Polish Language Blog

Problems with Priests (in plural) Posted by on Feb 24, 2009 in Culture, Grammar

What is it that I am reading about Polish priests wanting to marry and have families? This is the BBC article in English, but I have seen this story reported in the Polish media as well.

A controversial topic, no doubt about it.

But since I happen to know two Polish priests (we met while working on a volunteer project in a far-away land) I thought I’d get the scoop straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

Both of my priestly friends are now back in Poland doing whatever it is that Catholic priests do. We’ve always been able to have very frank conversations, even on subjects that could be considered uncomfortable, or even taboo.

I forwarded the BBC article to both guys and waited to hear what they had to say about it.

My conversation with priest number 1:

A: So, what do you think?
#1: The figure is too low.
A: Which figure?
#1: The one that says “more than 12% even admitted they were presently living in stable relationships with women.”
A: You think it’s even higher?
#1: I KNOW it’s higher. Listen, priests are human, too. You can talk about celibacy all you want, but it’s just not working.
A: So you mean there are no idealistic, true believing priests that stick to the rules?
#1: They’re rare, but they do exist. They’re the exception, not the rule.
A: And what about you?
#1: Are you going to write about it?
A: Yes.
#1: Hmmm… You know, it’s just a job, like any other. Some people are doctors, some are engineers, I’m a priest. It’s a career choice.
A: Are you happy with your career then?
#1: It’s going pretty well, nothing to complain.
A: So, are you in a relationship right now?
#1: Let’s just say that the 12% does not reflect what’s going on among my fellow priests, OK?
A: OK, gotcha. Thanks.

My conversation with priest number 2:

#2: You still like to ask uncomfortable questions, I see?
A: As always.
#2: Then instead of mulling over those numbers, there’s an even more important question to be asked.
A: Is there a crisis brewing in the Polish priesthood?
#2: Wrong question. What I want to know is why the wrong sort of people is allowed to enter seminaries? And why are they allowed to take vows and become full-fledged priests?
A: A national priest shortage maybe?
#2: That’s no excuse. When you get better quality of people into seminaries, you get better priests.
A: You mean “true believers”?
#2: (exasperated sigh.) Nobody says anything about true believers. But those who think of becoming priests do it for all the wrong reasons.
A: Then what would be the right reasons?
#2: (another exasperated sigh.) Listen, being a priest is a job. And a lot of hard work. And one of the requirements of this job is to be celibate. If you think it’s a stupid requirement, then go join the navy instead. There’s enough garbage in the priesthood as it is. And there are plenty of other jobs out there.

So, this is what my friendly priests had to say. I like and respect them both tremendously, regardless of their personal views. I’m not a religious person myself, so this whole issue is really a non-issue to me.

What is an issue to me is the plural form of the Polish word for “priest.”
As a singular noun, it’s easy enough: ksiądz.
But wait a sec. One ksiądz, but in plural – księża.

Whoa! Where did that come from? “Ą” became “ę” and “dz” turned into “ż.”
Now ask someone to quickly go through all the cases of “księża.” Follow it with all the cases of “książę” (prince) and watch them squirm.

So, jeden ksiądz (one priest), but in plural – księża. With some plural masculine nouns, number two – dwa morphs into dwaj.  So, you need to say: dwaj księża (two priests).

And, jeden książę (one prince), but in plural – książęta.

See what I mean? There are greater problems than księża wanting to get married.

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  1. michael:

    Talking of religion and priests. Czy oni mają Ash Wednesday w Polsce?

    Today is pancake Tuesday, this is like Tłusty Czwartek I think just with pancakes. Czy oni mają pancake Tuesday w Polsce?

  2. David Honley:

    Cześć Anna!
    You have a great sense of humour! To quote you:

    ‘There are greater problems than księża wanting to get married.’

    With reference to Declinations of those two ‘horrible’ words ksiądz and książę, if Poles squirm trying to decline correctly these two words, imagine what it is like for a foreigner, like myself, (not familiar with case-based languages) trying to decline these two words in both singular and plural. Absolute nightmare!!!

    Pozdrawiam serdecznie
    David, z Anglii

  3. Kenneth:

    ‘…are now back in Poland doing whatever it is that Catholic priests do.’

    Very little, I bet. Polish clergy are very lazy.

  4. Barbie:

    priests must live in celibacy because they took such vows and in Poland there are many decent priests who live in celibacy. I think it is not a big problem in Poland – I live in Poland and I am catolic – yes for some of them it is difficult problem sometimes but as I have mentioned above Polish priests are much more decent than their collegues in other countries (sorry for my mistakes but I am not so fluent at English)

  5. Barbie:

    to Michael:
    yes we have both Ash Wednesday – Środa Popielcowa and Pancake Thursday – Tłusty Czwartek on that day we eat a lot of donuts
    PS greetings from Poland to all who are learning my language – have good luck!!!