Polish Language Blog

Why Polish Feminine Nouns Can Be Confusing Posted by on Feb 9, 2010 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Adam’s post about feminine endings for occupations and positions held by women made me think about feminine gender nouns in general.

That proposed ending “-a” makes it very easy to assume that Polish feminine nouns should end in “-a”. And yes, many indeed do. But not all.

There are some nouns that even though they don’t end in “-a”, you can more or less guess that they are feminine in gender. For example:

  • pani (plural: panie) – lady, Mrs or Ms.
  • gospodyni (plural: gospodynie) – landlady (or a woman who runs a household)
  • bogini (plural: boginie) – goddess

Those are the easy ones. And there aren’t that many of them.

The problem is that there’s also a multitude of nouns who look like they might be anything but feminine in gender. They end in a consonant, and there’s no other way, but to simply learn them one by one. And unfortunately, there’s quite a few of them.

Here are some of the most popular ones you may see:

  • krew (usually only singular) – blood
  • mysz (plural: myszy) – mouse
  • twarz (plural: twarze) – face
  • rzecz (plural: rzeczy) – thing
  • noc (plural: noce) – night
  • sól (plural: sole) – salt
  • myśl (plural: myśli) – thought
  • kolej (plural: koleje ) – railway

And those are still the easy ones. The biggest group of those “odd” feminine nouns end in those goofy soft consonants that most Polish learners grow to hate. And yes, this group is full of commonly used popular nouns.

For example:

  • jesień (plural: jesienie) – autumn
  • nić (plural: nici) – thread
  • wieś (plural: wsie) – village
  • kość (plural: kości) – bone
  • odpowiedź (plural: odpowiedzi) – answer
  • łódź (plural: łodzie) – boat
  • powieść (plural: powieści) – novel

There’s plenty more, unfortunately.

And then there are a few nouns that simply can’t decide whether they are feminine of masculine:

  • rodzynek (masculine) or rodzynka (feminine)– raisin
  • pomarańcz (masculine) or pomarańcza (feminine) – orange

Though with “orange” when you say “pomarańcz” you mean the color orange. Pomarańcza is an orange (fruit). But Polish raisins swing both ways, I guess.

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  1. Thomas Cremers:

    But grammer wise this should most of the time not be a problem as they behave like masculine when changing endings.
    Please correct me when I’m completely wrong 😉

  2. Adam:

    I have an example of the use of a plural of krew (blood) 🙂

    My grandmother, an expert in traditional Polish cooking, could say: Kupiłam dzisiaj dwie krwie na czarninę. (I bought two bloods for black soup today. – meaning duck’s blood, which you buy mixed with white vinegar, and it is the main ingredient)

    Sunds horrid, but its yum, btw.

  3. Paulina:

    Thomas, you’re wrong;) They have feminine endings.

    Here you have a small but useful rule: http://perfectpolish.pl/documents/B1_Feminine%20nouns.pdf