Polish Language Blog

Using the Polish Się, Part 1 Posted by on Jan 8, 2009 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Are you ready for another installment of Polish grammar? No? Don’t worry, I’m not ready either. We’ll get through it together.

A couple of posts back I started to talk about “się.” That was when I told you how this little word could alter the meaning of a verb. You have a verb without “się” and it means one thing. You stick “się” at the end and it means something else.
I gave “uczyć” (to teach) and “uczyć się” (to learn) as examples.

Here’s another one of such verbs: stawać.

  • stawać – to stand (up) – as in this expression: stawać na głowie (literally – to stand on one’s head) – to bend over backwards or to do one’s darnest

and then you have:

  • stawać się – to become, to happen – as in this expression (past tense): co się stało? – what happened?

By the way, did you notice how in this last example “się” migrated to the FRONT of the verb? “się” is like that, sometimes it can move, and sometimes it even HAS TO move. But that’s something we’ll talk about another day.

Let’s focus on the verbs for now.
OK, we need a verb. How about “myć” – a nice, short word.

  • myć” means simply “to wash,” but
  • myć się” – to wash oneself.

You want to see them in action? Sure thing!

  • Myję ręce. – I am washing (my) hands. See? No “się” here.
  • Myję się. – I am washing myself.

At least these two didn’t change in meaning. They’re still both about washing, right?

But apart from those verbs that can exist with or without “się,” there is a whole bunch that occurs almost exclusively with “się.” Here are just a few most popular ones:

  • domagać się – to demand
  • modlić się – to pray
  • domyślać się – to guess, to presume
  • dziać się – to happen
  • wahać się – to hesitate
  • upierać się – to stubbornly insist on something
  • opiekować się – to take care of
  • zgadzać się – to agree
  • zakochać się – to fall in love
  • nudzić się – to be bored
  • martwić się – to worry
  • cieszyć się – to be glad
  • dziwić się – to be surprised
  • denerwować się – to get upset
  • bać się – to be afraid (never occurs without “się”)
  • wstydzić się – to be embarrassed (never occurs without “się”)
  • śmiać się – to laugh

Do you notice anything particular about the verbs in the second group? Yes, many of them describe a state of mental agitation or feelings. Such verbs are almost always followed by “się” and in fact, as you can see, the two that I listed – bać się and wstydzić się do not occur without “się” at all.

To Be Continued…

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  1. An:

    Lubię tu zaglądać.Świetna robota.:)An

  2. Yellerbelly:

    My understanding was that “Co się stało?” can also mean “what’s wrong?”. Is this correct? Maybe I’ve been hearing it and understanding it in the wrong context.

    I shall copy these verbs out – very useful, thanks!

  3. Karen:

    Thanks for clarifying this topic and the meaning of “się” with all the examples. I always got the feeling growing up, that “się” is to do with oneself. So when someone would say “nie denerwowaj się” – it would mean “don’t upset yourself” and so on. I find it helps to understand “się” easier that way.
    Bye for now, Karen xx