Essential Polish Grammar – Affirmative and Interrogative Forms

Polish is a highly inflected language, which means some parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives take different forms depending on case, tense, or number. Inflection helps speakers to identify the subject of a sentence and its properties (whether it’s singular or plural, masculine or feminine).

Consequently, word order plays a less important role in Polish than it does in English because all the spelling changes and endings convey meanings explicitly. How does it apply to questions? In English, interrogatives are typically formed by means of auxiliary verbs (e.g. do, does, did) or inversion —  the change in word order (e.g. She is a teacher. Is she a teacher?).

In Polish, on the other hand, the majority of questions have the same or almost the same structure as affirmatives and their main distinguishing feature is generally intonation, Czy (a grammatical particle), or a question word like KtoGdzieKiedy, etc. Also, the declension of some interrogative pronouns is rather complex and frequent reference to relevant grammar charts may be required, at least at a beginner’s level.

In other words, the key to questions in Polish lies in the correct usage of inflection, especially with verbs and pronouns.

Affirmative or Interrogative?

Polish affirmatives and interrogatives often look exactly the same. In writing, they are differentiated by means of proper punctuation (a full stop and a question mark respectively). In speaking, the change of intonation is required.

For further reference please check out the intonation section below:

Affirmatives Questions
Marek mówi po angielsku.
Mark speaks English.
Marek mówi po angielsku?
Does Mark speak English?
Możesz iść na imprezę.
You can go to the party.
Możesz iść na imprezę?
Can you go to the party?
Mieszkają w Anglii.
They live in England.
Mieszkają w Anglii?
Do they live in England?
Pracujemy do późna.
We’re working late tonight.
Pracujemy do późna?
Are we working late tonight?

Yes-No Questions

Yes-no questions sometimes begin with Czy. This particle indicates that a sentence has an interrogative function. Whether Czy should be used or omitted depends on context, intentions of a speaker, and accent. Questions without Czy often sound more natural.

Affirmatives Questions
Darek ją kocha.
Darek loves her.
Darek ją kocha? or Czy Darek ją kocha?
Does Darek love her?
Lubisz zimę.
You like winter.
Lubisz zimę? or Czy lubisz zimę?
Do you like winter?
Oni piją kawę.
They drink coffee.
Oni piją kawę? or Czy oni piją kawę?
Do they drink coffee?
Jedziemy do domu.
We’re going home.
Jedziemy do domu? or Czy jedziemy do domu?
Are we going home?

Questions Beginning with an Interrogative Pronoun

Some questions require interrogative pronouns such as who, when, why, etc. (Please check out the list of Polish equivalents below.) Since word order in Polish is not strictly determined, a speaker is practically free to choose how to ask a question depending on his/her attitude and the information (s)he is most interested in. Beginner learners of Polish will probably want to start with some basic sentence structures as it can be quite difficult to grasp all the nuances at once.

The examples below illustrate the following sequence: question word + verb (in a correct form) + object.

Co robisz dzisiaj wieczorem? What are you doing tonight?

Gdzie mogę kupić koronkowe obrusy? Where can I buy lace tablecloths?

Kiedy znalazłeś nową pracę? When did you find a new job?

Jaki jest jej ulubiony kolor? What is her favorite color?

Question Words

In Polish, some interrogative pronouns have only one form. Others must agree on gender, number, or case with the words they are linked to.

Invariable question words

Gdzie  — Where Kiedy  — When Dlaczego  —  Why Jak  —  How
Gdzie jedziemy w tym roku na wakacje?
Where are we going on vacation this year?
Kiedy ona wyszła?
When did she leave?
Dlaczego płaczesz?
Why are you crying?
Jak to zrobiłeś?
How did you do that?
Gdzie oni mieszkają?
Where do they live?
Kiedy możesz mi pomóc?
When can you help me?
Dlaczego ona to zrobiła?
Why did she do that?
Jak się masz?
How are you?
Gdzie położyłaś mój słownik?
Where did you put my dictionary?
Kiedy on wróci?
When will he be back?
Dlaczego wracamy?
Why are we coming back?
Jak się wymawia to słowo?
How does one pronounce this word?

