Forming Questions

Question

There are several ways of forming questions in Polish. The easiest type of question to ask is the type where the answer is a simple yes or no. These can be formed with the word czy.
 
The next easiest questions to ask are why, where, when and how questions, as there is a straightforward Polish to English translation of each of these words.
 
Much more difficult are who and what – here the Polish question word changes depending on the context.
 
In this brief introduction, we’ll look at each in turn:
 

Forming Simple Yes/No Questions

 
Many simple Polish sentences can be changed simply into questions simply by adding the question word czy to the start of the statement.
Let’s look at some examples:
 

Lubisz kawę You like coffee Czy lubisz kawę? Do you like coffee?
Tom jest z Anglii Tom is from England Czy Tom jest z Anglii? Is Tom from England?
To jest hotel This is a hotel Czy to jest hotel? Is this a hotel?
Jesz mięso You eat meat Czy jesz mięso? Do you eat meat?
Ona ma psa She has a dog Czy ona ma psa? Does she have a dog?


It is important to note, however that the word czy is often omitted altogether, particularly in an informal situation.
 
The only difference in such cases between Lubisz kawę and Lubisz kawę? is that the latter has a rising intonation at the end – easy for English speakers to recognise as a question.
 
Another option is to add a question tag to the end of a sentence, just like in English:
 
Lubisz kawę, nie? You like coffee, no? Lubisz kawę, prawda? You like coffee, right?


The answer to any of the above is clearly tak or nie. Confusingly, however, you’ll also hear no in casual Polish conversation…
 

… which means yes.
 

Why, Where, When and How

QuestionMan
 
Simple questions using these words are formed in essentially the same way as in English. Word order can however vary and is often flexible, so it is best to learn by example. A few are given below, but there will be many more throughout our language tutorials.

Dlaczego czytasz? Why are you reading?
Dlaczego on ma brodę? Why does he have a beard?
Gdzie pan/pani mieszka? Where do you live? (formal)
Gdzie jest sklep? Where is the shop?
Kiedy jest dzień ojca? When is Fathers' Day?
Jak się masz? How are you?
Jak duża jest Polska? How big is Poland?


A note regarding intonation: all questions in Polish except those with a yes/no answer start with the question word at a higher pitch and then the rest of the question is at a lower pitch, i.e. there is no familiar rising intonation at the end of the question. Listen to jak się masz?:
 

 

Who and What

Who
 
The question words who and what take a different form in Polish depending on the precise nature of the question.
 
To understand this better, it’s best to look it at from the perspective of the answer and specifically, which case is used to form the answer. On our summary of the seven Polish cases, you’ll note that each case heading is accompanied by the question words for who and what. Here’s a summary:
 
Who and What Questions in Polish
 
In other words, if you’re expecting an answer in the accusative case, the question you’ll ask is kogo? or co?. This table covers all the cases for completeness (except the vocative to which this discussion doesn’t really apply) but since we’ve only covered three so far, let’s look only at the nominative, accusative and instrumental in more detail for now:

Here is a useful but slightly backwards way of deciding on the right question. As you’ll see below, some of the who words are better translated as whom.
 

Question in English Example Polish Answer Case Polish Question
What do you like? Lubię herbatę Accusative Co lubisz?
What is this? To jest książka Nominative Co to jest?
Who are you (by profession)? Jestem architektem Instrumental Kim jesteś (z zawodu)?
Whom do you prefer? Wolę Olgę Accusative Kogo wolisz?
Who is this man? To jest mój brat Nominative Kto to jest ten pan?
What are you drinking? Piję wodę Accusative Co pijesz?
What are you interested in? Interesuję się polityką Instrumental Czym się interesujesz?

 
That’s all for now. Feel free to leave your comments below!
 



Audio credits: Pl-no.ogg and Pl-jak_się_masz.ogg by Odder (both CC-BY-SA-2.5)

2 thoughts on “Forming Questions

  1. Hi Rich,
    Thanks for this and the PDF that recaps all the cases. Just a tiny typo: the brackets below the sumnary should say “except the vocative to which this discussion doesn’t really apply” not “locative”.
    Cheers!
    David

    1. Cheers David, another embarrassing typo corrected! Thanks again and do get in touch if you’ve any ideas for things you’d like to see on the site!

Leave a Comment or Question