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English "that" is sometimes Polish *ten*, sometimes *tamten*

  • 1900


In the Prea-Indo-European language there existed pronouns to describe 3 possible distances to an object (as they still exist in Spanish).

In Early Middle English they were:

closest medium distance far away
this that yonder

In modern English they were reduced to:

closest medium distance far away
this that that

In Middle Polish they were (male, female and neuter):

gen. closest medium distance far away
m ten ów tamten
f ta owa tamta
n to owo tamto

In modern Polish they were reduced to:

gen. closest medium distance far away
m ten ten tamten
f ta ta tamta
n to to tamto

The pronouns ów, owa, owo became synonyms for tamten, tamta, tamto (almost synonyms: they mean "another tamten, other than the first mentionned"). They are rarely used in nowadays Polish, mostly in phrasemes "to i owo" = "this and that", "some stuff", "ten i ów" = "some (male) persons" and "ta i owa" = "some (female) persons".

As you see, in English, the one that was in the middle "that" took the function of the furtherest "yonder". In Polish the closest one "ten (ta, to)" was extended to medium distance. See it again.

The words from Middle Age:

closest medium distance far away
En this that yonder
Pl ten ów tamten
ta owa tamta
to owo tamto


closest medium distance far away
En this that that
Pl ten ten tamten
ta ta tamta
to to tamto

This is the reason why often what is in Polish "ten, ta, to" (the closest one), it is translated to English "that" (instead of literal translation "this"). In plural "ci", "te", is often translated to "those" (instead of literal translation "these").

It does not work in the the other way: "tamten", "tamta", "tamto" can only be translated to "that", and "tamte", "tamci" can only be translated to "those".


THIS is "ten", "ta", "to".

THESE is "ci", "te"


THAT is "tamten", "tamta", "tamto" or less used "ów", "owa", "owo"

THOSE is "tamci", "tamte" or less used "owi", "owe"

tamten,tamta,tamto,tamci,tamte ów,owa,owo,owi,owe



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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January 29, 2018



Very good article, the comparisons are interesting :)

It's not only the Pre-Indo-European languages that use three kinds of directions and placement. A good example is Japanese: kore - this (next to me), sore - that (next to you), are - that over there (far from both speakers). It's called "kosoado" order (or chart) and it can be applied to places and other things, too.

As a native speaker, I think that "tamto", "tamten" etc. are still commonly used, but "ów", "owa" and pronouns similar to them are mostly used in literary and poetic (or very formal) speech. I've mostly seen then in books, but not heard them much in speech nowadays.


You learn every day. Thank you for this insightful article!


Thank you, this (!) really helps...

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