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About the Mammas and the Pappas – in Polish Posted by on Apr 23, 2009 in Grammar, Polish Language, Vocabulary

The other day I was discussing motherhood with one of my friends. No, I am not planning to have a baby, I have two cats and I’m quite happy with them for the time being. However, my friend has a baby and we were going over the joys and perils of motherhood and the problems of fatherhood. And then we started to marvel at just how gloriously illogical this language of ours is.

Because take a look at this:

Motherhood is “macierzyństwo”. But fatherhood is not “tacierzyństwo” but “ojcostwo”.
Maternity leave is “urlop macierzyński”. And what about paternity leave? Until very recently there wasn’t even such animal in Poland. But now that there is (and will be officially official at all places of employment beginning next year for all new fathers who want to take advantage of it) what do we call it in Polish? Urlop tacierzyński.

But that’s not all. That’s just the beginning of problems with dads.
Ok, mom and dad are two of the first words that a child learns, or so I hear. In Polish those words are easy: mama and tata.

You’d think that it must be pretty hard to screw up something to easy and so basic that every Pole older than 9 months knows it, right? Wrong! Because in reality it’s not that easy, trust me.

While the plural of “mama” is of course “mamy” – every child knows that, what is the plural of “tata”? Automatically, we wanted to say “taty”. We even called a friendly elementary school teacher to see what she had to say. How does she tell the kids to ask their moms and dads to come to the meeting, for example? She tried to cheat and said: “mamy i ojcowie” (moms and fathers).

But how do you say “dads” in plural without cheating and using “fathers” instead? Does “tata” even have a plural form? Yes, it (he? LOL) does.

The correct plural of “tata” is “tatowie”. I know, you don’t have to tell me. I don’t see any logic in it either. The plural of “mama” is “mamy” but the plural of “tata” is “tatowie”. Apparently, that noun follows the same pattern as “dziadek – dziadkowie” (grandfather – grandfathers) and “wujek – wujkowie” (uncle – uncles). Yes, but those masculine nouns don’t end in “a”. And those masculine nouns that do end in “a”, such as kierowca (driver) or doradca (advisor) have plural forms eerily resembling those of “mamy” – kierowcy (drivers) and doradcy (advisors).

So, let’s review:

  • mama (feminine) – mamy (feminine, plural)

but

  • tata (masculine) – tatowie (masculine, plural)
  • urlop macierzyński – maternity leave

but

  • urlop tacierzyński – paternity leave

but

  • ojcostwo – fatherhood (also paternity), oddly enough, grammatically this noun is neuter in gender.

but

  • macierzyństwo – motherhood (also grammatically neuter)

And those are just the linguistic problems, we’re not even talking about smelly diapers here!

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Comments:

  1. Mchl:

    Here’s where diminutives come to rescue! Instead of strange sounding ‘tatowie’ (dads) use ‘tatusiowie’ (daddies) 😀 Really helpful when we go to accusative case. ‘Wasze mamusie i waszych tatusiów’ sounds more natural than ‘wasze mamy i waszych tatów’.

  2. Mark:

    What about the difference of Mamusia, Tatusia. Mamusiu, tatusiu… etc..? I always here this in my family. When some one asks me how to say moma in Polish i tell them Mamusia. However when my aunt calls me and ask about my mom she refers to her as mama… What’s the difference? Thanks a bunch!!!

  3. Niemówiępopolsku:

    What about the use of father in the famous prayer
    Ojcze Nasz

    Most enjoyable blog — although I wish you would provide a bit more translation to English

  4. Jake:

    Why are you so surprised by the difference in root for “ojcostwo” and “tacierzyński” when you’ve just written a sentence in English translating them as ‘fatherhood’ and ‘paternity’?!

  5. Agnieszka:

    There is one thing – there is nothing like “urlop tacierzyński”. There is “urlop ojcowski”. This is the correct form. Although we all say “tacierzyński” and in newspapers they say that, but it is incorrect. At least that is what specialists say…

  6. Anna:

    Agnieszka, thanks! It just goes to show how illogical Polish can be. 😉 If “urlop ojcowski” then why not “urlop matkowski”?

    The idea of this blog is to provide the reader with the ability to understand Polish as it is spoken and written in normal, everyday use. That’s why if a certain form or expression is being used by newspapers or by people on the street, I tend to include it here. If 99% of people say “urlop tacierzyński” and that’s how the media refer to it too, I feature this phrase here “as is”, because chances are, this is how my readers will come across this expression in Poland.
    (It’s like with “olej napędowy” – what the heck is that? 99.99% of people use the word “diesel” anyway)

  7. michael:

    Byk w sklepie w irlandia!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JjsHBOZce0

    To nie jest żart.

  8. Agnieszka:

    I agree that it is more logical to say “tacierzyński” but in my opinion it is better to know both forms. I realize that many Poles say “poszłem” instead of “poszedłem” but still the first one is correct. (and still – why is it “poszedłem” and “poszłam”?) 😉

  9. mandolinlady:

    Very comical and also helpful post, sounds like a nightmare, and I want to learn Polish?!! keep up the good work.