Być – The Verb ‘To Be’

If you’ve read the post on how to introduce yourself in Polish, then you’ll already recognise how to say I am. You can, informally, tell someone your name simply by saying Jestem Piotr (if your name happens to be Piotr). But what about you are, they are and he/she/it is?

In Polish, you don’t need to say I, you, or we because these words are incorporated into the verb itself. Verbs can generally be categorised into four classes with predictable conjugation, but the verb ‘to be’ is irregular and doesn’t fit nicely into these categories. Here’s how it works for ‘być’:

być (to be)
Ja (I) jestem
Ty (You) jesteś
On/Ona/Ono (He/She/It) jest
My (We) jesteśmy
Wy (You – more than one person) jesteście
Oni/One (They)

 

Because the pronoun (I/you/we etc.) is contained within the verb, you don’t need to say ja jestem. It’s fine just to say jestem. But for the third person forms (he/she/it/they) then it is important to say on, ona, ono, oni or one when forming sentences, because in Polish it’s necessary to specify the gender of the person that you’re talking about.

Notice the two different words for ‘they’. Polish differentiates between a group of people containing one or more men (oni), and an all-female group (one).

How are you feeling?

With the verb to be, we can begin to form sentences about how we are feeling. Adjectives change depending on whether they are describing something male or female, so in these examples the first form is for a man and the second, for a woman:

Jestem głodny / głodna – I’m hungry
Jestem zmęczony / zmęczona – I’m tired
Jestem szczęśliwy / szczęśliwa – I’m happy
Jestem smutny / smutna – I’m sad
Jestem znudzony / znudzona – I’m bored

Or we can even use this structure to find out if someone is hungry or tired, using jesteś and the -y or -a endings depending on whether they are male or female:

Jesteś głodny / głodna?
Jesteś zmęczony / zmęczona?

Knowing this verb will be a great help for the next post: asking someone where are you from? and where do you live?

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