Polish Language Blog

Of House and Home Posted by on Jul 25, 2008 in Vocabulary

Today’s topic is actually a little off topic but Thomas made a very interesting comment under the last post, and I thought it would be worth taking a closer look.

I’ve always assumed that the “house” and “home” confusion was exclusive to foreigners who learn English. And for some very strange reason it’s never even occurred to me that English speakers learning a foreign language might have exactly the same problem. Duh!

Actually, Thomas’ comment ruffled my fierce Polish national pride a bit. That a teacher, a Polish teacher at that, was either unwilling or unable to provide appropriate explanations was simply inexcusable. And for a teacher stating that SHE understood the difference was definitely a not good enough answer. I’m sorry Thomas that you had this experience.

Now, I’m not a certified teacher, and I don’t even play one on TV, but let me take a stab at this home/house translation issue into Polish.

When you look in a dictionary, you see that both those words are translated into Polish as “dom”.

  • dom (noun, masculine, non-person, plural: domy) = house, home

But it can’t be THAT simple, now can it? Of course not!

The trouble begins when you decide to look at the context in which the words “home” or “house” are used. For example – “my home town”. It has:
my = mój
home = dom
town = miasto

Yet if you put it all together you end up with a big ball of nonsense, because “my home town” when correctly translated is:

moje” is a neuter form of “mój” and “miasto” is the same as above, but what happened to “home”? It ended up translated as “rodzinne“, which is an adjective derived from the word “rodzina” – family.

  • rodzinny (adj., fem: rodzinna, neuter: rodzinne, plural: rodzinne) = family (as an adjective), familial
  • rodzina (noun, feminine, plural: rodziny) = family (noun)

And now I finally see that this “home” business can be complicated when learning Polish, too.

At its most inclusive “home” can be translated into Polish in many different ways, you’ve already seen “rodzina” (family) above. But even in Polish, you can notice the distinction between “house” and “home”. Because just like in English, when “house” is translated into Polish it implies a physical place where people live. For that reason, sometimes “house” can be translated as “budynek” (building).

  • budynek (noun, masculine, non-pers., plural: budynki) = building

And sometimes, when talking about what you did at home when you were little, the translated version may use the word “rodzina” instead of “dom” (“family” instead of “home”).

So yes, both “house” and “home” mean “dom” in Polish, but you must look very carefully at the meaning of your English text to be able to choose the correct Polish equivalent.

And that doesn’t even cover the many different political and legal terms that include “house” and “home” in their phrases!

photo by Jan Panek from Bobrowniki Wielkie

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  1. thomas westcott:

    thank you Anna.

    But for me the definition of ‘dom’ usually is house, that is a building, ‘budynek’. However, home is a place where a family lives and what makes that place a home is the relationships of the people living there. A tent, a boat, a cave, a barn, and even a house can be a home.

    In English we say house cleaning. We do not say home cleaning. When I say that I am going home, it is to those people that I consider family.

    Home can also mean one’s city, or one’s country. In Polish home can be ‘domowy’, rodzinny’, ‘wl/asny’, albo ‘krajowy’. I think that I will use “dom rodzinny” for home.

    I have had conversations where ‘dom’ was used to say take me home albo I want a house of my own (instead of living in an apartment). Why do you want a home when you already have one? With home and house the true meaning can only be derived by understanding the words and phrases around the use of either word. So much of understanding language, any language, is based upon context.

  2. Anna:

    Hi Thomas!

    And thank you for your very eloquent explanation. However, things are not always that clear-cut in Polish. “Dom” can be used both as a “house” and as a “home”, and I said so in my blog post. Sometimes it may imply the family or country, but not always. It’s an all-purpose word, really.
    Like you said, we can say that something was “domowej roboty” (home-made) but we can also say “mój dom” and that can mean either the psychical building/apartment/hut/cave where we live, or a more general concept of belonging somewhere, be it to a family or country.

    I don’t think it’s really necessary to specify that home is “dom rodzinny”, as much is implied through the context. If I say “u mnie w domu”, I mean “at home (with my family)”. But I can also say that “u mnie w domu” they are renovating the basement, and in such case, it would mean “at my house (building)”. And when I started to clarify (in Polish, no less) whenever I meant “u mnie w domu rodzinnym”, the people I was talking to looked at me funny. Those things are simply understood and there’s no need to specify them. And those additional explanations are all hallmarks of a non-native speaker, I know because I make the same mistakes in other languages that I’m currently learning.

    It’s one of those concepts that is really very fluid. It’s good to know the difference in theory, though the actual meaning of “dom” is frequently revealed elsewhere in a sentence. Does it make sense? Another such word in Polish is “praca”, which also can be translated into English in a bazillion different ways.

    Sometimes looking for “just the right word” and getting so focused on its precise, exact meaning can be counter-productive. The distinction between different uses will come with time as the language becomes more and more settled in one’s mind.

  3. MPS:

    As George Carlin once said:
    “Just think about homelessness. They need to change its name. It’s not homelessness, it’s houselessness. It’s house these people need. Home is an abstract idea; it’s a setting, a state of mind. These people need houses. Physical, tangible structures.”

  4. Anna:

    Hi M!

    Carlin was so right! But you know what? I’ve also seen “houseless” referred to people who don’t have mortgages and live in apartments. And not so long ago (I think when the mortgage crisis first hit) there was a big debate in the US about houseless vs homeless.

    This just may be another one of those things that are easier in Polish than in English! LOL!

  5. MPS:

    Possibly… anyway, nice job with the blog(s) – keep spreading awareness of Polish language 🙂

  6. Jon Kyffin:

    Loving these Blogs!!

    I think this is really interesting as it highlights one of the major problems I have with learning a new language.

    A close Polish friend of mine has been trying to teach me polish for some time, and as a trade I have tried to help her improve her English.

    Difficulties arise with “multi-purpose” words in any language as language needs to convey abstract ideas, such as “home is wear the heart is”, “hearth and home” and “home wreaking” – all of these ideas are abstract, and a different culture expresses them completely differently, so the meaning literally gets lost in translation.

    I could never manage to learn a new language until I realised that it is impossible to translate one language directly into another, instead you have to learn how to convey those abstract meanings.

    I have found that the best approach has been to learn how my friend expresses herself and to learn some of her polish similes and metaphors.

    Incidentally, apparently the English word with the most different definitions is “run” (I was surprised until I looked it up and realised how many concepts this one word conveys)

    I’m sure that polish has a similar word and that it isn’t bieg, przebiegac, puszczac etc, etc

  7. Anna:

    Hi Jon!
    Thanks for your comment! Really? “Run” has the most definitions? That surprised me too. I always thought it would be something like “do” or “make”.

  8. Kaz:

    In English the sound rose has 14 different meanings -like the dwarves, can you find them all?