Plural, Singular or Something In-Between? Posted by Anna on Jul 4, 2008 in Grammar
This last post about wakacje (holidays) made me a little bit confused. OK, not a little. A lot. While writing it, I was unable to fully determine the grammatical gender of “wakacje”, and a random selection of my countrymen to whom I posed that question just looked at me with utter bewilderment.
“You mean it has a gender?” and “I’m sure it’s not masculine” were two of the most sensible answers. And mind you, we’re Poles discussing Polish grammar.
The “wakacje” question eventually turned into an even bigger problem when we discovered just how inconsistent Polish grammar books are. And boy! Are they ever!
We finally determined that the grammatical gender of “wakacje” is not quite neuter in the strict neuter sense, but can be called neuter for all intents and purposes here. It’s also an uncountable noun, which exists only in the plural form. And guess what? It’s not the only one. There’s more.
Here are some other examples:
pomyje = dirty dishwater, hogwash, slop, general yuck after washing something filthy
urodziny = birthday
graffiti = mercifully, the meaning is the same, and get this – because it’s a foreign loan word – it does not decline! Woohoo!
All of these are neuter uncountable nouns that exist only in their plural forms. You know what surprised me here? “Urodziny”. I always thought that we could count them just fine. And yes, we actually can, but not in a way you’d expect, and since it’s more complicated than it looks, we’ll leave it alone for now.
Ok, back to our nouns…
Then we have neuter nouns, again – plural only, that are perfectly countable such as:
Again, remember that these guys don’t have singular forms.
And finally, we have a couple of nouns that are not really countable and not really uncountable, but again, they’re more or less genderless:
I’m sure there’s more but let’s stick to these for the time being.
All of this made me realize just how difficult and complicated determining plural grammatical gender in Polish can be. And why is that? The history of the language is partly to blame. If you can imagine, once upon a time, Polish was even more complex. What we have now is a language that has been simplifying itself for quite some time. But unfortunately, some vestiges of those ancient long-defunct forms are still sticking around. And because they just won’t die fast enough, we’re stuck with those (totally unfun, if I may add) complications for a little while longer.
Now of course, you may ask if there are nouns that exist only as singular. You betcha!
Check these guys out:
The last one is funny, because grammatically, it’s singular, but of course it describes not one, but a bunch of cows, just like in English.
See? We finally found something in Polish that is just like in English! Not bad, wouldn’t you say?
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