A Grammar of the Polish Language

Part five

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Morphology – inflected parts of speech, p. 2

Declension, part 2

The category of case seems to be hard to understand and correct use. If you know English, you should not have any problems with it, because in fact there are cases in English, but they are less visible in the language system. Polish has seven cases:

  1. Mianownik – Nominativus – Nominative
  2. Dopełniacz – Genetivus – Genitive
  3. Celownik – Dativus – Dative
  4. Biernik – Accusativus – Accusative
  5. Narzędnik – Instrumentalis – Instrumental
  6. Miejscownik – Locativus – Locative
  7. Wołacz – Vocativus – Vocative

Comparatively to the Latin declension there is no ablative in Polish which joined the genitive case in Slavic languages in its proper function of the case of removing (from whom? from what?). Instrumental and locative remain separate, while in Latin they joined the ablative case. Functions of cases are described in the chapter on syntax.

Case forms are made by adding proper endings to the noun stem (which may change as well). Forms of particular cases may not always differ each from other. One ending often accomplishes some tasks – then we can say about the syncretism of cases. In particular, the following forms have an identical form:

Case endings of nouns depend on their gender. Moreover the endings of substantives and of adjectives are different. However:

Alternative forms of the same meaning are rather often in declension (e.g. liczba pokojów = liczba pokoi) – individual speakers may prefer one of the variant forms. Sometimes one of the forms has a little different meaning shade (e.g. profesorowie sounds more eminently than profesorzy). Moreover masculine-personal substantives, apart from the normal form of nominative (and vocative) plural, may make a depreciative, characterized, strongly coloured non-masculine-personal form joining proper forms of adjectives and pronouns (ci profesorowie, ci profesorzy – te profesory). There exists a group of masculine-personal substantives which cannot build “proper”, masculine-personal forms of nominative plural practically (te anioły, te diabły; the forms ci anieli, ci diabli are archaic) or even the forms are impossible at all (ten klecha, ten cham – te klechy, te chamy). These substantives may belong to masculine-personal gender however, since their accusative plural forms can testify to this (widzę tych klechów, tych chamów). Sometimes both forms, the coloured one and the normal one, are identical, but join different forms of an adjective (ci ludzie – te ludzie).

It is not easy to foresee declension forms of particular substantives many a time. The view of declension will be presented here by three ways.

Here you can find a survey of declension forms by a known Polish linguist Jan Tokarski. His division into declension groups is used widely in dictionaries of all kinds which are published in Poland. Alas, many substantives do not decline just after the given patterns. In good dictionaries forms that are incompatible to the rules are given in particular entries.

Here you can find a (large!) complete review of all the declension forms together with lists of the substantives which decline after particular patterns. It appears that Polish declension is much more complex than popular dictionaries could suggest, because the quantity of the patterns of substantive declension only highly exceeds 100.

And here at last, the substantive declension is presented in another way, namely by analysing individual cases one after the other and giving when particular stem changes and endings are used.

The category of degree concerns only some adjectives (including participles) and adverbs. As a rule, relative adjectives (coming from substantives) are not declined by degree, but only quantitive adjectives are. We may distinguish the positive degree (equativus), the comparative degree (comparativus) and the superlative degree (superlativus). Just the same like in English, some adjectives and adverbs denote the comparative degree using the suffixes -szy, e.g. stary – starszy ‘old – older’, or -ejszy, e.g. ładny – ładniejszy ‘nice – nicer’, the others do it periphrastically, with the help of the adverb bardziej, e.g. komfortowy – bardziej komfortowy ‘comfortable – more comfortable’. The comparative degree of adverbs contains the suffix -ej, e.g. staro – starzej, ładnie – ładniej, or it is formed periphrastically, e.g. komfortowo – bardziej komfortowo. The superlative degree is always made with the help of the suffix naj- which is added to comparative form: najstarszy ‘oldest’, najładniejszy ‘nicest’, najbardziej komfortowy ‘most comfortable’, najstarzej, najładniej, najbardziej komfortowo.

Some passive participles have the synthetic superlative and the analytic comparative only, e.g. ukochany – bardziej ukochany – najukochańszy, najbardziej ukochany ‘loved – more loved – most loved’. Sometimes there is no comparative at all, e.g. przeróżny – najprzeróżniejszy ‘of all sorts and kinds’, rozmaity – najrozmaitszy ‘various’. Also forms of the lower and the lowest degree are used, exclusively analytic: ładny – mniej ładny – najmniej ładny ‘pretty – less pretty – least pretty’.

The periphrastical forms of the comparative and the superlative become more and more frequent in the today’s language, only the more common adjectives build the suffixal forms as the only permitted. The excessive expression of the type bardzo zuchwały ‘very bold; very saucy’, frequent today, is the base to form the comparative and the superlative bardziej zuchwały, najbardziej zuchwały. These forms are close in the their meaning to the proper, suffixal forms of degrees of the adjective zuchwały – zuchwalszy, najzuchwalszy, and as they are built regularly, they supplant the suffixal forms.


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