The versatile Polish word «to»
The foreigners who learn Polish language ask sometimes "why Polish uses the pronoun "to" so extensively?" A partial answer to that question is that the word "to" is a bit special - it is actually not one word, but these are 5 different words, that have the same spelling.
The word "to" may be:
1. A Pronoun
"To" is one of the most important polish pronouns. They very often replace that, what in English are pronouns this, it and even the article the. It may also replace the pronoun that, because the usage of demonstrative pronouns in Polish is somewhat different than in English.
In this meaning, the pronoun has different forms when replacing nouns of diferent genders. The form "to" is used in singular for the nouns that have either neutral or unknown gender (e.g. while asking "what is this?" about an unknown object); the form "ta" for feminine nouns and "ten" for masculine, respectively. In plural there are forms "ci" for male personal and "te" for other genders (male inpersonal, neuter and female). They are also inflected:
|Case||m. sg.||f. sg.||n. sg.||m.p. pl.||not m.p. pl.|
|Accusative||tego¹ / ten||tę||to||tych||te|
¹) Accusacive case of pronoun "ten" when refering to male animated is "tego", when refering to male inanimated is "ten".
Tojest jabłko, o którym mówimy =
Thisis an apple that we are talking about
tojabłko, o którym mówimy =
theapple that we are talking about - here are 2x "to": once as a demonstrative pronoun, once repalcing an article, side by side!
2. A replacement for "it is"
"To" is a particle that replaces verb "być" (to be) in complex predicate:
tozwierzę = Dog
tostolica Polski = Warsaw
isthe capital of Poland
todobra uczennica = Ania
isa good student
topieniądz = Time
In this meaning, "to" is used also with plural forms:
todobre zwierzęta = Dogs
- Ania i Maria
todobre uczennice = Ania and Maria
The particle "to" may also replace the structure of pronoun + verb "być" (to be): "to jest" / "jest to" = this is, it is:
To jestemja =
to jest? = Kto
to? = Who
To jestprawda =
To jesttu =
To jestza daleko =
Toza daleko =
That istoo far away
- With "to", you have to use the noun in Nominative case: "Pies to zwierzę"; "Warszawa to stolica Polski"; "Ania to dobra uczennica".
- With "jest" you have to use the noun in Instrumental case: "Pies jest zwierzęciem"; "Warszawa jest stolicą Polski"; "Ania jest dobrą uczennicą". This thread can also be interesting: "To jest kaczka"
It is necessary to mention here, that the proper usage of prases type "X is Y" is not so obvious in Polish - here is a must-read article on that: A guide on "X is Y" and "This is Y" constructions
3. A Connective
"To" is a connective that joins two sentences, of which the second is the consequence of the first:
- Zdejmij koszulę,
toci przyszyję guzik = Take off the shirt,
thenI'll sew the button
- Przyjechał wcześnie,
todużo załatwił = He came early,
sohe arranged a lot
It may also connect sentences in a dialogue:
- Kupiłem chleb. —
Todobrze. = I bought bread. —
- Przestępczość wzrasta. —
Toźle = The crime rate is rising. —
- Pewnie on ukradł konia! — Tak,
tomożliwe. = It was probably him to steal the horse! — Yes,
Attention: In this sample dialogue:
- Źle wyglądasz. Czy jesteś chory? — To nie to. Mój kot dziś zdechł. = You look bad. Are you sick? — No, it's not that. My cat died today. - there are 2x "to": case 3 and case 1. The phrase "To nie to" or "Nie, to nie to" is a very popular expression serving as an introduction to explanation of negative answer.
4. A Means of Expression
"To" is particle serving for greater expression.
toprzyszedł? = Who came!?! - compare with: Kto przyszedł? = Who came?
tosię wszyscy zdziwią! = Oh, everybody will
5. An interlude
"To" is particle serving in a sentence as a sort of interlude, for example to separate the known (or obvious information) from something new, or to put more stress on that:
- W zeszłym roku o tej porze,
tolało = Last year in this season,
erm, it was heavily raining
- Tę książkę,
topamiętaj mi oddać = That book,
well, remember to give it back to me
This may be also interesting to read: a full dictionary entry on that word: "to" (in Polish).
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:
- Conjugation of Verbs in Polish
- Aspect of Verbs in Polish, Verbs of Singular, Multiple and Completed actions
- What is Genitive Case Useful For
- The Mysterious Pronouns swój, swoja, swoje
- The Meaningful Position of Adjective
- Translating "and" into Polish explained
- The verbs znać, wiedzieć and umieć
- English "that" is sometimes Polish ten, sometimes tamten
I think it's worth mentioning the register of particular cases:
1 - neutral
2 - rather neutral
3 - the samples are informal, but the dialogues are neutral
4 - literary or informal
5 - informal (spoken language)