Polish Language Blog

This and That in Polish Posted by on Aug 21, 2008 in Grammar

The distinction between “this” and “that” is more or less clear in English. Or at least I’ve always thought so. But as one of our readers has pointed out, while “this” is easier to grasp when translated into a foreign language, things can get really goofy with “that”.

Fortunately, I can assure you that people who learn English have exactly the same problem, but in the opposite direction. And just look at “that” in the previous sentence. It’s a different “that” from when talking about “that house is nice”.

See? In English “that” is used just about everywhere and for just about everything.

Translating all those “thats” into Polish can be a real pain. In fact, I’ve been scratching my head and debating how to do it in the least painful way for the past couple of days.

I suppose we should start with the easiest “that” of all – the demonstrative pronoun. Which is when you point at something and say “not this, THAT!”
As in English, in Polish there is also a distinction between “this” and “that”.
Let’s try to add a noun to see how it works in action.

  • ten facet = this guy (masculine personal)
  • ta kobieta = this woman (feminine)
  • to drzewo = this tree (neuter) (audio)

And now see what happens when we switch “this” for “that”:

  • tamten facet = that guy
  • tamta kobieta = that woman
  • tamto drzewo = that tree (audio)

This is the most basic equivalent of “that” in Polish. All three versions of “this” in Polish morphed into three versions (gender dependent) of “that”.

  • ten → tamten (this → that for singular masculine nouns)
  • ta → tamta (this → that for singular feminine nouns) and
  • to → tamto (this → that for singular neuter nouns) (audio)

Of course, things are never that (and here I’ve just used another “that”) cut and dry when it comes to languages. Sometimes “that” in English can be translated into either ten, ta or to in Polish.

Imagine your best friend just spent a ridiculous amount of money on something utterly useless. I don’t know about you, but my first question would be:

  • what do you need that for? – do czego ci to potrzebne? (audio)

Here “that” would be translated as “to”.

Or somebody is banging on your door and you even though mildly irritated still very politely ask:

  • who is that? – kto to?

Or your spouse magically read your mind and gave you exactly what you were dreaming of:

  • That is exactly what I wanted. – To dokładnie czego chciałem (past tense, first person singular, masculine)/ chciałam (past tense, first person singular, feminine). (audio)

And by the way, in both of those sentences above, there’s no need to translate “is” into Polish, “is” is implied and understood.

So that was the easiest “that”. There are several more uses of it, which unfortunately results in several more ways it can be translated into Polish. We’ll discuss all of them, no worries. In bite-size pieces.

All Polish from this post is here in one big audio file.

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  1. Thomas Westcott:

    Anna, thanks for trying to put all the audio from an article in one download.

    I was thinking, however, of using the next and previous buttons on the media player to move from one audio file to another easily. That way the individual words or phrases could be spoken and listened to twice at different speeds and one could select which word or phrase one is listening to. By the way, my media player controls fit unto the task bar. The buttons are play, stop, previous, next, mute, slide bar for volume, and restore.

    As a learning aid, what I wanted to be able to do was to download all the audio files at once, control those files from the task bar and thus have the screen / window open for the text of the article. That way I could read and listen at the same time and via the next button continue reading and advancing to the next audio file.

    I hope this makes sense to you.

  2. Andre:

    Hey Anna,

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this stuff. It’s informative.

    Many of my Polish students who are learning English have trouble with the “this” and “that” distinction. It takes some practice.

    What about “these” and “those”?

  3. Anna:

    Hi Andre,
    bite-size pieces, remember? These and those will come, soon! I promise.

    Hello Thomas!
    Now I see exactly what you have in mind. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to arrange from my end. I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to computer thingies, so we’ll need someone smarter to help me set it up. Please be patient! 🙂

  4. Grazyna:

    I’m really inspired to see people so excited to learn to speak Polish and actually enjoy the process of getting there… 🙂

  5. Andre:

    Sorry, I did not want to rush you. Thanks for taking on the HUGE task of teaching Polish. Have you ever thought about starting a podcast?

  6. Anna:

    Hi Andre,
    ahem ahem… a podcast, you say? Have you been reading my mind, or something? 😉

  7. Andre:

    I’m a big podcast listener and have thought about starting one on Polish culture and/or language. However, I don’t have the time to research matters, record and do the editing all by myself. Keep me posted on your efforts and let me know if I could give you a hand. 😉