Everything (I hope) that you need to know about Polish negations
One of the most common misconceptions that people get while working on this course is that every negation takes Genitive. No, this is not true. This is taking the rule too far. Or rather being wrong about the rule. Sometimes people aren’t specific enough in the comments (that may be also the case for some of my own older comments), so they give you the impression that negation automatically means Genitive. No. Only some negations do that.
PART 1: WHAT IS THE RULE
The rule is: If a verb that takes Accusative in a declarative sentence gets negated, its object takes Genitive instead.
Once again: Only Accusative changes its case to Genitive. The other cases just stay the same, as you will read in a moment in Part 2.
And moreover (this is something that most comments, including my own ones, forget) this only happens if it’s the verb that needs Accusative. But sometimes it’s not a verb but a preposition that takes a given case.
Okay, so let’s look at some examples:
“Widzę niebieski stół” (I see a blue table). vs „Nie widzę niebieskiego stołu” (I do not see a blue table).
„Jem smaczną zupę” (I am eating tasty soup). vs „Nie jem smacznej zupy” (I am not eating tasty soup).
„Michał lubi barszcz” (Michał likes borscht). vs „Michał nie lubi barszczu” (Michał doesn’t like borscht).
As you can see, all the sentences on the left need their object to be in Accusative. After they got negated, the object takes Genitive instead.
Okay, but as I mentioned a few lines before, this only applies to verbs that take Accusative. There are a few prepositions that take Accusative, and if the sentence gets negated, the object still takes Accusative.
“Idę przez pokój” (I am going through the room). vs “Nie idę przez pokój” (I am not going through the room).
“Liczę na ciebie” (I am counting on you). vs “Nie liczę na ciebie” (I am not counting on you).
“On płaci za samochód” (He is paying for a car). vs “On nie płaci za samochód” (He is not paying for a car).
This time, the negation did not change anything in terms of the case needed.
PART 2: NEGATING OTHER CASES
Now, let’s see how negation looks in other cases.
Nominative: “To jest dom” (This is a house). vs “To nie jest dom” (This is not a house).
Genitive: “Potrzebuję książki” (I need a book). vs “Nie potrzebuję książki” (I do not need a book).
Dative: „Pomagam dziadkowi” (I am helping grandpa). vs “Nie pomagam dziadkowi” (I am not helping grandpa).
Instrumental: „On jest lekarzem” (He is a doctor). vs “On nie jest lekarzem” (He is not a doctor).
Locative: “Rozmawiamy o kotach” (We are talking about cats). vs “Nie rozmawiamy o kotach” (We are not talking about cats).
See? The only thing that negation did was just putting the word “nie” in the proper place of the sentence. Nothing else changes. The case stays the same.
PART 3: WHAT IS THE PROPER PLACE FOR “NIE”
Generally this is simple – you place “nie” before the thing you want to negate. Only that sometimes people get confused about what they actually try to negate. Look above. If you read “I do not need a book”, you see that “not” is before “need”, and the same thing happens in Polish: “Nie potrzebuję”. Zero problems, everything is obvious.
But if you look at “This is not a house” or “He is not a doctor”, the word “not” precedes the noun phrases “a house” and “a doctor”. So it may look like you’re only negating the noun phrase, and some people try writing “To jest nie dom” or “On jest nie lekarzem”. This is totally wrong. This is like writing “This is a not-house” or “He is an undoctor” or something equally absurd. You have to negate the whole idea of ‘being a doctor’, not just ‘a doctor’. And even if you actually wanted to write about a ‘not-house’ or ‘undoctor’, the above sentences would still be wrong, but I will talk about it later.
If you have a sentence like "Pies to zwierzę" (A dog is an animal), the negation looks like "Pies to nie zwierzę". But you should treat this sentence as if it had some invisible 'jest': "Pies to [jest/] zwierzę", "Pies to nie [jest/] zwierzę". So we could say that anyway you negate the idea of 'being an animal'.
PART 4: MORE THAN ONE CASE USED
Of course, some sentences may use more than one case, for example some verbs will take a direct object in Accusative and an indirect object in Dative. If you want to say “I am showing him a watch”, that is “Pokazuję mu zegarek”. “mu” (him) is in Dative, and “zegarek” (a watch) is in Accusative. To say “I am not showing him a watch”, you will use “Nie pokazuję mu zegarka”. The Dative part stays in Dative, but “zegarek” changes from Accusative to Genitive.
