According to, Polish is the third hardest language for native English speakers to learn. This rank is definitely attributed to the crazy rules of Polish grammar that are so complicated yet so natural to Poles that they can not explain it to you when you inevitably have a plethora of questions. 

When speaking, you must remember the conjugations of verbs based on the doer of the action (first person singular, third person plural, etc) and as well as the tense of the verb (past, present, future), you must remember declensions of nouns and adjectives and to make the genders and numbers (singular vs plural) agree. It is a lot to think about as you construct a sentence! This post (this is only part one) is going to begin to break down declension which, in my opinion, is the hardest part of the whole language to master. 

“Przypadki” (cases) take a lot of practice to learn and when you come from a language that does not really have cases, it makes the mission especially hard but I am here to make this as painless as possible for my English speakers out there. These posts of course will not contain all the information you will need to perfect przypadki as it can take years to master them but they will give you a good point to kick off from.

We don’t have cases in English that function like the Polish case system but you can understand their importance by using the example of he/his/him or she/hers/her. 

He is a basketball player. – nominative case

It is his ball. -genitive case

Give the ball to him. -dative case

As you can see, in this English example, the declension also changes depending on the man’s function in the sentence. So, the concept is not that foreign 🙂 

Let’s do a Polish example now with the word “kawa” (coffee). It is a feminine noun and will be declined as one. Please note declensions of masculine and neuter nouns will be different.

To jest kawa. (It is coffee.)- Nominative/ Mianownik 

Nie lubię kawy. (I do not like coffee.)- Genitive/ Dopełniacz 

Wlej mleko do kawy. (pour milk in the coffee.)- Dative/ Celownik

Piję  kawę. (I am drinking coffee.)- Accusative/ Biernik

Jem ciasto z kawą. (I eat cake with coffee.)- Instrumental/ Narzędnik 

Rozmawiamy o kawie. (We are talking about coffee.)- Locative/ Miejscownik

In English, the first example I provided of “he is a basketball player,” would be the nominative or mianownik case because he is the subject of the sentence. In our example “to jest kawa,” the coffee (kawa) was the subject of the sentence, so it was also in its nominative form. The nominative form of a word is how it appears in the dictionary, and it is from a word’s mianownik/ nominative form that you can tell its gender. 

Polish is a language that is full of exceptions but generally masculine words end in consonants, feminine words end in “a,” and neuter words end in “o” or “e.” There are many exceptions to this rule, even the word for “man” (mężczyzna), breaks the rule as it is a masculine word that ends with “a.” It declines as a feminine word in the singular and masculine in the plural- this applies for all* masculine words with a feminine ending.

Mianownik/ Nominative is the easiest form to remember as it is its “original” form- probably the form you will learn any given word in first if you are learning Polish from books. You use this ending when the noun is the subject of the sentence.

Dopełniacz/ Genitive– this case’s most important functions are to indicate possession and negation. This case is used very often, it should be one of the first you focus on learning. Let’s do another example to show dopełniacz.

Adam jest chłopcem. (Adam is a boy.) vs To jest śpiwór Adama. (This is Adam’s sleeping bag.)

The first sentence “Adam jest chłopcem.” Adam is in the mianownik/ nominative form because Adam is the subject of the sentence. In the second sentence, Adam takes on the form Adama to indicate possession and show that Adam is the person to whom the sleeping bag belongs.

But dopełniacz is not just used to indicate possession, it also indicates negation. When a verb in a sentence is being used negatively (with the word nie (no/not)), the noun following it will be in dopełniacz/genitive case.

for example: Nie lubię Adama. (I do not like Adam.)

There are also several verbs after which the dopełniacz case is used. These verbs include *BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO*

szukać- to search/ look for 

chcieć- to want 

potrzebować- to need 

pragnąć- to desire 

uczyć się- to learn/ study

for example: Uczę się języka polskiego. (I study the Polish language.)

there are many, many more verbs that take on this case which for sake of time and space I will not include, but I chose these ones as examples because they highlight this case’s tendency to revolve around lack/ things that are not. stick with me… when you need something, you do not have it, when you learn something, its because you did not/ do not know it, if you are looking for something, you can not find it. Do you catch my drift? These verbs imply a lack, which is similar to a negation and makes it easier to remember they take on the dopełniacz form.

there are also many prepositions which use this case as well, including but not limited to:

bez- without 

zamiast- instead of 

u- at 

od- from 

do- to

obok- next to/ by

blisko- near/close to 

około- about/around

Celownik/ Dative Case– this case indicates who the receiver of an action is/ who the action affects. It marks the indirect object.

For example: Dałam pieniądze mojemu koledze. (I gave money to my friend.)

