Polish Language Blog

Perfective vs Imperfective Posted by on Nov 25, 2008 in Grammar

One of you sent me an email wanting to know more about the verbs I listed in the Dative part 3 blog post. “What’s the deal with those two forms?” was the question.

Well, I’m glad you asked. And here are the verbs in question:

Remember when we were talking about grammatical aspect and imperfective verbs? I said back then that almost all Polish verbs have two grammatical aspects – perfective and imperfective.

Perfective means or implies than an action is finished and completed. Imperfective – that the outcome of whatever it is you are doing is still pending, or that an action is habitual, or somesuch. And I also said that perfective verbs don’t exist in the present tense.

Are you with me? OK so far?

Then let’s take a look at our verb list above.
Dać” and “dawać” both mean the same in English, but in Polish the difference is quite visible. They both can be translated as “to give.” So, what’s the deal with the difference?

Dać” means to give once and it’s done, finished. Whoever you gave it to now has it and you can go home. The action is completed. You have nothing else to do. As a perfective verb, it has no present tense. It only exists in the past and the future. For example:
Dałam jej pieniądze. – I (female speaker) gave her money. She has it now. I only gave it to her once.

Dawać,” on the other hand, implies a habitual action. Something you do over and over. And as an imperfective verb, it has forms in all three tenses. Here’s one example:
Dawałam jej pieniądze. – I (female speaker) have/had been giving her money. For some time in the past she (whoever she might be) had been getting cash from me. Lucky her.

You see the difference now? What in English is accomplished by different tenses, in Polish is done by different verbs.

Here are the forms of “dać

Future tense: audio

  • ja – dam
  • ty – dasz
  • on/ona/ono – da
  • my – damy
  • wy – dacie
  • oni – dadzą

Past tense: audio

  • ja (fem / masc) – dałam / dałem
  • ty (fem / masc) – dałaś/ dałeś
  • on – dał
  • ona – dała
  • ono – dało
  • my (fem / masc) – dałyśmy / daliśmy
  • wy (fem / masc) dałyście / daliście
  • oni – dali
  • one – dały

And now for “dawać

Future tense: audio

  • ja – będę dawać or będę dawała / dawał (fem / masc)
  • ty – będziesz dawać or będziesz dawała / dawał (fem / masc)
  • on – będzie dawać or będzie dawał
  • ona – będzie dawać or będzie dawała
  • ono – będzie dawać or będzie dawało
  • my – będziemy dawać or będziemy dawały / dawali (fem / masc)
  • wy – będziecie dawać or będziecie dawały / dawali (fem / masc)
  • oni – będą dawać or będą dawali
  • one – będą dawać or będą dawały

Present tense: audio

  • ja – daję
  • ty – dajesz
  • on/ona/ono – daje
  • my – dajemy
  • wy – dajecie
  • oni – dają

Past tense: audio

  • ja (fem / masc) – dawałam / dawałem
  • ty (fem / masc) dawałaś / dawałeś
  • on – dawał
  • ona – dawała
  • ono – dawało
  • my (fem / masc) – dawałyśmy / dawaliśmy
  • wy (fem / masc) – dawałyście / dawaliście
  • oni – dawali
  • one – dawały

Complicated? Nah! Just a little maybe.

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  1. Hoosier41:

    Would it be possible to have audio pronunciation
    of the verbs and other important words ???

    My lips and mouth don’t always go the right way and it
    would really help to hear the words.


  2. michael farris:

    Some hints that I worked out that made things much easier for me (and others I’ve shared them with always agree). It sounds complicated but it’s actually pretty simple in practice.)

    the following is abbreviated (and contrary to the way most Polish textbooks for foreigners explain things).

    1. learn roots by which aspect class they belong too, that is what aspect is the most basic form of the verb? Most of the time this is imperfective (czytać, sprzątać, myśleć) but there are also basic perfective roots (kupić, dać, otwórzyć) and some where neither seems basic (zamykać and zamknąć both have explicit aspect markers)

    2. learn the processes that make verbs perfective or imperfective, anytime you add a coverb prefix, the result is perfective
    internal vowel changes (mostly to -a-) and consonant changes (mostly from ‘softer’ to ‘harder’ consonants) always make verbs imperfective.
    Adding a suffix with a -w- in it always makes it imperfective.

    3. Then anytime you see a verb you can reconstruct the morphological processes and realize what aspect it is:
    porozmawiać comes from the basic root mówic – imperfective, and has three processes added, the coverb prefix roz- makes it perfective and then internal soundchanges (-ó-i-) to (-a-ia-) make it imperfective rozmawiać and then the second coverb prefix makes it perfective again.

    4. Finally, think of imperfective and perfective verbs as independent verbs and pair them up into ‘aspect pairs’ as little as possible.

  3. Anna:

    Re: #4, hmmm… it’s not easy. I always automatically pair them up.
    Re: #2 & 3 – I need to write about it first! I know what you’re trying to say, but it sounds awfully complicated to the uninitiated. 😉

  4. michael farris:

    It’s easier for native speakers to pair them up than for learners.

    I only made real progress once I decided to stop pairing them up and concentrated more on how to make imperfective verbs perfective and vice versa (and decoding new verbs according to those principles). But it needs to be two way, the traditional way of always using the imperfective as a base is just too complicated and too easily leads to students who don’t realize that przepraszam uses the same root as proszę.

    After a long while it became easier for to pair them up if I wanted, but that’s a skill that’s easier if you don’t try to do it directly. And my system seems more complex on the surface but when explained face to face with examples more than one person has told me it’s more understandable and helps them deal with verb forms more than the traditional approaches.

    (And I left out a small class of always imperfective roots that remain imperfective even if you add a coverb prefix, like chodzić and kładać) not to mention that when you add an imperfective process to a root that’s already imperfective you get a habitual (miewać, bywać)

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