PART 5: ABSENCE FROM SOMEWHERE
A special case of negation in Polish is when you negate sentences like “I am here” or “There are sandwiches in the fridge”. The Polish phrase for something/someone ‘not being’ somewhere is “nie ma”. It’s literally something like “there has not”, which sounds pretty absurd in English. The construction is probably not very logical, but it is what it is. Oh, and the thing/person that is ‘not there’ takes Genitive, although it used to take Nominative. Let’s practice:
“Jestem tutaj” (I am here). vs “Nie ma mnie tutaj” (I am not here).
"W lodówce są kanapki” (There are sandwiches in the fridge). vs “W lodówce nie ma kanapek” (There are no sandwiches in the fridge).
“Michał jest w domu” (Michał is home). vs „Michała nie ma w domu” (Michał is not home).
You can say literally „Nie jestem tutaj”, „Kanapki nie są w lodówce” or „Michał nie jest w domu”, in theory. But that will be like stating that „I am somewhere else, not here”. “The sandwiches are in the cupboard, not in the fridge”. “Michał is at the post office, not at home”. It will rarely feel natural. Usually you just want to convey ‘absence’, so you go with “nie ma”.
PART 6: NEGATING ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS
Well, we can have two totally different situations here. Firstly, what happens usually, is that in fact you don’t negate the adjective/adverb, but the verb “to be” followed by an adjective/adverb. This is very simple.
“Ten stół jest zielony” (This table is green). vs “Ten stół nie jest zielony” (This table is not green).
“Na dworze jest zimno” (It is cold outside). vs “Na dworze nie jest zimno” (It is not cold outside).
In such a situation, the only thing that changes is adding “nie” before the whole notion of ‘being green’ or ‘being cold’.
But as previously with Nominative/Instrumental, you look at the English sentence and see that ‘not’ precedes the adjective/adverb, not the verb. So some people will try to write “Ten stół jest nie zielony” or “Na dworze jest nie zimno”. This is wrong. This doesn’t make much sense. Yes, you can add „nie” to the adjective/adverb directly, but: 1. It is glued to the word then, and 2. The meaning isn’t exactly the opposite. And often it just won’t make sense. It often is hard to explain in English what exactly such a word means, but I will try my best.
- “On jest głupi” (He is stupid). vs “On nie jest głupi” (He is not stupid). vs “On jest niegłupi” (He’s actually quite smart!).
The first sentence is obvious, the second one simply negates it (but it’s neutral, it also doesn’t say that he is smart), and the third one is quite different, it’s kinda like saying that he’s ‘smartish’ or something like that.
- “Ta zupa jest smaczna” (This soup is tasty). vs “Ta zupa nie jest smaczna” (This soup is not tasty). vs “Ta zupa jest niesmaczna” (Yeah, this soup tastes bad and I don’t want to eat it).
Again, the first one is obvious, the second one just says that the soup is not tasty (but it’s neutral, so perhaps I can eat it without problems), and the third one says something stronger. Maybe the soup isn’t exactly disgusting, but I still don’t want to eat it.
Sometimes the third version will have a completely different meaning.
- “On jest bezpieczny” (He is safe). vs “On nie jest bezpieczny” (He is not safe). vs “On jest niebezpieczny” (He is dangerous).
You see? A complete semantic change. He was safe here, then he stopped being safe here, and suddenly he himself became the danger.
Same with adverbs:
“Jest mi dobrze” (I feel well). vs “Nie jest mi dobrze” (No, I do not feel well). vs “Jest mi niedobrze” (I feel unwell, usually even “I think I’m going to throw up”).
“Jest dobrze” (it’s good, the situation is good). vs “Nie jest dobrze” (Yeah, the situation isn’t that great). vs “Jest niedobrze” (Well, it’s actually kinda bad).
“Jest źle” (it’s bad, the situation is bad). vs “Nie jest źle” (Well, it’s not that bad). vs “Jest nieźle” (It’s actually kinda good).
All of the above was discussed on the ‘basic’ degree of adjectives/adverbs. If we consider comparative and superlative degrees, “nie” is actually written separately. But that’s probably a higher level of knowledge.
PART 7: “NIE” WITH NOUNS
It’s not exactly about negating, but “nie” is written together with the noun, as one word. “niebezpieczeństwo”, “niepokój”, “nieporządek”, etc.
Exception: when you mean something like “Not a table, but a chair”. Then you actually negate. So it’s simply “Nie stół, tylko krzesło”.
You still remember the thing about “not-house” and “undoctor”? If you really wanted to write that, if you wanted to convey such a message, this should at least be “niedom” and “nielekarz”. But well, those are neologisms at best, they don’t make much sense.
PART 8: “NIE” WITH NUMERALS (CARDINAL AND ORDINAL), PRONOUNS, PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES
Well, not much to say. It’s written separately.
