Forming the past tense in Polish is relatively easy compared to English. In English we have to deal with the simple past, past continuous, past perfect and past perfect continuous. In Polish, there’s only one past tense, and information about whether an action is completed or is in progress is instead expressed using aspect.
Polish verbs have two aspects, imperfective and perfective.
The imperfective form of the verb is used to talk about the present, or actions that were or will be in progress, i.e. I am writing, I was writing, I will be writing.
The perfective form of the verb is used to talk about actions that were or will be completed, i.e. I wrote, I will write.
Perfective verbs don’t exist in the present tense, so you might not have come across them at all. They are formed often by adding a prefix to the imperfective form, but can also be formed by changing the stem of the imperfective. And some perfective verbs look very different to their imperfective forms. It’s best to learn both forms of a verb separately and there are good books for this purpose, such as 301 Polish Verbs which presents the two side by side and in all their forms. Here are some examples using common verbs:
|go (by vehicle, once)||jechać||pojechać|
Forming the Past Tense
The past tense is formed by adding a series of endings to the stem of the verb. These are the familiar singular (I, You, He/She) and plural (We, You (pl), They) forms, but with one quirk – there are two different sets of plural forms depending on whether you are referring to a group containing at least one man, or a group not containing a man (i.e. a group of women, children or things). Here’s an example with pić:
So the verb form in the sentence wypili za dużo (they drank too much) gives you three pieces of information – the drinking took place in the past (past tense), is now finished (perfective), and was completed by a group containing at least one man (masculine 3rd person plural).
The vast majority of verbs in the past tense are formed simply by adding the endings above to the stem of the verb.
There are, as always, a couple of exceptions:
Verbs ending in eć follow the pattern below, with the e changing into an a in all forms apart from the masculine personal plural:
Also, verbs ending in ść, c or źć including the two common verbs below, have more unique stem changes that it’s best to learn, though the endings are reassuringly still the same:
It’s worth noting that while the stress on words in Polish is usually on the penultimate syllable, for the plural forms above it’s on the third-to-last syllable instead, i.e. the endings in bold are all unstressed.
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Question 1 of 1
Verbs in brackets are given as (imperfective/perfective). Using the correct verb, translate these sentences into Polish:
They (f.) were laughing (śmiać się/zaśmiać się) - (śmiały się)
Przemek wrote a book (pisać/napisać) - Przemek (napisał) książkę
Alice opened the door (otwierać/otworzyć) - Alicja (otworzyła) drzwi
She heard a voice outside (słyszeć/usłyszeć) - (usłyszała) głos na zewnątrz
I (f.) was reading a book yesterday (czytać/przeczytać) - Wczoraj czytałam ksiażkę
I (m.) went to the cinema (iść/pójść) - (poszedłem) do kina
We (m.) wanted to go to work (chcieć) - (chcieliśmy) iść do pracy
You (m. sing.) couldn't be with us (móc) - Nie (mogłeś) być z nami
What did you (f. pl.) buy? (kupować/kupić) - Co (kupiłyście)?
While he was cooking, the telephone rang (gotować/ugotować, dzwonić/zadzwonić) - Kiedy (gotował) lunch, (zadzwonił) telefon
- They (f.) were laughing (śmiać się/zaśmiać się) - (śmiały się)