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Because Polish nouns have seven (yep, you read that right – SEVEN!) cases, covering all of them in just one entry would be a bit of an overkill. To make it easy for all (but especially for me!), we’ll do them on a case-by-case basis.
But first things first. What is a “case” anyway?
(Warning! Warning! Boring grammatical stuff ahead!!!)
In Polish, as in other Slavic languages, certain words such as nouns, adjectives and pronouns change their endings. And just how a certain word changes is not random, but depends on its role in a sentence. This complicated process is called declension, because the words “decline” to show “case”. Confused yet? I am! I never liked grammar…
So, let’s start with the easiest case of all – the NOMINATIVE case (in Polish – MIANOWNIK). That’s the basic noun, just as it appears in a dictionary. And that’s the case you use when a noun is the subject of a sentence.
For example, take one of the most beloved Polish drinks – Żubrówka. If you want to explain to someone what Żubrówka is, you’d make a simple sentence like this one:
Żubrówka is a type of vodka.
And in Polish:
Żubrówka jest rodzajem wódki.
As the subject of the sentence, Żubrówka doesn’t acquire any funky endings. It stays the same. See? Easy peasy! It’s the other nouns that changed, but we’ll discuss those particular cases another time. Instead, I’m sure you’d like to know more about this vodka, right?
The name Żubrówka comes from the word “żubr”, which is Polish for “European bison”, also known as wisent. A hundred years ago, those mighty creatures were almost extinct – the last wild bison was shot in Poland in 1919. In the 1920s less than 50 animals remained, all of them in zoos.
After a carefully designed breeding program, the first bison were successfully re-introduced into the wild in the 1950s. Now, there are about 3000 of them roaming the Białowieża National Park. Unfortunately, the Park is divided with a guarded security fence on the border between Poland and Belarus. Which is also the border between the European Union and The Rest Of The Known Universe. Because of that, Polish bison can’t mingle with their Belarusian pals, and that sadly, can have rather unpleasant consequences for their gene pool.
So what does all this have to do with vodka? Well, those bison munch on a very special grass, often called “bison grass”, but more commonly known under its Latin name of Hierochloe odorata. And it just so happens that this grass is the magical ingredient responsible for Żubrówka’s particular taste, aroma, and yellowish color. And that’s why you may know Żubrówka as Bison Grass Vodka.
I think learning Polish cases with the help of genuine Polish vodka won’t be all that hard after all!