PART 9: “NIE” WITH PARTICIPLES
Some of you may not know about participles… well, if you didn’t encounter them yet, then you don’t have to worry about this short section. It’s not a place to explain them. Anyway, we have adjectival participles (będący, siedzący, robiący) and adverbial participles (będąc, siedząc, robiąc).
With adjectival participles, “nie” is written together (niebędący, niesiedzący, nierobiący), although this is a relatively new rule and writing them separately is still accepted in some situations. That looks too complicated for this course, but I just want to mention everything.
With adverbial participles, “nie” is written separately. (nie będąc, nie siedząc, nie robiąc).
OK, so this is it! If there is a mistake somewhere, if something is still not clear, or if I forgot to mention some aspect, please don’t hesitate to comment
Clearly stated, and understood. I expect nothing less from the best moderator on Duolingo.
A small pun in Polish, referring to Part 6.
There are only 2 groups of colours: "bieskie"(1) and "niebieskie"(2):
In Polish the names of colours are adjectives.
- (1) "bieskie" is plural of "bieski", which refers to noun "bies", a forest demon, e.g. portrayed like this in "The WItcher" game (the image is too big to insert it here).
- (2) "niebieskie" is plural of "niebieski" (blue); actually "nie" has nothing to do with negation here - it refers to noun "niebo" (sky, heaven);
I am adding this one to my Polish master-notebook as well; thanks again Jellei!
It's very helpful to have all that in one place. Thanks, Jellei :)
(Could you perhaps give an example sentence with the adjectival participal thing, where one might use niebędący, niesiedzący, nierobiący, or something similar?)
You're welcome :) Well, some of them won't make much sense, like "niesiedzący"... but let's think.
"Żaden mężczyzna niebędący kucharzem nie ma u mnie szans!" (No man that is not a cook has any chance with me! - not sure if English makes here, but I mean that 'I will not consider dating any man that is not a cook')
"Pracownicy nierobiący tego co trzeba, zostaną zwolnieni" (The employees that do not do what is needed to do will be fired)
Oh, I thought of something with "niesiedzący"...
"Pasażerowie niesiedzący na swoich miejscach w momencie odlotu zostaną ukarani grzywną" (Passengers that are not sitting in their places at the moment of the departure will be fined).
Those sentences are a little bit strange even for me, their creator - I guess you just don't have the need to use such constructions too often ;)
haha Yep, I think that makes your point that one could manage to get through life without using such constructions. It took me a coffee and some googling just to firm up the general idea. Saying that, you'll probably notice them being used all over the place now, when you aren't trying to think of an example on purpose- that's usually the way :) Thanks again, you are a star
Is 'niesiedzący' always one word? Intuitively I want to split it - 'nie siedzący' looks more correct to me even if the other two examples don't.
Oh, I just read the last section where you mention it. Curious. Can you expand a little on it being a "relatively new rule"? (just a link, Polish or English, is fine too :) ).
Anyway, this is a great explanation for something I knew but wouldn't have been able to articulate if asked. Much appreciated, thanks!
I am reading about it right now, and frankly, this is confusing even to me. The link is https://www.ekorekta24.pl/nie-z-imieslowami-razem-czy-osobno/
So since 1997, the adjectival participles are supposed to be written together with 'nie', but the rules still allow them to be written separately if the participle is used like a verb. So if it works like an adjective, it should be written together, if it works like a verb, it's your choice. Luckily the website has some good examples explaining the difference, because without them, I would be lost myself.
- Nikt nie jest idealny. - Nobody is perfect.
- Nic już nigdy nie powiem. - I will never say anything again.
- Oczywiście, nikt nigdy nic nie wie. - Of course, nobody (ever) knows anything (about that).
That we really like double negation:
- Lubisz lody? - Nie, nie lubię. - - Do you like ice cream? - No, I don't. (Which is different from: "Yes, I don't")
-Lubisz sushi? - Tak, lubię. - Do you like sushi? - Yes, I do.
That in Polish we can not only confirm something by double negation, but we can deny something by double confirmation (with appropriate intonation), e.g.:
- dobra, dobra
- ta, jasne
- no, na pewno
- tak, tak, oczywiście
BTW, as usual, a great post :)
Do you roll your eyes with the double confirmation? Or use another visual cue? Could you use it in writing, too?
btw wouldn't "On jest nie lekarzem" work tho if there was additional contrast? like "on jest nie lekarzem, a policjantem"
This seems possible, at least in colloquial language, but "On nie jest lekarzem, [a/ale/tylko] policjantem" is surely better.
And cases when "nie" is written together with noun: Z rzeczownikami or separated wit a hyphen: W przeciwstawieniach logicznych, w których człon drugi jest pisany wielką literą