Polish Language Blog

Polish Homonyms (or is it homophones?) Posted by on Nov 5, 2009 in Vocabulary

Just yesterday someone asked me for examples of words (Polish words, of course) that sound the same, are spelled the same, but mean something totally different. You know, like in English light, and right, and stuff like that. Can’t think of more examples right off the bat. Oh yeah, and a bat.

But suddenly, when I had to give some examples in Polish, I was stumped. The fact that I’m very easily stumped you all know already very well. So, I decided to take the easy way out and say that in Polish we have different words for different things. Yeah, that was lame, I know. And totally not true.

But apart from prawo and lewo, I couldn’t come up with any other examples.

Prawo could be either a noun or an adverb.
As a noun, it’s neuter in gender and it means “law”, as in “I’m studying law” – Studiuję prawo.
As an adverb, it means “right” as in “to turn right” – skręcić w prawo.
Lewo is an adverb too, and it’s the opposite of prawo, as in “to turn left” – skręcić w lewo.
But if you use it in a phrase like “załatwię to na lewo”, it means something like “I’ll get it done, but not quite legally, under the table, etc…” Which smells of kombinowanie, in a rather negative way, so there you have it.
OK, what else? Niebo (noun, neuter) can mean either “sky” or “Heaven”.
Tępy (adjective, feminine singular: tępa, neuter singular: tępe, pl masc personal: tępi, all others plural: tępe) can mean either blunt, dull (as in not sharp) or stupid. There is even a noun derived from tępy to describe a particularly dumb and uncouth person: tępak.
And here I draw a blank…

So, please, by all means, feel free to add to the list. Or else we’ll have to stick with the version that in Polish we have all sorts of different words for all sorts of different things.

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  1. Jake:

    A homophone is where the word sounds the same, but can be spelled differently, e.g. bear/bare.

    A homograph is where the word is spelt the same, but can be pronounced differently – unlikely in Polish, but in English examples are bow, read, tear, or even Polish!

    Polish hononyms: jezyk (tongue/language). Or how about kanapka – sandwich, or small sofa 🙂

  2. Beata:

    What a coincidence! Just this morning on our way out, my American husband noticed a sign “Droga zamknieta”
    – What does that mean?- he asked
    – This road is closed -I say
    – But don’t I call you “moja droga”?
    – Yes, you do. “Droga” means both “the road/way” and “darling”. And “expensive”. And the means of doing things…

    His eyes glazed over, so I stopped 😉

  3. Mchl:

    I assume we don’t speak colloquialisms or jargon here? Like ‘szczeniak’ can mean ‘a puppy’ but also ‘a kid’

    szybka, płytka (a pattern seems to be emerging here)

    por, kostka,

    ucho (why can we have ‘uszy’ or ‘ucha’ – that would make for a great blog post Anna!)

    Not that easy to come up with something indeed.

  4. Basia:

    what about wsod and zachod?

  5. Jörg:

    Homophone: może – morze
    Homonyms: zamek, krok

    Interestingly, the last two are Homonyms in German as well with the same meanings, however the German words look completely different than the Polish ones.

  6. Basia:

    should have bee wschod obviously; can’t spell to save my life

  7. GNeuner:

    I am a German learning Polish, and I have to admit that I am always amazed at how similar German is to Polish. Not in the words as such of course (one being a Slavic, the other a Germanic language), but in the way both languages form their words.
    Himmel in German is pretty much the same as niebo, when we first learned English we had a small problem as to why that simple word was supposed to be two different ones in the new language…
    The same as the combination of right/law: in Polish prawo, in German Recht.
    And I come across things like that all the time. The words have completely different origins, but they are used the same way in both languages.

  8. russ:

    zamek (castle, zipper, lock, …) seems to be a classic example…

    various nouns in different cases that are coincidentally the same form, often singular nominative of one and plural genitive of another, e.g. “matematyk” (a male mathematician, or plural genitive of mathematics), “rad” (the element radium, or plural genitive of advice), etc.

    panstwo (country, or Mr & Mrs)

  9. Jessia:

    pociąg (train) and pociąg (e.g. do alkoholu – a penchant for, to “feel the pull of”).

    The difference between most of these Polish homonyms and the English ones is that most of the Polish ones seem to be logically related (e.g. tępy – it’s not rocket science to figure out how and why blunt (knife) is related to dense/stoopid as in the local village idiot). The possible exception here is zamek, but even here it’s all to do with securing things in various ways, whether by stone walls or innovative interlocking teeth.
    So are these really homonyms or just extensions of meaning of a single root. I mean, it’s not exactly like “bear” (grizzly) and “bear ” (carry), is it?

  10. Mchl:

    “Zamek” comes from “zamykać” (to close) either a door to the room, or people within walls 🙂

    Also, old Polish word for “zamek” as a building is “kasztel” where you can see some similarity to English ‘castle’

  11. Jessia:

    so does zamek (błyskawiczny – zipper). Can you think of any less related ones?

  12. doradztwo:

    Jak tylko dowiedziałem się o tej stronie stałem się jego entuzjastą. Dzięki tej witrynie odkryłem dużo fascynujących wiadomości których tak bardzo długo szukałem. Do zobaczenia niedługo.