LANGUAGE FAQ, A.K.A. CQWATDHTBLETNASP (last update 24.08.18)
LANGUAGE FAQ, A.K.A. CQWATDHTBLETNASP (COMMON QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERS THAT DON’T HAVE TO BE LONG ENOUGH TO NEED A SEPARATE POST)
Okay, so there are some questions which are asked very often and I guess it’s easier in a long run to answer them somewhere. For some, perhaps a separate post would be needed, for some easier ones, let’s keep them here. I will add new sections whenever I decide to write them ;)
Before I start, let me link to the post in which I try to link all useful discussions from the Polish forums, with already many important questions answered: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/16296174
If I missed something in the explanation or something is still not clear, just ask in the comments.
PART ONE: Chłopiec? Chłopak? Chłopcem? Chłopakiem?
This is a very common question for two reasons. Firstly, most sentences with those are at the very beginning of the course, so people still haven’t figured out the difference between “chłopiec” and “chłopcem”. Secondly, even if you understand this difference, you still may wonder how are those two different from “chłopak”/”chłopakiem”.
“chłopiec”/”chłopak” are the basic, Nominative forms. They are mostly used for the subject of the sentence. “chłopcem”/”chłopakiem” are Instrumental forms. Instrumental is used for actions done ‘with someone’, but most importantly it is used in sentences like “He is a boy”. For more (a lot more) information read here, especially part 1: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/16373167
Okay, so I believe the Nominative/Instrumental thing in such sentences is explained rather well in the above link, let’s focus on the vocabulary. Why are there more words for a boy? Well, it’s the matter of age. We teach two words for a boy, i.e. “chłopiec” and “chłopak”. “chłopiec” is generally a little boy. “chłopak” is older. There is no clear age difference, it’s a matter of one’s opinion. You may start talking about “chłopak” when he’s 13 (I really wouldn’t wait longer), you may use it for an 8-year old. That’s very subjective.
There’s also a third word that we don’t teach but accept, which is “chłopczyk” (Instrumental: "chłopczykiem"). “chłopczyk” is the youngest of the three. I don’t think he started school yet.
The same applies to girls. We teach “dziewczynka” and “dziewczyna”. „dziewczynka” is a little girl, „dziewczyna” is an older one. The ‘older’ versions can of course be applied to young adults. And moreover, in a proper context they mean “boyfriend”/”girlfriend”.
PART TWO: Putting pronouns at the end/beginning of the sentence
Okay, it’s not like no Polish person will ever do it. But there’s a lot of things that may come out of one’s mouth that don’t necessarily sound natural and correct. One should learn the rules first before wondering how far they can be bent.
So basically, you should not put any pronoun at the end of the sentence if only there is another possibility. The end of the sentence is when you put the new, most important information, and in a real-life context it’s just rare for a pronoun to be this most important piece. Therefore putting it there gives an emphasis that is rarely natural. The pronouns should only end up at the end of the sentence if there really is no other option. Compare:
“Lubię cię” vs “Ja cię lubię”. (I like you)
“Robię to” vs “Ja to robię”. (I am doing it/this/that)
„Myję się” vs „Ja się myję”. (I am washing/taking a bath/taking a shower)
The first sentences are so short, that there is just no alternative. But if you decide to put the subject (“ja”) explicitly, then suddenly you create another place to put the pronoun. That’s why it moves back from the end-position. And that’s what it should do.
You will ask “why not “Cię lubię”, “To robię”, “Się myję”? Well, you almost never start a sentence with a pronoun different than the subject pronoun. It’s just weird and (again) creates a strong, unnatural emphasis. In fact, two of those aren’t even weird, they’re wrong.
If you really want to put “you” at the beginning of “I like you” (so in fact create something like “You – I like”, which is rather strange), you have to use the emphatic form “Ciebie’. “Ciebie lubię”. Still strange though. If there are two versions of the pronoun, you just can't use 'the short one' at the beginning of the sentence, and 'the long one' sounds like giving contrast between this pronoun and someone else.
“Się myję” is also just wrong, you just don’t start any sentence with “się”, unless in very colloquial speech or simply playing with language.
“To robię” is in theory okay, but that’s like “Yeah, that is exactly what I’m doing” or something like that. Not a very common thing to say.
Therefore, as a rule of thumb: don’t end a sentence with a pronoun unless there’s no other way, and don’t start a sentence with a pronoun different than the subject pronoun.
