perceived, to be shown

Samples:

  • Znam to słowo = I know this word
  • On zna wszystkie litery alfabetu = He knows all the letters of alphabet (but it does not say whether he is able to use them)
  • Znam Johna (John in Accusative)= I know John
  • Znam Warszawę (Accusative) = I know Warsaw (this may mean any or all of the following: I know what is interesting in the city, I know its topography, I know how to live and work there, I know its history, people who live there, I know how to spend time and have fun in the city)
  • Znam twoje myśli (Accusative) = I know your thoughts, I know what you think (see the example above)
  • Znam opinie na mój temat = I know the opinions about me, I know what people think of me (see the example above)
  • Nie znam detali tej sprawy (Genitive, because of negation) = I do not know the details of this matter (but, presumably, I know at least something on that matter)
  • Znam ten wiersz na pamięć = I know this poem by heart (in context of just knowing a poem)
  • Na jego twarzy znać było zmęczenie = His face showed tiredness
  • W powietrzu znać było napięcie = There was tension in the air

"Znać się"

Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN; Wielki Słownik Języka Polskiego

  • to know oneself ("znać siebie")
  • to know each other ("znać się ze sobą ...")
  • to maintain an acquaintance with someone ("znać się z ...")
  • to keep relationship between some persons ("znać się z ...")
  • to have a vast knowledge on some subject ("znać się na ...")

Samples:

  • Znam sie z Johnem (John in Instrumental) = I know John, or better I've known John, I'm friends with John, I have a relationship with John
  • Znam się na tym = I am familiar with that, I have a sound expertise on that

"Umieć"

Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN; Słownik prof. Doroszewskiego; Wielki Słownik Języka Polskiego

  • to be able to make something, that requires knowledge on a given matter
  • to be able to do something, thanks to some knowledge - but also skill, training etc.
  • to be able to do or make something better than most other people would
  • to have some/partial knowledge on a given matter, especially in context of an exam
  • a shorter option for wiedzieć jak = "to know how (to)"

Samples:

  • Umiem używać tego słowa ("słowa" is "słowo" singular in Genitive, because "używać" normally requires Genitive)= I know how to use this word
  • On umie czytać = He knows how to read
  • Ona umie się ubrać na każdą okazję = She knows how to dress for every occasion
  • Umiem rozmawiać z Johnem (John in Instrumental because of preposition "z") = I know how to talk to John
  • Umiem poruszać się po Warszawie (Warszawie in locative, because of preposition "po") = I know how to move around Warsaw, I know how to make my way through Warsaw
  • Umiem wyrazić swoją opinię na ten temat (Opinia in Accusative because of verb "wyrazić") = I know how to express my opinion on that subject
  • Umiem coś powiedzieć na temat detali tej sprawy = I am able to say something on the details of that matter
  • Umiem mówić po polsku = I can speak Polish
  • Umiem prowadzić konwersację w 5 językach = I am able to carry on a conversation in 5 languages
  • Umiem strzelać z pistoletu = I can shoot a gun
  • Umiem przyrządzić kurczaka = I know how to prepare chicken
  • Umiem zrobić pizze = I can make pizza
  • Umiem ten wiersz na pamięć = I know this poem by heart (in context of e.g. school homework)
  • Umiem wszystko do egzaminu = I know everything needed to pass the exam
  • Czego Jaś się nie nauczył, tego Jan nie będzie umiał = What little Johny has not learnt, the grown up John will not know; As the twig is bent, so grows the tree

"Potrafić"

You may replace the verb "umieć" by "potrafić". The difference is that with "umieć" there is more stress put to what one can do. With "potrafić" there is more stress on the ability of the person.

Samples:

  • Potrafię używać tego słowa ("słowa" is "słowo" singular in Genitive, because "używać" normally requires Genitive) = I do know how to use this word
  • On potrafi czytać = He does know how to read

But the verb "potrafić" has also other meanings.

Słownik Języka Polskiego PWN; Słownik prof. Doroszewskiego; Wielki Słownik Języka Polskiego

  • to reach some limit in one's behaviour or to attain some state (in positive sense: e.g. state of proficiency - or negative sense, eg. state of abnegation).
  • about machines or devices: to be designed/built in order to do/make something

Samples:

  • On potrafi gadać godzinami = He is able to jaw for hours
  • On potrafi ustrzelić ptaka w locie = He is capable of hitting a bird in flight
  • Ten komputer potrafi wykonać nasze obliczenia = This computer is capable of performing our calculations
  • Ta kamera potrafi widzieć w ciemności = This camera is able to see in the dark

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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.

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You may also want to check:

December 13, 2017

15 Comments

Sorted by top post

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Brendan06

I don't know Polish, but thx for all the work you put into making this. I bet it will be really popular.

December 13, 2017

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

Good job, but I think there should be commas in compound sentences (after "wiem") to make it perfect :)

December 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/br0d4
Mod
  • 1491

Thank you, have a lingot!

December 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/alik1989

I tend to substitute most "umiem+verb" examples with "wiem, jak+verb". Is that a stylistically inferior option?

December 13, 2017

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

I'd say it bears a bit different meaning. You say "wiem, jak + verb" when you say that you know how to do something, and "umiem", when you say that you have the ability to do something.

"Wiem, jak obsługiwać komputer" - "I know how to use the computer, you needn't tell me what to do".

"Umiem obsługiwać komputer" - "I know how to use the computer, I've done this several times already".

"Znam drogę do sklepu" - "I know the way to the shop" "Wiem, jak dojść do sklepu" - "I know how to get to the shop (means almost the same as the first sentence, but yeah, the first one is stylistically slightly better)". "Umiem dojść do sklepu" - "I can get to the shop (on my own)".

If you're looking for a stylistically better option, use "potrafić" - the better version of "umieć".

December 14, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/br0d4
Mod
  • 1491

Thank you, I forgot about "potrafić"

December 14, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Enzfj2
  • 1234

I'd say "wiem, jak" is theoretical (though perhaps I never did it), "umiem" is practical (yes, I did it), and "potrafię" is somewhere in between (I strongly believe that I can/will do it)

January 2, 2018

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

I believe so. IF you want to express possessing some skill "umiem+ infinitive" would be best

December 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/arienrhod1

One small correction:

Umiem/potrafię używać to słowo. => Umiem/potrafię używać (kogo? czego?) tego słowa.

"Używać" is one of those verbs that require Genitive in this case instead of Accusative, similarly to:

  • udzielić (kogo? czego?) wywiadu = to give an interview

  • nienawidzić (kogo? czego?) poniedziałków = to hate Mondays

  • dolać (kogo? czego?) mleka = to pour out some more milk

  • uniknąć (kogo? czego?) kary = to escape punishment

December 20, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/br0d4
Mod
  • 1491

Thank you, I have made a correction. Have a lingot!

December 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Brendan06

BTW Have 10 Lingots

December 13, 2017

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

Awesome! Thanks ^_^

December 13, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Czaplinski60

My Congratulation to you! It's a good expalin, I have many dificuties to understand this verbs. Because in the Polish language most of the verbs are conjugated as irregular? Or do we have some regulars?

December 16, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/br0d4
Mod
  • 1491

The answer is not easy. It depends on the model of Polish grammar that we take into consideration. According to the most popular, the simplified model by prof. Tokarski, there are 18 groups of verbs depending on the verb ending + irregular verbs. You can find the tables of conjugation according to this model (with some sample verbs only) here

If you want to go deeper into the details, you can read about it here.

And in this thread I described how to find the grammatical forms of any word.

December 17, 2017

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

thanks

December 19, 2017
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