Polish Language Blog

Cardinal Numbers Posted by on Mar 4, 2009 in Grammar, Vocabulary

The post where I attempted to count priests (is it “dwaj księża” or “dwóch księży”?) made me realize that we’ve never talked about numbers before. Hmmm… I wonder why I’ve been avoiding this particular topic. Really, no reason at all.
Yeah, right!

Ok, in that case, let’s get started.

I’m sure that most, if not all of you, know the simple jeden, dwa, trzy, cztery, etc already.
The good news that these simple, straightforward numbers are super easy. The bad news is that these simple, straightforward numbers are only used in algebra and accounting.

In normal conversations these simple, straightforward numbers morph into more complicated forms.

But first things first. What you need to remember is that numbers in Polish must agree in gender and case with the nouns that follow them. Yeah, yeah, they decline. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, let’s get some examples:

masculine personal noun:

  • mężczyzna – a man
  • jeden mężczyzna – one man
  • dwaj mężczyźni – two men
  • trzej mężczyźni – three men
  • czterej mężczyźni – four men


  • pięciu mężczyzn – five men

See what happened with the noun here? Instead staying in Nominative, the case changed to… yeah, changed to what? It may look like it’s Genitive, but on closer inspection it seems to be Accusative. And to confuse the matters even further, regardless of what it seems, it’s used just like your regular, standard issue Nominative.

masculine non-personal noun:

  • pies – a dog
  • jeden pies– one dog
  • dwa psy – two dogs
  • trzy psy– three dogs
  • cztery psy – four dogs


  • pięć psów – five dogs

Same thing here. You hit five and stuff happens.
Let’s see how it looks with a feminine noun:

feminine noun:

  • kobieta – a woman
  • jedna kobieta – one woman
  • dwie kobiety – two women
  • trzy kobiety – three women
  • cztery kobiety – four women


  • pięć kobiet – five women

Woohoo! Here we go again. It’s the number five curse.

And one more left-
neuter noun:

  • jajko – an egg
  • jedno jajko – one egg
  • dwa jajka – two eggs
  • trzy jajka – three eggs
  • cztery jajka – four eggs


  • pięć jajek – five eggs

However, that’s not exactly totally true when it comes to neuter nouns. Dziecko (a child) is also a neuter noun. But strange things happen to it when you try to count those kids:

  • jedno dziecko – one child


  • dwoje dzieci – two children
  • troje dzieci – three children
  • czworo dzieci – four children
  • pięcioro dzieci – five children

See? Those pesky children – dzieci – stay the same no matter the number.

And what happens when you get to numbers above five? They still follow the same Accusative-like pattern.

And some important grammatical terms:

  • liczebnik (masc., pl. liczebniki) – numeral (number)
  • liczebnik główny – cardinal number
  • liczebnik porządkowy – ordinal number

This post should keep you busy counting various things at least until next week.
I am moving and will be bez internetu (without internet) until March 11th.
I will try to keep an eye on you and respond to comments from a cybercafe, or somesuch. (That is, if I manage to dig myself out from under all these boxes first!)

In the meantime, take care and do zobaczenia wkrótce (see you soon)!

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  1. Basia Lomnicka:

    Hi Aniu:
    Great timing on this subject.
    I recently struggled with translating the following sentence: “Lucas and two of his friends got lost…”. Having just completed a chapter on cardinal numbers, I knew I should use “dwaj”, but that was as far as I got. I didn’t know what to do with “koledzy”, and I also didn’t know whether to use “i” for and, or “z” for with. I got myself so muddled up, I eventually wrote “Lucas got lost recently” and left out his two friends altogether. Having been completely defeated by what I believe was a pretty simple sentence, I’m crying “uncle” and asking (pitifully) for help. How should I have written that sentence?

    Wow, numbers are SO difficult. Ouch.

  2. Gabriel:

    I never thought that polish numbers would confuse me so much…

    Greatpost! At least I could understand a little a bout them \o/

  3. russ:

    I’m not sure why you say “It may look like it’s Genitive, but on closer inspection it seems to be Accusative.” and “And what happens when you get to numbers above five? They still follow the same Accusative-like pattern.”

    Although the personal masculine noun “mężczyzn” is ambiguous (since personal masculine nouns have identical genitive or accusitive plural), there’s no doubt that “psów”, “kobiet” and “jajek” are unambiguously genitive plural, since their accusative plurals are “psy”, “kobiety” and “jajka”.

    And every Polish book and class I ever had said that the forms with 5, 6, etc use the genitive plural (but singular verb). Roughly analogous to an English expression like “a quintet of men”, “a quintet of women”, etc.

  4. Ayesha:

    Dobra Robota 🙂 good one – excellent if I do say so myself but I have a question (Like in this sentance the I is feminie and so is the myself and in english we dont distiguish that but it is just infered by speaker) so

    Is there a general rule of thumb for endings when it comes to, I am sure there is but what is the rule. How can I generally (as I know in Polish any and everything does morph) tell if a word is talking about a male or female. Like in Spanish words end in an “A” is usually referring to a female and if it ends in an “O” it is usually talking about a male so for Polish what is a rule or trick I can see in words to help with this (en, i, ik, y, o, a, ć, ą, etc)

  5. pinolona:

    We have a debate going on at the obwarzanki stand outside the school at the moment: is it ‘jeden precle’ or ‘jednego precla’? I can manage ‘proszę piwo’, ‘dwa piwa’ ‘pięc piw’, and I understand that this is because numbers act funny from five onwards, but what about ordering food? (priorities, priorities). Do I order ‘jabłko’ or ‘jednego jabłka’? Is there a rule? Does it change because I’m asking for something or is it just because of the numbers?

    Thank you!

  6. thomas westcott:

    Hi Anna,
    Sound files please.
    ‘Declining’ numbers – sounds like the numbers are getting smaller.

  7. Anna:

    this is one of those goofy Polish things. Yes, if you are just talking about straight plurals, without any numeral, THEN, you have psy, kobiety, etc… THEN their accusative is psy, kobiety.

    BUT… if you have pięć psów, that answers both to kto?co? (nominative) and kogo?co? (accusative). In genitive, it would be kogo?czego? – pięciu psów.

    So, for example:
    kto/co to jest? – sześć kobiet, pięć psów, siedmiu mężczyzn (nominative – as in: kto? co?)
    kogo/co widzimy? – sześć kobiet, pięć psów, siedmiu mężczyzn (accusative – as in: kogo? co?)
    kogo/czego nie ma? – sześciu kobiet, pięciu psów, siedmiu mężczyzn (genitive – as in: kogo? czego?)

  8. Anna:

    we normally say that if a noun ends in “a” it’s feminine, but then you have “mężczyzna” and “kierowca” and scores of others that are not. And then there’s “jesień” and “mysz” and tons of others that are feminine and don’t end in “a”. So, tread softly and carry a good słownik ortograficzny! I know that Polish-only dictionaries tend to scare a lot of Polish learners, but they shouldn’t, really. Once you master the basic abbreviations (like: ż for żeński – feminine, etc), you can pretty much look up any noun and determine its gender.

  9. The Inquisitor:

    Boah leute! This is freakin’ difficult, but challenging!

  10. Henry:

    Hi, Can you go further on this topic? I think numbers are hard, but are not examined much. Thanks, Henry