I gave the money (direct object) to my friend. (indirect object)

This case is used in conjunction with specific verbs including, but not limited to:

odpowiadać (answer)

pomagać (help)

wierzyć (believe)

pasować (fit/suit)

dziękować (thank)

gratulować (congratulate)

dawać/dać (give)

smakować (taste)

pożyczyć (lend)

This case is also used in conjunction with these prepositions:

dzięki (thanks to)

wbrew (contrary to)

naprzeciw (against)

przeciwko (towards)

This case is also used to describe temporary state of beings in which the condition is implied to be inflicted onto the subject.

For example: Jest mi zimno. (It is cold to me.) “it is cold to me” is the direct translation but it just means “I am cold” the reason why it is worded this way is because it is implying a temporary state of being cold, and it is being inflicted onto me (I am the receiver of the cold)

another example would be “Daj mi!” (Give me!) Because I will be the receiver of what I am demanding you to give me, the first person pronoun (me) will take on the celownik/ dative case.

Biernik/ Accusative Case– This case is used to identify direct objects in a sentence. What is someone giving? What are you seeing? She gave him what?

Daj psu miskę (Give the dog a/the bowl) *make note that Polish, like most Slavic languages, does not use articles like a/an & the*

The word “bowl” in this sentence takes on the biernik/accusative case because it is the direct object that is being transferred to the dog, the indirect object. But be careful, this is the case only when the sentence is positive. If the sentence were negative (Do not give the dog a/the bowl), the dopełniacz/genitive would be used.

The biernik/accusative case is used mostly in collaboration with transitive verbs

commonly used transitive verbs which will indicate the need to use the biernik/accusative include but are not limited to:

robić (to do/make)

jeść (eat)

kochać (love)

lubić (like)

mieć (have)

brać (take)

czytać (read)

pisać (write)

zamykać (to close)

kupić (buy)

Biernik/Accusative is also used with the prepositions

przez (through)

po (pick up)

na (in/on- only used with motion, otherwise na will indicate celownik/dative)

In some cases, biernik/accusative will also be used in relation to timing like in phrases such as “all day” or “all night”

Lastly, the biernik/accusative case is used to describe physical or mental conditions like pain

for example: Boli mnie głowa. (My head hurts.)

Narzędnik/Instrumental– This case is used to express the tool or means by which an action is done for example:

Grają na gitarze. (They are playing the guitar.)

Jadę samochodem. (I am riding by car.)

This includes describing motions of the body- the body part acts as the tool and takes on the narzędnik/instrumental case, for example:

Maciek pokręcił głową, że nie (Maciek shook his head no.)

This case is also used after any use of any conjugated form of the verb “być” (to be) as long as it is not following the word “to” (this), for example:

To jest kobieta. (This is a woman.) Kobieta is in the mianownik/nominative form, not the narzędnik/instrumental form because “jest” (the present tense 3rd person singular conjugation of the verb “być”) is attached to the word “to”

Monika jest kobietą. (Monika is a woman.) Kobieta is in the narzędnik/instrumental form because it is followed by “jest” but the jest is not following “to”

This usage of this case is especially useful when talking about profession.

Byłem nauczycielem. (I was a teacher.)

Jestem nauczycielem. (I am a teacher.)

Będę nauczycielem. (I will be a teacher.)

The narzędnik/instrumental case also is used to indicate some essence of time like “in summer,” “in the evening,” “in the morning” etc.

Latem chodzę na plażę. (In the summer I go to the beach.)

Zimą noszę duży płaszcz. (In the winter I wear a big coat.)

This case is used in conjunction with the verbs:

interesować się (to be interested in)

kierować (to direct)

Ona interesuje się wspinaczką skałkową. (She is interested in rock climbing.)

Dyrygent kieruje orkiestrą. (The conductor directs the orchestra.)

As well as the prepositions:

z *kimś/czymś* (with *someone/something*)

przed (in front of)

za (behind)

nad (above)

pod (under)

między (between)

Miejscownik/Locative– this case is not used quite as much as the other cases but nevertheless very important, its function is to mark… you guessed it! location.

This case is used with the prepositions:

o *kimś/czymś* (about *someone/something*)

Mówimy o ogórkach. (We are talking about cucumbers.)

po (after)

Po kawie się obudzę. (I’ll wake up after coffee.)

przy (during/at/next to)

Spotkajmy się przy fontannie. (Let’s meet at the fountain.)

na (on/at)

Jest na oknie. (It is on the window.)

w(e) (in/at)

Jesteśmy w Tatrach. (We are in the Tatra mountains.)

Wołacz/Vocative– according to some, the vocative case in colloquial speech is slowly dying out but I encourage all Polish language learners to use it. It has limited usage, its sole purpose is to address people or things directly.

For example:

Kocham Cię, Mamo. (I love you, Mama.)

Odejdź, Kasiu. (Go away, Kasia.)

Panie profesorze, zapomniałam pracy domowej. (Mr. Professor, I forgot my homework.)

This is the end of przypadki part one, there will be more to come as there is much more to explain so stay tuned and I hope this post gave you some clarity on the puzzle that is Polish grammar. 🙂 Pa! Powodzenia!