PART THREE: śniadanie/obiad/kolacja
Think about the three main meals of the day. In Polish they are called (in a chronological order): śniadanie, obiad, kolacja. We could try defining them, but let's face it, it's totally dependent on the given person - at what hour they eat them, do they eat a lot or not, what do they choose to eat. So let's just say that those are the three main meals. And translating those is surprisingly problematic. Why? It’s not because of Polish, it’s because of English.
It is of course a simplification, but there are two main ways of referring to those meals.
One is ‘more American’ and it is as follows: breakfast, lunch, dinner.
The other is ‘more British’ and it is as follows: breakfast, dinner, supper.
I believe that most Polish people know the ‘more British’ way. It can be also known in some other countries which teach rather British English than American English. I also have the impression, that this version isn’t that common as we in Poland think, and that even in Britain you can commonly find the first version.
Anyway, we used to make both versions starred answers (the ex aequo ‘best answers’) for quite a long time, but this proved to be rather confusing than helpful. Then we decided to star only the ‘more American’ version, and the number of comments/reports/complaints lowered significantly. It seems that most complaints nowadays are from Polish people learning English by taking this course as a reverse tree.
If you see the word “obiad”, its main translation will be “lunch”, but it will also accept “dinner”. The hints for “obiad” are “lunch” and “dinner (afternoon meal)”.
If you see the word “kolacja”, its main translation will be “dinner”, but it will also accept “supper”. Moreover, it should also accept “tea”, for some British speakers. Although I still think that this “tea” sounds more like “podwieczorek” than “kolacja" to me... The hints for “kolacja” are “dinner (evening meal)” and “supper”.
There may be also problems in translating from English into Polish. Both “lunch” and “dinner” may be interpreted differently depending on the user.
If you see the word “lunch”, the main translation is “obiad”. However, the word “lunch” is also used sometimes in Polish, so it’s accepted as well. Some people would treat an early lunch as if it was a ‘second breakfast’, so we accept “drugie śniadanie”.
If you see the word “dinner”, the main translation is “kolacja”, but “obiad” is also accepted for reasons explained earlier.
And now I hope that this matter is finally explained.
PART FOUR: Masculine singular Accusative
OK, this also comes back very often. Basically, Accusative of masculine singular nouns is the only situation when we care if the noun is animate or inanimate. The animacy is mostly based on logic (if it’s a word for a person or an animal, it’s animate), however there are also many nouns that are usually considered grammatically animate without any particular reason (see part 4,5).
Most such words belong to the category of food, especially fruits and vegetables. Another category that has many of those is modern technology. The thing is, that not all Poles will agree on this. The ‘official’ version is that they are inanimate. However, for fruits and vegetables, the vast majority (I believe) will treat them as grammatically animate. I have literally never heard anyone say “Jem pomidor” (“I am eating a tomato” - treating the tomato as inanimate) apart from conversations about grammar. Never. With the modern technology words, people will be more divided. Both “Mam laptopa” (I have a laptop, animate) and “Mam laptop” (inanimate) sound natural to me. The categories that I give you are general, there will be words with which I cannot imagine anyone using the animate version. You just have to read, listen, observe and learn.
But let’s focus on those examples that are obvious. What does it change?
If the noun is inanimate, its Accusative form is identical to the Nominative one. Compare:
Ten stół jest zielony. – This table is green. (Nominative)
Widzę ten stół. – I see this table. (Accusative)
The noun phrase “ten stół” is identical in both sentences, although it’s Nominative in the first one and Accusative in the latter.
If the noun is animate, its Accusative form is identical to the Genitive one. For some people reading this, it is possible that you don’t know about Genitive yet – don’t worry, it will come soon. Compare:
Szukam zielonego kota. – I am looking for a green cat. (Genitive)
Widzę zielonego kota. – I see a green cat. (Accusative)
The noun phrase “zielony kot” (a green cat) is identical in both sentences, taking the form of “zielonego kota” both in Genitive and Accusative.
So basically… that’s it on this topic. I hope this will be clear now.
PART FOUR AND A HALF: Nouns that are illogically animate
“Jem pomidora”. “pomidora”? Wait, why? “jeść” takes Accusative, “pomidor” isn’t animate, so Accusative should be identical to Nominative, not Genitive… - this must be the train of thought of many learners who generally know the rules (as stated above in Part 4) but they encounter a sudden exception. But it’s a very important exception and there are a lot of them.
