June 24, 2011 | Polish

Nothing Like a Good Old-Fashioned Grammar Book

I am doing hard-core grammar again, and I feel better.

It is such a relief to have, once again, a good old-fashioned grammar book, complete with exercises. I am referring to the one I bought a few days ago, Basic Polish by Dana Bielec.

I need all the help I can get with noun forms. Three genders, and seven cases, and lots of different endings…I am spending a shocking amount of time on nouns, not to mention their accompanying adjectives, and I haven’t even made it past the accusative case yet.

Here’s one noun-related thing I found rather amazing. The nouns listed below, which are singular in English—and generally other languages as far as I have noticed—exist in Polish only in the plural.

Basic Polish by Dana Bielec! I Like It!

Basic Polish by Dana Bielec! I Like It!

Nouns That in Polish Are, Weirdly, Always Plural

Nouns That in Polish Are, Weirdly, Always Plural

There are more where those came from. For their strange status, I was offered this explanation: “These are items usually consisting of two or more parts.” That caused me to start considering doorknobs, doorknob screws, those plate thingies that attach doors to a wall (I am not handy and have no handy vocabulary in any language), etc.

Okay, I can buy that there are multiple pieces to a door, but a birthday? Cake, candles, presents, concerns about aging, etc.? Are those what make it plural?  

Polish doesn’t remind me a whole lot of other languages I have crossed paths with. Of course I find some things that remind me of Russian, what I remember of it anyway, but then sometimes random Polish words look and/or sound surprisingly familiar from other languages.

For example, the word “are” in Polish is . It is pronounced a lot like “are” in French: sont. I don’t know whether the similarity is accidental or not. 

Other words seem pretty unmistakably connected to their equivalents in other languages. The Polish word fryzjer, which means “hairdresser,” looks and sounds like Friseur in German. The pronunciation is roughly FRIZZ-yair in Polish, and fri-ZOOR in German.

The Polish word malarz, or “painter,” looks and sounds somewhat like the German word Maler. MAH-lazh in Polish, MAH-lur in German.

It would be very interesting to be able to go back in time hundreds of years and trail after people interacting, and hunting, and maybe sitting around fires, and not taking a lot of showers by modern standards, and watch language change as they take it with them from one part of Europe to another.

Comments (9)

Threlly • Posted on Sun, July 03, 2011 - 11:34 pm EST

The word you seek (a compound, actually) is “frame-wing.” I wonder what that is in Polish.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, July 04, 2011 - 12:03 am EST

Wow, I thought the term (in English, I mean) might actually be something I would recognize if I heard it. I do not!

Super Rabbit! • Posted on Mon, July 04, 2011 - 1:49 am EST

A frame-wing is just one of several parts that make up a hinge, the other two being the door-wing and the pin. I’ll bet “hinge” is a plural in Polish.

When you have insomnia, looking things like this up is a great way to pass the time.

Luba • Posted on Tue, July 05, 2011 - 12:26 am EST

In Russian gate is also plural - “vorota”. I think it’s because there are indeed two parts. And, you know, there are doors that kind of consist of two parts…
the usual word for birthday is singular in Russian, but there is an older, now almost obsolete, word, that is indeed plural. I have no idea why…

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, July 05, 2011 - 12:34 am EST

So interesting about the birthday! The plural gate makes sense, but it’s funny how firmly embedded in my brain gates are as singular concepts. Violins, too!

Katherine • Posted on Wed, July 20, 2011 - 2:44 pm EST

The Greek word for birthday is in plural as well ‘yenethlia’(its a neuter noun.) Luba would you mind telling the old Russian word for birthday that is plural? I have never heard anything but ‘den rozhndeniya’

Luba • Posted on Thu, July 21, 2011 - 12:54 am EST

Katherine, it’s “imeniny”. It’s not used only for birthday, but for Angel’s day as well, but since in past these two events were on the same day people started to use “imeniny” in sense of “birthday”

Kamila • Posted on Mon, September 09, 2013 - 12:38 pm EST

Well URODZINY are not plural because of cake and balloons :D but because someone made up this word and it sounds plural and it stayed that way, what i try to say is that there is no explanation for those plural forms, it is just how it is.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, September 09, 2013 - 12:41 pm EST

Ha. Thank you, Kamila. I think there are more similarly haphazard linguistic phenomena than I once realized!

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