Polish Language Blog

Polish Prepositions, part 1 Posted by on Oct 31, 2008 in Grammar

A while back Gary sent me an email, which for the life of me I can’t find anywhere now – my mailbox self-destructed earlier this week and all my messages disappeared into the bottomless internet pit. But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. Gary asked for a post about prepositions, and when my readers ask, I do as I’m told.

To be honest, I was happy, in an evil sort of way, that it’s not just my fellow Poles who struggle with prepositions when learning a foreign language. Surprise, surprise, prepositions are an equal opportunity problem. Those pesky little words in Polish are just as confusing to foreigners as the foreign little words are to Poles.

And because my big, fat “Grammar of Contemporary Polish” is strangely silent on the subject (speaking of which, it’s strangely silent on most issues that confuse Polish learners, but aren’t most grammar books like that?) we’ll do it according to my very own method. Namely, we’ll pick a preposition and beat it till it bleeds. Today’s choice? W!

Most dictionaries translate “w” as “in.” Some give such fancy explanations as “amid” or “inside” or “within”. So far, so good. It’s all true. But then the fun begins…

Take this one, for example:
w przyszłym tygodniu” means simply “next week”
But if you say “in a week” – in Polish it will be “za tydzień.”

And then, there’s this:

  • in Poland – w Polsce
  • in England – w Anglii
  • sound file

But then:

  • in Malta – na Malcie
  • in Lithuania – na Litwie
  • sound file

And now this:

  • w kinie – at the movies
  • w telewizji – on TV
  • w radiu – on the radio
  • w domu – at home, or – in the house, depending on the context
  • w szpitalu – in the hospital, or – at the hospital
  • sound file to all of the above

and so on…

But wait, there’s more!

  • w moim imieniu – on my behalf
  • w pociągu – on the train
  • w poprzek – across
  • w wieku (iluś lat) – at the age of
  • w nocy – at night
  • w poniedziałek – on Monday
  • w ostatniej chwili – at the last moment
  • w pracy – at work
  • w ciąży – pregnant
  • sound file to all of the above

See how much fun this is? You can basically pick any English preposition, and I’m pretty sure there is a Polish equivalent with “w” somewhere out there. I’m also pretty sure that if I really challenged my brain cells, I could come up with examples containing “by” and “for”, too.

I was just reading all kinds of random “w” entries in a couple of Polish-English dictionaries on-line, and that’s exactly how one of them translated “w” – as: in, on, at, by, for, within, inside, amid.

And now, if you excuse me, I have candy to hand out to small kids waiting at my door. After all, this is what you do w Halloween, right?

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  1. L:

    I just want to thank you for this blog/page..information centre!! I am irish/american and im living in poland for 4 months now…the language is challenging..but yet so beautiful i pray i get a hold of it soon..thank you again 🙂