Polish Language Blog

Heading Into Town Posted by on Oct 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

The other day I was getting ready to go out and do some shopping, and because we live a bit outside the city center (ok, more than a bit, we live in the sticks) I said that I was going to town – do miasta. Idę do miasta. However, a friend who just happened to be visiting immediately corrected me that not “idę do miasta” but “idę na miasto”. Huh? And huh again?

Apparently there is a difference between those two. And apparently, I have been always using the wrong form.

But first things first. “Do” means “to”, and “na” means “on”, more or less and most of the time anyway.
So what’s the deal with “do miasta” and “na miasto”? I asked my friend to explain it to me using simple and easy to understand words, but even though she was the one who pointed out my incorrect usage, she was unable to actually articulate the difference. But that’s the Polish language for you. Nothing new here. We pride ourselves on being able to speak such a difficult language, but when it comes to explaining the finer points of this language we draw a blank.

So, I started to google, because I was sure that some learned person (with a PhD in Polish, no doubt) out there would know how to explain the difference between “do miasta” and “na miasto”. And what did I find?

The difference is there indeed, and it’s really simple. (Oh yeah, if it’s that simple how come I never figured it myself huh?)

So, you say “idę do miasta” if you are out of town and actually heading into town.
And you say “idę na miasto” if you are actually in town (as in: you live there) and are leaving your house (apartment, hotel room, whatever) to wander around a bit.

Simple? Maybe. If it were up to me, I’d get rid of the “na miasto” version, because it just rubs me the wrong way. Or maybe I’m simply jealous of people who actually live in the city and don’t have to go into town?

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  1. Chad:

    After reading this, my initial thought was this:

    Perhaps the use of ‘na miasto’ in the context you describe is similar to the English phrase “A night on the town” in that you live in the town and you’re simply going out…

    Using ‘do miasta’ would be more appropriate for an outsider who is visiting (i.e. not a local).


  2. John:

    I was about to write the same as Chad. My thoughts exactly. Living in the sticks, you were correct.

  3. Stefan:

    It’s a very interesting material.

  4. dks:

    It is a very interesting issue! Being Polish, I have heard both versions but never thought of the difference. Maybe because when in Poland, I lived in the city and usually used “na miasto”.

    1. Anna wrote: ‘So, you say “idę do miasta” if you are out of town and actually heading into town.’

    This is true because “do miasta” simply describes a direction, stressing the fact that you are not in town. “Do miasta” expresses a pure fact of going to Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, etc (you say “Jade do Warszawy” not “Jade na Warszawe” – it is the same rule).

    2. Anna wrote: ‘And you say “idę na miasto” if you are actually in town (as in: you live there) and are leaving your house (apartment, hotel room, whatever) to wander around a bit.’

    This one implies some activity. You are going “out there” to do something more or less important: shop for fancy clothes, submit documents to a bank, meet with friends, etc. The only thing I wouldn’t necessarily agree with, is that Anna says “as in: you live there”. To me, even if you are from out of town, once you are already in it, you can say “na miasto” because it expresses the fact that you simply have some business to do somewhere within the town’s boundaries.

    So, “do miasta” and “na miasto” have two different meanings and maybe it is better to remember them as if they were “two different words”?

    About an outsider who is visiting as opposed to a local using “do miasta” – as mentioned above, I think that it doesn’t matter whether you are in town visiting but you live outside of it at the time of using the expression “do miasta”. If you are within the town’s boundaries, I think you should still say “na miasto” (some activities are implied).

    Same with “Jestem w miescie” as opposed to “Jestem na miescie”. Both imply that you are in town but “w miescie” would mean that you simply ARE somewhere in Warsaw (for example). “Na miescie” would mean that you are actually DOING something in Warsaw. Note that in this case it doesn’t matter where you come from either – as long as you already are within the boundaries of Warsaw, you can say “na miescie” because you went there to do something, not just BE.

    In terms of “a night on the town”… – based on the English meaning, it is going out, having fun. In Polish “Jade na miasto” or “Jestm na miescie” could mean having fun but it could also imply that you are will be running some errands like going to a bank – not necessarily fun stuff. The idea is the same though – you are out there doing something.

    Sorry about the long comment and hope it will be a bit helpful…

  5. Chad:

    @dks: Great explanation! That, indeed, helped quite a bit for me. Thanks!

  6. paweł:

    I don’t entirely agree with dts explanation. In some Polish cities that have on Old Town, that is living and vibrant and the-place-you-go-when-you-go-out you would say “do miasta” if you were inside the city, but going to the Old Town.

    That’s what we do in Toruń, and I know for fact that in some other cities with similar urban plan they do the same.

    But certainly not in Warsaw.