Two Ears and Two Eyes Posted by Anna on Feb 25, 2010 in Grammar, Vocabulary
I was writing something yesterday, in Polish, as it happens, and I almost had a nervous breakdown. Why? Plural forms of “number + noun” combinations are enough to drive anyone insane, even a native Pole.
And it all looked so simple! I was talking about body parts, more specifically, those body parts that come in twos.
There was little problem with hands and legs:
- dwie ręce – two hands
- dwie nogi – two legs
What was enough for a trip to an insane asylum was when I got to those body parts that are neuter in gender (when singular). You know, stuff like eyes and ears.
In English, it’s all so easy: one eye, two eyes. One ear, two ears. And your work here is done.
In Polish, first you have to figure out what kind of ear or eye you’re talking about.
When the noun is singular, it’s fairly easy.
- ucho (noun, neuter) – ear: the organ that detects sound, OR: something shaped like an ear, like a handle on a jug, for example.
- oko (noun, neuter) – eye: the organ that detects light, and sends electrical impulses along the optic nerve to the visual and other areas of the brain, OR: something shaped like an eye.
Confused yet? No? OK, you just wait. You will be.
So far so good. Then I tried to use these words as plural nouns. And remember, I was talking about body parts.
- uszy – ears, when talking about body parts
- oczy – eyes, when talking about body parts.
- ucha – ears, when talking about something shaped like an ear
- oka – eyes, when talking about something shaped like an eye.
OK, that wasn’t too bad, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. And then I tried to say, or rather – write: two ears and two eyes. (And here, feel free to insert your favorite curse word, or two.)
It took me two słowniki ortograficzne and quite a bit of googling to get it right. And that was just in the nominative case! I’m not going to touch the other cases with a ten foot pole (or a Hungarian, for that matter).
Ok, so how do we say “two ears” when talking about body parts?
- Dwoje uszu.
Yeah, where did that come from?
And how about “two eyes” (body parts again)?
- Dwoje oczu.
Finally, my friend, trying to be helpful suggested: “Oh, what the heck, just say ‘a pair of eyes’ and ‘a pair of ears’.”
Yeah, easy for you to say.
Is it “para uszu” or “para uszów”? And is it “para oczu” or “para oczów”? Or maybe “para ócz”?
I give up. I need to call an expert. Where is Maciej Malinowski – mistrz polskiej ortografii, when you need him?
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And you get even more fun when you start to inflect those! 😀 You can see something “własnymi oczami” or “własnymi oczyma” (both forms mean the same, but I guess the latter seems a bit more literary to me).
Oh, and hands are interesting as well – you can embrace someone “rękami” or “rękoma”, and you can hold something “w ręce” or “w ręku”.
I’m following this blog already a few months and i must say it’s very interesting and i love it that you spend time on writing this stuff.
For almost seven years i’m married with my Polish wife Ewa and since March 2009 we moved from Belgium too Poland ( Warszawa)
In Belgium i took for 2 years some Polish evening class unfortunally i guess, even when i live now in Poland, i will never speak perfect Polish.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
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Great Article 🙂
Great read! Thanks for sharing 🙂