Polish Language Blog

Actually & Eventually Posted by on Aug 29, 2008 in Vocabulary

Interesting things can happen when your car breaks down. For one, you have to ride the bus, which in itself is not that interesting, I admit. But staring at people and listening to their conversations is always fun. And sometimes, when you are sandwiched between two individuals talking loudly on their cell phones, you don’t have that much choice and are forced to listen to their conversations, whether you like it or not. Then all you can do is hope that at least they’re going to talk about something interesting. And that is exactly what happened this morning.

I was sitting next to a lady who was talking to someone (sounded like her significant other) on her mobile phone. In English. And thanks to her now I have something interesting to blog about today. The lady, quite frustrated, was telling the person on the phone that she was “doing it actually” though I’m not sure what she was referring to. This is what followed:

Frustrated lady on the phone: “When? What do you mean ‘when’???”
Paused to listen, and then:
“I told you already when – actually!” and to drive the point home, she repeated it several times: “Actually. Actually. Now actually.”

And because I was exceptionally slow on the uptake this morning, it hadn’t occurred to me that she was translating verbatim from Polish, until she nearly screamed into her cell phone: Aktualnie!

Then I finally understood.

You see, even though “actually” in English and “aktualnie” in Polish look and sound very similar, they don’t mean the same thing. Yet many people (even some Polish English teachers I’ve met) think they do.

  • aktualnie (adverb) = currently, at present, presently

and as an adjective:

  • aktualny (fem. aktualna, neuter: aktualne, pl. personal: aktualni, pl. other: aktualne) = current, up to date, present

for example:

False friends, anyone? There are quite a few of them in Polish, but this must be the one that causes the most misunderstandings.
My personal favorite though is “eventually” and ewentualnie. Again, they look and sound almost the same, but wouldn’t you know it, mean something completely different.

  • ewentualnie (adverb) = alternately, or, possibly, if need be

and as an adjective:

  • ewentualny (fem. ewentualna, neuter: ewentualne, pl. personal: ewentualni, pl. other: ewentualne) = possible, likely, probable

See what I mean? These “actually” and “eventually” can lead to some pretty goofy mistakes and misunderstandings, as the poor lady on the bus found out this morning.
And since it looks like I’ll be riding buses for at least a week, let’s see what else I’ll overhear during my daily commute.

So, what kind of Polish-English false friends do you know?

And for more false friends fun head over to Andre’s blog and read this excellent post.

Photo by Viton

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  1. Grazyna:

    Other examples of false friends in Polish & English:
    – fart: in Polish ‘luck’ and in Eng. ‘pass gas’ 😉
    – lot: in Polish ‘flight’ and in Eng. ,eg. ‘a large number’
    – windy: in Polish ‘lifts/elevators’ and in Eng. ‘abounding in wind’
    – on: in Polish ‘he’ and in Eng. the preposition, for example.

    etc. 🙂

    It’s an interesting topic, isn’t it?

  2. Anna:

    Hi G!
    Thanks! With “windy”, it only looks like English, the pronunciation is different, though, so is it still a false friend?
    My two faves are:
    brat – means “brother” in Polish (heeheehee!)
    and dres (with only one “s”) – which is a tracksuit/ sweatsuit. I totally forgot about “dres” and what it meant in Polish and was really surprised when my friend kept talking about it, alas in a different context. 😉

  3. Grazyna:

    Yes, ‘windy’, like ‘actually’ and ‘eventually’ is pronounced differently in Polish and English, but it’s still a false friend. I chose ‘windy’ because I used to work in an office building back in Poland where there was this goofy sign board over the lifts on every floor saying: ‘windy lifts’ – when I first saw it I couldn’t understand why the lifts in the building should be windy! Of course, I did realize at some point that the word ‘lifts’ was simply a translation of ‘windy’, but the words were not separated by any punctuation mark and so it read as a perfectly English phrase 🙂

  4. Anna:

    Hi G!
    That’s EXACTLY the kind of “false friends” story I was waiting for! windy lifts. heeheehee!

  5. Grazyna:

    A few other examples of words that have somewhat different meaning in Polish:
    – ‘hazard’ = gambling
    – ‘lunatyk’ = sleepwalker
    – ‘pupil’ = mascot/pet
    – ‘parapet’= window ledge
    – ‘szef'(pronouned exactly like ‘chef’) = boss
    – ‘szop’ (pronounced nearly like ‘shop’) = raccoon

    languages are fun! 🙂

  6. Akshata Kdam:

    I would like to learn polish