So basically, some nouns are treated as grammatically animate although there isn’t really much logic to it. After all, they don’t denote neither a human being nor an animal. The problem is, that such treatment isn’t exactly official, it may vary between the native users of Polish. Some may treat them as animate (and use Accusative identical to Genitive) and some may treat them as inanimate (and use Accusative identical to Nominative). Officially, the inanimate version is treated as the main one, but with some of them, the fact is that almost everyone treats them as animate.
This concerns only masculine singular nouns in Accusative. As we just discussed in Part 4, it is the only situation where this distinction matters. So it doesn’t matter if someone thinks of “jabłko” as animate or inanimate – it’s not masculine, so that wouldn’t change anything anyway.
Luckily, the nouns that behave in this not-very-logical way mostly go under one of two groups:
- Food (mostly fruits and vegetables)
This is the category that you can be quite sure of. I believe that the vast majority of Polish speakers will treat “pomidor”, “banan”, “ogórek” and similar as animate. Let me put it this way: I am 27 at the moment, I live in the capital, and I have never in my life heard “Jem pomidor”, “Mam banan” or “Kupuję ogórek” apart from discussions about grammar. Not even once. Yes, of course there are people that will treat them as inanimate, one of them used to be a moderator of this course (hey, it was his own decision to resign from this function!), but they really seem to constitute a small percentage of natives.
Of course, it’s not like literally every fruit and vegetable that has a masculine name will be treated as animate, but most will. You just need to observe Polish people speak. For example I can’t imagine anyone treating “agrest” (gooseberry) as animate.
Out of foods (and beverages) that are neither fruits nor vegetables but they are widely treated as animate I could also mention “cukierek” (a piece of candy), “lizak” (a lollipop), “szampan” (champagne) or “kotlet” (a cutlet, a pork chop, etc.), “kebab” (a kebab, of course). Although I did hear people arguing about “kotlet” in terms of grammar. And many others, for sure. On the other hand, there will be a lot of nouns that I just cannot imagine anyone could treat as animate and say “Jem sera” or “Mam chleba”. Again, you need to observe, there is no exact rule.
- Modern technology
OK, this one is less obvious and people are more divided in terms of animate/inanimate here. Let’s say that it’s 50/50 for both versions. In recent years, many words that came into the Polish language have been treated as animate. You can easily say “Mam laptopa” (I have a laptop), although “Mam laptop” sounds natural as well. Similarly “Kupuję [smartfona/smartfon]” (I am buying a smartphone), “Widzę [pendrive’a/pendrive]” (I see a pendrive/flashdrive/USB stick/whatever you call it), “On kupuje [bitcoina/bitcoin]” (He is buying a bitcoin) and similar.
On the other hand, the idea of saying “Mam komputera” or “Widzę telefona” is absolutely absurd. Those don’t seem to be ‘modern enough’ to be treated as animate ;)
Well, I guess that’s it. Sorry that I cannot give you more specific rules – there simply aren’t any. This course generally uses the animate variants for fruits and vegetables (while accepting the inanimate ones), I don’t think we teach any of those animate technology words, although I’m not completely sure.
PART FIVE: Why can't I use "matka"/"ojciec"?
Another topic that comes back quite often. A disclaimer first: this is a bit subjective, not every Polish person will agree with this. But this is what we decided to do.
"mama" is a rather basic word. It translates to "mom". Same goes for "tata" and "dad". Those should be the direct translations.
Now, "matka" and "ojciec" can be considered rather formal. They're not only more formal than "mom"/"dad", but they also seem more formal than "mother"/"father". But well, we don't have a better translation. "matka" and "ojciec" may sometimes even sound as if you were... angry at your parents. I still remember when I was in high school and the school counselor heard me say "matka". She asked why am I angry with my mom. I was surprised at first, but then I noticed that she's right, it did sound like that. For such reasons, we decided to put those words apart.
Therefore we aim to only accept "matka" (and put it as the best answer) if the English sentence used "mother". Same goes for "ojciec" and "father". "mama" and "tata" are correct translations as well, as the English words aren't that formal.
The only context in which we'd like to accept "matka"/"ojciec" for "mom"/"dad" are sentences that are about maternity/paternity in general, not "My mom likes pancakes".
PART SIX: Do not change the subject of the sentence
Whether you like it or not, the Duolingo method favors translations that are as close as possible to the source language, as long as it's correct, of course. You don't have as much freedom as a translator has. We need to be sure that you understand the exact words used in the sentence, as well as the grammar construction. For this reason, we often reject answers which are close in meaning, but we think they are too different. Granted, that's subjective, but there has to be a line somewhere. Of course if the sentence doesn't translate easily into English, we can be more lenient with the accepted answers.
