Contrary to received wisdom, there is a surprising harmony and rhythm to the conjugation patterns of Polish verbs.
Many learners of Polish seem daunted by the prospect of learning, what appears to be, a chaotic, impenetrable and overwhelming number of endings to Polish verbs and nouns. And yet you may be surprised to know that, far from being chaotic, there is a predictability and harmony in how Polish verbs are organised.
In one of the previous posts I used the quote by Confucius to illustrate the principle called the Present Tense Rule – a mechanism of predicting ending of verbs in the Present Tense where all verbs in the first person singular end either in –m or in –ę.
Time to take it to another level. This is what Confucius said:
„Słyszę i zapominam.
Widzę i pamiętam.
Robię i rozumiem.”
If you look at the penultimate letter in zapominam, pamiętam and rozumiem you can see that the endings can be either –am or –em.
zapominam and pamiętam vs. rozumiem
In essence, these two types of endings represent conjugations 1 and 2.
So, what other verbs follow the same pattern? Let’s start with conjugation 2 – the –em group. It’s easier to learn because it contains a small number of verbs:
rozumiem (infinitive rozumieć to understand)
umiem (infinitive umieć to be able to do something)
wiem (infinitivie wiedzieć to know)
jem (infinitivie jeść to eat)
Conjugation 1 contains a larger number of verbs, but you can organise them into smaller and logical groups.
The most common verb in this group is mam I have (infinitive – mieć). Other verbs in this group include czekam (czekać to wait) and czytam (czytać to read).
One of the very useful techniques to learn vocabulary is to visualize the verbs. Imagine yourself waiting for a bus at the stop – you are waiting and reading a newspaper – czekam na autobus i czytam gazetę. You are joined by a fellow passenger to whom you are complaining (narzekam) about the bus being late, but later you are apologising (przepraszam) for moaning. The other passenger tries to change the subject of the conversation and points to the case you are carrying. You explain it’s a violin – you play (gram) violin and piano; you love (kocham) music. You tell (opowiadam) a story of how you’ve become an accomplished musician. You remember (pamiętam) hours spent on practicing. Just as well you live (mieszkam) in a large detached house and you don’t disturb (przeszkadzam) anyone, especially that you also sing (śpiewam) and listen to (słucham) opera. In fact, you know (znam) many arias by heart. When the bus arrives, you say farewell (żegnam) to the other passenger and get on the bus.
I hope you get the gist.
We will continue to explore the other side of the quote by Confucius to illustrate conjugation 3 and 4 in future posts.
Polish Tutor tips:
Try to build your own story using the following verbs:
korzystam (korzystać) to use
odwiedzam (odwiedzać) to visit
oglądam (oglądać) to watch
szukam (szukać) to look for
witam (witać) to welcome
pozdrawiam (pozdrawiać) to greet
rozmawiam (rozmawiać) to have a conversation
Study how words are related to each other, for example:
rozum (mind) – rozumiem (I understand) – umiem (I am able to / I can)