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The versatile Polish word «to»

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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.
Nominative ten ta to ci te
Genitive tego tej tego tych tych
Dative temu tej temu tym tym
Accusative tego¹ / ten to tych te
Instrumental tamtym tamtą tamtym tamtymi tamtymi
Locative tym tej tym tych tych
Vocative ten ta to ci te

¹) Accusacive case of pronoun "ten" when refering to male animated is "tego", when refering to male inanimated is "ten".

Samples:

  • To jest jabłko, o którym mówimy = This is an apple that we are talking about

Attention:

  • To jest to jabłko, o którym mówimy = This is the apple 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:

Samples:

  • Pies to zwierzę = Dog is an animal
  • Warszawa to stolica Polski = Warsaw is the capital of Poland
  • Ania to dobra uczennica = Ania is a good student
  • Czas to pieniądz = Time is money

In this meaning, "to" is used also with plural forms:

  • Psy to dobre zwierzęta = Dogs are good animals
  • Ania i Maria to dobre uczennice = Ania and Maria are good students

The particle "to" may also replace the structure of pronoun + verb "być" (to be): "to jest" / "jest to" = this is, it is:

  • To jestem ja = To ja = It's me
  • Kto to jest? = Kto to? = Who is this?
  • To jest prawda = To prawda = This is true
  • To jest tu = To tu = It is here
  • To jest za daleko = To za daleko = That is too far away

Attention:

  • 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:

Samples:

  • Zdejmij koszulę, to ci przyszyję guzik = Take off the shirt, then I'll sew the button
  • Przyjechał wcześnie, to dużo załatwił = He came early, so he arranged a lot

It may also connect sentences in a dialogue:

  • Kupiłem chleb. — To dobrze. = I bought bread. — That's good.
  • Przestępczość wzrasta. — To źle = The crime rate is rising. — It's too bad
  • Pewnie on ukradł konia! — Tak, to możliwe. = It was probably him to steal the horse! — Yes, that's possible.

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.

Samples:

  • Któż to przyszedł? = Who came!?! - compare with: Kto przyszedł? = Who came?
  • A to się wszyscy zdziwią! = Oh, everybody will so be surprised!

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:

Samples:

  • W zeszłym roku o tej porze, to lało = Last year in this season, erm, it was heavily raining
  • Tę książkę, to pamiętaj 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).

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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:

January 29, 2018

3 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/JBHayven

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)

January 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/AlexDiaconescu

Great. Thanks to both of you

January 29, 2018

https://www.duolingo.com/claudia745509

if you look in detail it is really complicated! Hard to learn Polish!

February 4, 2018
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