Anyway, one of the answers we dislike the most is when the learner tries to change the subject of the sentence. And the most common situation when people do that is as follows:
The original sentence is like "To jest duży kot" (This is a big cat) and the learner tries to answer with "This cat is big", which means "Ten kot jest duży".
Or the other way round: the sentence is "Ta zupa jest smaczna" (This soup is tasty) and the learner tries to answer with "This is tasty soup", which means "To jest smaczna zupa".
OK, imagine that someone tells you to close your eyes and puts something on your lap. You touch it, you feel that it's some kind of an animal. You ask "What is it?". Does the answer "This is a big cat" make sense here? Yes. Does the answer "This cat is big" make sense here? No. Those sentences are quite close to each other, but they are still different.
Therefore, if you have a noun phrase like "ten kot", translate it to "this cat", and the other way round. If the sentence starts with "To jest", translate it as "[This/That/It] is", and the other way round. Please, don't mix them.
Yes, kudos from me as well - you’re doing a great job!
Regarding the „animate/inanimate masculine nouns in Accusative” - I’ve recently had exactly this conversation with my brother-in-law who is an English-native polyglot learning Polish now. Eventually I came to a very similar conclusion ;) - that it’s extremely hard to formulate any rule - but what I realised was that perhaps talking about „animate/inanimate” differentiation puts too much emphasis on the noun being mobile or not. I know it is the official translation of „ożywiony/nieożywiony” but IMHO it would be better to translate it into „living/non-living” (objects). Of course this doesn’t solve the problem of eg. tooth (ząb -> widzę ząb [Acc], ale nie widzę zęba [Gen])... damn, I really come to realise how hard it must be for people to learn Polish...
Anyone who is more serious about learning Polish should definitely listen to 'Michel Thomas: Polish'. Its an audiobook series (about 15 or so hours long in total) that teaches you all about these kinds of rules (and more). I've listened to the entire series a few times now and it really helps me to learn how the Polish language is constructed. I now use duolingo to build on that and to expand my vocabulary.
Yes, Michel Thomas does indeed teach the very basics. There no ‘unfortunately’ about it as everyone has to start somewhere. But I’d have to disagree, the course definitely covers the basics but moves onto intermediate content as you progress (e.g. past tense, perfective, case construction etc.). Then there’s the advanced course that continues on from the foundation series. The course wasn’t designed to teach all of the vocabulary but rather give you an understanding of how to construct your own sentences from learning the finer construction of the language itself. The deeper explanations from the teacher are also very helpful. Obviously the major advantage is that Duolingo is free. But when learning a language you either have to immerse yourself in the culture (I.e. go and live there) or if that’s not possible then you have to use all the tools at your disposal to understand the language in more depth. I guess I can just say that the Michel Thomas course helped me a lot as someone who has limited time in the day to learn (so I listened while travelling etc.).
Yes, perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am more demanding. I started with Michael Thomas and it was the best start. Because it was so good perhaps I wanted more! For example, I wish they would have another 10 CDs about the cases. I think that for someone like me, who has never had contact with cases, I need (still do) a system or someone who could teach me properly about the cases and then how to use them. Neither Michael Thomas or Duolingo have done that, I am basically memorizing! Emerging is a must indeed, Which is not my case and that does delay and limits learning. But so was the case when I learned English! I wish I could learn Polish from Portuguese (my L1), I believe that would help. I don't understand why duolingo doesn't make it available. And also, the speaking in Polish like there is for other languages.
I would like to add: PART FOUR AND TWO THIRDS: A masculine noun can be treated as animate AND inanimate.
Some sports - e.g. hokej, golf, brydż
Accusative: I play...:
Uprawiam [+Acc. kogo? co?] sport - always with ∅
- Uprawiam hokej / golf / brydż / poker / krykiet / snooker / ping-pong
- Uprawiam sport / bilard / boks / curling / baseball / futbol (and all sports that end with -ball/-bol)
Gram w [+Acc. kogo? co?] - ∅ or -a [When I look at examples - when there is one consonant at the end, we add -a (exception: baseball / futbol); when there are two consonants at the end, nothing is added (exception: golf, ping-pong)]
W/WE connects with accusative (w kogo? w co?) or locative (w kim? w czym?).
- Gram w hokeja / golfa / brydża / pokera / krykieta / snookera / ping-ponga
- Gram w// wkręciłam się w sport / boks / curling / baseball / futbol (and all sports that end with -ball/-bol)
I would add to the 5 part: babka instead babcia or dziad instead dziadek. :)