Cases in Polish: Genitive

Posted on 27. Jun, 2008 by in Grammar

It’s time for some grammar now, don’t you agree? And since we’ve already started with nouns and declensions a couple of weeks ago, I think we should continue.

The case we’re going to discuss today is my least favorite. Why? Because on the surface, it seems deceptively easy. Almost too easy, in fact. Yet when you start looking at it up close, it’s anything but. Of course, in everyday speech we don’t stop to think, “oh gee, there’s a genitive in this sentence”. We just say what we need to say without paying much (or any) attention to the grammatical bits and pieces.

And yes, it’s time for the GENITIVE case today.
dopełniacz = genitive

You all know what the genitive case does in English. It shows that one noun is the possessor of another noun. And it also indicates various relationships other than who owns whom or what. In English, in it most basic form it’s done by the handy construction of “apostrophe plus s”. Like this one:
Agata’s cat.

Actually, as several generations of Polish children know, it’s not Agata, but Ala, who has a cat. So let’s keep the tradition alive and add Ala to our examples:
Ala’s cat.

That’s in English, stick an apostrophe and an “s” and your work is done. In Polish it’s not quite as simple, because to decline a noun you need to change its ending. In this example, our nouns are two lovely ladies named Agata and Ala.

So this is how it would look it Polish:
Kot Agaty.
kot = cat
And see what happened to the name “Agata“? It changed to “Agaty”. That “-y” ending signifies the fact that the cat belongs to Agata, and that Agata is in genitive.

Now, let’s give Ala a cat, too.
Kot Ali.

The name “Ala” changed to its genitive form “Ali”.

How the ending changes depends on the gender of the noun in question (in our example, both ladies were feminine, naturally) and number.

Here’s a handy cheat-sheet.

  • Feminine singular nouns take the ending –y or –i.
  • Masculine singular nouns take the ending –u or –a. And very rarely, if a noun in the nominative case ends with an “a”, then in the genitive, it will get –y.
  • Neuter singular nouns take the ending –a.

For now, why don’t we just stick to singular nouns? We still have a couple of things to discuss about this Polish dopełniacz. And for that we need to torture this poor cat and our ladies, Ala and Agata, again.

Now the cat has escaped and while it’s still missing, we can say that:
The girls don’t have a cat.

Now notice what happens to the cat in Polish:
Dziewczyny nie mają kota.

dziewczyny (plural noun, feminine, nominative case, sentence subject) = girls
nie = indicates negation, no, don’t and so on…
mają (3 person plural present tense form of the verb “mieć”) = have
But the word “kot” (singular noun, masculine, object) acquired a new ending –a.

Yep, you guessed correctly, the object of the sentence – our Polish cat is in genitive. Which means that genitive is also used when a verb affecting the object expresses negation.

There’s more to dopełniacz – altogether it has FIVE different functions in Polish, but I think we’ll stop here for today.

To be continued…

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12 Responses to “Cases in Polish: Genitive”

  1. John Hardman 27 June 2008 at 3:55 am #

    Thanks Anna. I’ve been struggling with grammar – getting a small chunk at a time via your blog is helping – I can cope with a little bit at a time – it gives my brain time to absorb one case before moving on to the next. Thanks again, John.

  2. hoosier41 27 June 2008 at 2:37 pm #

    Anna

    Thanks for your help with the grammer.

    I really enjoy your blog.

    Keep up the good work….

  3. Breton Kania 27 June 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    Wow Anna,
    This is a fantastic blog! Thanks for your work! I’m learning Polish now and this really answers a lot of my questions.

  4. John Morgan 27 June 2008 at 6:15 pm #

    Dear Anna, What a nice surprise to suddenly have this useful Website pop up in my inbox!
    I was a lad born in Slough, England, in 1931. During the second world war, I worked for a short period of time in a biscuit factory.
    There, I met many Polish people who had fled Poland. I found the Polish people very friendly, and sometimes I would ask how to say a few words and sentences in Polish. They obliged, and I picked up a few sentences, and I still remember them today. Now we have many Polish people living in the town where I live now, Reading, Berkshire. I still find the Polish people very friendly, and indeed, I have a Polish neighbour, Paul, who has a delicatessen here. He is quite intrigued that I should have a go at the Polish language. I did not have a very good education, but when I reached the age of eighteen, I was conscripted in the Army, and posted to Germany, where I took an interest in the langusge there. It was not until 1975, that I went to college together with my wife, and eventually succeeded in achieving an “O” level German Language certificate!
    So that is why I was pleased to see your Website, and to read the excellent content.
    Furthermore, I have introduced the Polish language to my two youngest grandsons, and they now know how to say things like, “How are you”,”I am tired”, “I am going home”,”You are silly”, and other words. I think that if young children take an interest in foreign languages at an early stage, they could become quite fluant later on in life.
    Good luck!
    John Morgan

  5. Joseph Murratti 28 June 2008 at 3:16 pm #

    Hello Anna..or rather Dzien dobry Anna, Jak leci?
    I went out with a Polish woman for a few months & she taught me a little conversational Polish. We wrote so much, I learned the language more by typing than speaking.
    Anyway, I’m writing because I wanted to know if you speak & write Italian? I went to Rome recently & my grandfather was from Naples-Napoli area of Italy. I really love the Polish site, but now I’m committed to learning Italian because I may move there. Do you know of any sites that are similar to yours, but in Italian? I realize I must learn to speak some Italian before moving there. Keep up the great work. As you can see, many people appreciate what your doing. May GOD bless you & your family…or BOG blogoslawi was i wasz rodzina.(How’s that???)
    Joseph M.
    Palm Beach, Fl.

  6. Anna 30 June 2008 at 11:52 am #

    I would like to thank all of you guys for your super comments! This really makes my blogging experience a lot more pleasant – knowing that my readers like and appreciate the content.

    When it comes to grammar, take heart, I make mistakes, too. That’s why blogging about Polish grammar can be so challenging! :)

  7. Anna 30 June 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Hi John M!
    You story is incredible! Well, I will do my best to help you impress your neighbor! If you have any specific things/phrases or words that you want to learn, just leave me a comment, and I’ll take care of it for you! :)

  8. Chelsea 21 January 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Thank you so much for these blogs. It’s by far the clearest I’ve come across and I’ve been trying to learn and work these cases out for absolute ages now but none have been clear enough (there’s been too much technical language confusing me and putting me off!)

    Dziekuje bardzo:))

  9. Juliana 22 February 2011 at 12:11 am #

    Thanks, Anna. Your blog is really helpful ! :)

  10. Valeriya 21 June 2011 at 10:45 pm #

    You know, I’m learning Polish now, and this blog is really helpful.

    You always say that it’s difficult… And I agree. somehow it is. Like any other language. And it’s not THAT difficult.

    But suddenly I’ve got a thought.
    I’m Ukrainian =)

    Keep it up. Great job!


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