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Friends Will Be Friends Posted by on Dec 15, 2008 in Culture, Vocabulary

Basia’s comment about the whole przyjaciółka/koleżanka/relationship thing made me think. And she’s right, it IS a very nuanced thing, indeed.

In English I refer to approximately 1395 people as my “friends.” Yet, when talking to a Pole, about 1390 of those people are not “friends” (przyjaciółki) but “koleżanki/koledzy” or “znajome/znajomi” or “kumpelki/kumple” and so on. People that I could call “przyjaciółki/przyjaciele” (friends) in Polish are maybe 5 on a good day.

It’s been my impression that “przyjaźń” (friendship) is taken very seriously among Polish people. Friendship is not a word used lightly. To say that someone is your friend means you’ve probably known him since kindergarten and you’d give your last złoty for him, if needed.

Everybody else that you know who does not fit into that category is called either a “kolega” or “koleżanka.” This is a problematic word, because depending on who you’re talking about, it can be translated into English as either “friend” or “colleague.” Or even “mate,” “pal,” or if you know each other from school – “classmate.”
Basically, it’s the same as “friend” but you’ve met them later on in life and you’d rather keep your last złoty than use it to bail your “kolega” out of trouble.

And then you have “znajomy.” As a noun, it technically means “acquaintance” but it can come in all sorts of flavors, from a “kolega” with whom you lost touch to your favorite hairdresser. It’s a very broad word to describe all sorts of people who might not be close enough to be “koledzy” or “koleżanki.” But what I’ve also noticed is that older people sometimes feel silly to use “koledzy” or “koleżanki” when talking about people they know and prefer to refer to them as “znajomi.” It really depends. For example, a man wouldn’t be caught dead saying that a female co-worker is a “koleżanka z pracy” (a colleague from work.) He is more likely to say that she is a “znajoma z pracy.”

So, where does a “kumpel” fit into all this? Sideways and from both ends, I guess. Anybody can be a “kumpel.” In everyday parlance it can be used to describe anyone from a BFF to someone you occasionally see at dog shows. Technically speaking, it’s translated as “pal,” “buddy,” “mate” and other sorts of goofy words. And needless to say, that this being Polish means there is a female version too – “kumpela” or “kumpelka.”

It all looks and feels very intricate, but after a while you can easily determine to which category your friends belong.

Next time we’ll talk about relationships.
And here’s the grammar/vocabulary stuff: (I’ll add sound when I have a minute.)

  • przyjaźń (fem., pl. przyjaźnie) – friendship
  • przyjaciel (masc., pl. przyjaciele) – friend (male, or mixed when plural)
  • przyjaciółka (fem., pl. przyjaciółki) – friend (female)
  • kolega (masc., pl. koledzy) – colleague or some kind of friend, male or mixed when plural
  • koleżanka (fem., pl. koleżanki) – colleague or some kind of friend, female
  • znajomy (masc., pl. znajomi) – somebody you know, acquaintance, male or mixed when plural. To make it more difficult this word can also be used as an adjective, as in “znajomy mechanik” – a mechanic I know.
  • znajoma (fem., pl. znajome) – as above but female, and yes, it can also be used as an adjective, as in “znajoma fryzjerka” – a hairdresser (female) I know.
  • kumpel (masc., pl. kumple) – colloquially, anybody from a friend to somebody you know and hang out with from time to time, male or mixed when plural.
  • kumela or kumpelka (fem., pl. kumpele or kumpelki) – as above but female.
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  1. Anna O.:

    Hi Anna
    Well, nobody say the Polish is an understandable language but your polish words translation is quite good

  2. Anna O.:

    Merry Christmas that means Wesołych Świat Bożego Narodzenia or Pogodnych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia or Radosnych Świat Bożego Narodzenia for you and for your friends (przyjaciół}, colleague ( kolegow i koleżanek) and acquaintance (znajomych). 🙂

  3. Barb Lomnicki:

    Dzieki Aniu:
    I have received some very interesting reactions by my misuse of the word “friend”. I really appreciate the guidelines, hopefully it keeps me on the “straight and narrow”. It really drives home the formality of the language. As North Americans, we are very quick to cross over into informal forms of address, this certainly is in stark contrast to Poles.

  4. DeeAnn:

    So, maybe “friends” in English is really more similar to kumpel, while a “close friend” or “best friend” is more like a przyaciel.

    Did I get it right?

  5. Anna:

    Anna O.
    and Merry Christmas to you too!

    I’ve taught myself to be very careful when choosing appropriate words when I discuss my “friends” with my Polish “friends.” LOL!

    yep, I’d say you’re right on! 🙂

  6. Basia Murphy:

    A few friends and I remember a word used in our families that sounds like komoszka, used for good female friends who were close to each other, maybe akin to friends of the heart in English. We were not raised in the same area (not even the same states). I cannot find the word anywhere. Any ideas?