Inflected question words

Case Kto  —  Who Co  —  What
Nominative kto co
Genitive kogo czego
Dative komu czemu
Accusative kogo co
Instrumental kim czym
Locative o kim o czym

Examples:

Kto ich zna? Who knows them?

O czym rozmawialiście? What did you talk about?

Z kim rozmawiałeś? Who did you talk to?

Co zrobisz? What will you do?

Który  —  Which

Case Masculine
Singular
Neuter Feminine
Singular
Masculine Personal
Plural
Others
Plural
Nominative który które która którzy które
Genitive którego którego której których których
Dative któremu któremu której którym którym
Accusative który/którego które którą których które
Instrumental którym którym którą którymi którymi
Locative o którym o którym o której o których o których

Examples:

Która z tych sukienek jest jej? Which of these dresses is hers?

Którą wolisz? Which one do you prefer?

Który samochód wybrali? Which car did they choose?

Które pytania były trudne? Which of the questions were difficult?

Jaki —  What

Case Masculine
Singular
Neuter
Singular
Feminine
Singular
Masculine Personal
Plural
Others
Plural
Nominative jaki jakie jaka jacy jakie
Genitive jakiego jakiego jakiej jakich jakich
Dative jakiemu jakiemu jakiej jakim jakim
Accusative jaki/jakiego jakie jaką jakich jakie
Instrumental jakim jakim jaką jakimi jakimi
Locative jakim jakim jakiej jakich jakich

Examples:

Jaki jest Twój adres? What’s your address?

Z jakimi ludźmi chciałbyś pracować? What kind of people would you like to work with?

Jacy oni są? What are they like?

Jakiego typu książek szukasz? What kind of books are you looking for?

Czyj —  Whose

Case Masculine
Singular
Neuter
Singular
Feminine
Singular
Masculine Personal
Plural
Others
Plural
Nominative czyj czyje czyja czyi czyje
Genitive czyjego czyjego czyjej czyich czyich
Dative czyjemu czyjemu czyjej czyim czyim
Accusative czyj/czyjego czyje czyje czyją czyje
Instrumental czyim czyim czyją czyimi czyimi
Locative czyim czyim czyjej czyich czyich

Examples:

Czyja jest ta kurtka? Whose is this jacket?

Czyje są te buty? Whose shoes are these?

Czyje pieniądze ukradł? Whose money did he steal?

Czyjego chłopaka spotkałaś? Whose boyfriend did you meet?

Intonation

Polish is considered to be far less melodious than English. In fact, people from English-speaking countries may find the Polish way of speaking monotonous. This is because of different pitch and pronunciation patterns.

Nevertheless, intonation is important in Polish; since the word order in affirmatives and interrogatives is often exactly the same, the tone of voice and accent help speakers to differentiate between them.

Affirmative sentences Questions
Idziemy do domu.↘
We’re going home.
Idziemy do domu?↗
Are we going home?
Pada śnieg. ↘
It’s snowing.
Pada śnieg?↗
Is it snowing?
Kasia była już w Grecji.↘
Kate has already been to Greece.
Kasia była już w Grecji?↗
Has Kate been to Greece yet?
Oni byli wczoraj w domu. ↘
They were at home yesterday.
Oni byli wczoraj w domu?↗
Were they at home yesterday?

As illustrated above, Polish yes-no questions usually have rising intonation:

Lubisz Kasię?↗
Do you like Kate?

Idziemy do kina?↗

Are we going to the cinema?

Czy my się znamy?↗

Do you know each other?

 

By contrast, questions beginning with an interrogative pronoun typically have falling intonation:

Gdzie byłeś wczoraj?↘
Where were you yesterday?

Jak możemy się tam dostać?↘
How can we get there?

Co powinnam zrobić?↘
What should I do?

Of course, this is only a general rule. Polish intonation depends heavily on the intentions of a speaker. The best way to learn it is to listen to native speakers and try to notice how they change it to suit different question types and moods.