How verbs work in Polish
Before you start
Make sure you know what these are/know the difference between:
- grammatical mood (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_mood)
- tense (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense)
- verb (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verb)
Polish verbs have the grammatical category of aspect.
Verbs are grouped by aspect/completeness: those which denote continuous or habitual actions (“imperfective”, aka “imperfect” verbs), or denote single completed events (“perfective” aka “perfect” verbs).
|robić (to make)||zjeść (to have eaten)|
|dawać (to give)||przeczytać (to have read)|
As you might have guessed from the table above, in Polish you don’t have a form “doing” and a form “done” of the same verb “to do”, but two different verbs: “to do” and *ehm*, “to done”.
That’s right: imperfective verbs (“to do”) can’t be conjugated into a form that denotes completeness (“I have done”). Instead, you have a separate, perfective verb is used that means the same thing (“to done”).
The closest analogy I can think of is how you can say “I am cooking my steak too much“, or “I overcooked my steak”: they both roughly mean “I am cooking” and “I have finished cooking (and have cooked it too much)”, but “to overcook” is a separate verb.
So, if you want to say you are visiting a museum you’ll have to use the imperfective verb “to visit”, but if you want to say you have visited a museum you’ll have to use another, separate perfective verb that means “to have visited”. Both would translate into “to visit”, but in Polish they’re two completely separate verbs.
Learning verbs in pairs
When you learn verbs, it’s useful to learn them in pairs: the imperfective verb + the perfective verb(s) that means the same thing. Kind of like when you learn “to do” you memorize its different forms “do/did/done”, in Polish you memorize “to do” and the perfective verb(s) that means the same thing after the action is completed: “to done”.
Many times, perfective verbs derive from their imperfect equivalent, and while still being two different verbs they look almost identical:
|robić (to make)||zrobić (to have made)|
|jeść (to eat)||zjeść (to have eaten)|
|czytać (to read)||przeczytać (to have read)|
Other times they look differently, or even completely different. For instance:
|dawać (to give)||dać (to have given)|
You just have to memorize the pairs as you learn.
Also, in some cases you can choose between more than one perfective verb, but (I guess?) there’s always one single equivalent that is used most of the times.
There are 3 moods in Polish:
I have no idea how the conditional nor the imperative work, as I was told these are not a must-know at the very beginning ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Available tenses change according with the aspect of the verb. It wouldn’t make sense for instance to have the present of a perfective verb, so perfective verbs don’t have the present.
Here are all the tenses:
|Imperfective verbs||Perfective verbs|
Only 5 tenses (in the indicative mood)!