Today I will discuss Polish nouns and their grammatical gender. Do not be scared, I will try to present this topic as easy as possible 🙂 In true, it is not so difficult and if you follow four easy rules, you should make almost no mistakes.
A noun is a ‘naming’ word for a living being, object or idea, for example: John, desk, love. In Polish, all nouns have got grammatical genders. We can divide these genders into following groups:
- masculine (rodzaj męski)
- feminine (rodzaj żeński)
- neuter (rodzaj nijaki)
This phenomenon is not present in English but occurs in many other European languages, like French, German and Italian. In French, noun comes with an article telling us about its gender (un and le for masculine, une and la for feminine). In Polish language to determine the grammatical gender of a noun you need to  know the meaning of the noun and also  look at its ending (last one or two letters). A good dictionary provides this information but it also makes sense to know the basic rules so you can use the correct language when do not have access to dictionary, in fast speech, and so on.
I think it is important to learn Polish nouns together with their gender from day one but I would not overemphasise it. First of all, even if you mix the nouns’ genders you will still be understood 🙂 Also, as you will be becoming more familiar with the language, the knowledge about these grammatical genders will come naturally. No Polish native speakers put any conscious efforts in order to remember grammatical genders. There is no need. They simply acquire this knowledge by listening to Polish and using the language.
But, of course, you are not native speakers and I will give you here some basic rules to follow. They will speed up the learning process and help you to avoid mistakes.
#1: Check the meaning of the word
Although grammatical gender is something different from gender, all the nouns referring to men and male animals will be masculine. And likewise, all the nouns referring to women and females animals will be feminine.
These might be:
- names: Adam, Paweł, Wojtek (masculine), Ewa, Agnieszka, Monika (feminine)
- words like: mężczyzna, chłopiec, tata, syn, pan (man, boy, dad, son, Mr, all masculine), kobieta, dziewczynka, ciocia, babcia, pani (woman, girl, auntie, grandma, Miss or Mrs, all feminine)
- professions: sprzedawca, krawiec, nauczyciel, lekarz, sędzia (shop assistant, tailor, teacher, doctor, judge, all masculine), sprzedawczyni, krawcowa, nauczycielka, lekarka (female shop assistant, tailor, teacher, female doctor, all feminine)
- names of animals: koń, kot, byk (horse, cat, bull, all masculine), klacz, kotka, krowa (mare, female cat, cow, all feminine).
#2: Nouns ending with letter -a are (usually) feminine
Vast majority of nouns ending with letter -a have feminine gender: książka, łyżka, komórka, biblioteka, torba, szklanka, kartka, poduszka, szkoła, gwiazda, osoba (book, spoon, mobile phone, library, bag, glass, sheet of paper, cushion, school, star, person).
However, there are a few exceptions. Remember of rule 1, if a noun refers to a male, even if it ends with a it is still masculine! These although end with -a are all masculine: mężczyzna, Kuba, sędzia, finansista, sprzedawca, poeta, partiota, sługa, twórca, artysta (man, Jack, judge, financier, seller, poet, patriot, servant, creator, artist).
There are also a few exceptions, feminine nouns that do not end with -a 🙁 Some of them are: gałąź (branch), jesień (autumn), łódź (boat), myśl (thought), noc (night), podróż (journey), pomoc (help), postać (figure), północ (north and midnight), rzecz (thing), sól (salt), twarz (face) i wieś (village).
#3: Nouns ending with -o, -e, -ę, -um are (usually) neuter
There might be some exceptions but we can say that the majority of words ending with would have neuter grammatical gender in Polish. Here are a few examples:
- ending with -o: dziecko (child), miasto (town, city), krzesło (chair), oko (eye), kino (cinema), drzewo (tree)
- ending with -e: jedzenie (food), wyjście (exit), pole (field), marzenie (daydream), morze (sea)
- ending with -ę: zwierzę (animal), imię (name)
- ending with -um: muzeum (museum), centrum (center), akwarium (fish tank), liceum (college)
# 4: All the others nouns are (probably) masculine 🙂
If we exclude words with endings from rules 2 and 3, we should end up with masculine nouns. Many of these words, that’s another tip that will help us to recognise them, end with consonants. Here are a few examples:
stół (table), głośnik (speaker), telewizor (television set), sok (juice), widelec (fork), pies (dog), obraz (picture), telefon (phone), ołówek (pencil), nóż (knife).
That is all really. If you follow these four easy rules, you will make almost no mistakes.
This is for more advanced Polish learners, some native speakers use it as well. Basically, the English demonstrative adjective ‘this’ has got in Polish language three variations. These are ten, ta and we use them depending on grammatical gender of the nouns that the adjective describes:
- ‘ten’ points to masculine nouns, for instance: ten namiot (this tent), ten ojciec (this father), ten autobus (this bus), ten samochód (this car)
- ‘ta’ points to feminine nouns: ta dziewczyna (this girl), ta woda (this water), ta książka (this book)
- ‘to’ points to neuter nouns: to dziecko (this child), to miasto (this city), to morze (this sea)
It is slightly difficult to explain, but once you have got certain grasp of Polish, you could say when this connection is correct and when it is not.
Let’s say, you would say aloud: ten piekarz (this baker), you would feel that it is quite natural, correct way of saying (in fact it is correct, baker is grammatically masculine and word ‘ten’ fits here perfectly).
However, if you say ‘ten szkoła’ (this school) you would immediately notice that something is wrong here. ‘ten’ does not fit well to ‘szkoła’ because you use ‘masculine this’ with ‘feminine school’. Only if you changed it to ‘ta szkoła’ you would feel that everything is right again.
As I mentioned, certain knowledge of the language is required here and to start with it is not very intuitive but in time you will notice that this language hack works
Why nouns’ grammatical genders in Polish are important?
Perhaps you might wonder why on earth you need to learn all this, why are these grammatical genders in Polish important? Well, if you want to speak correct Polish you need to know them. Basically, in Polish, and other languages, nouns are often accompanied by adjectives describing them (big city, fantastic result, appalling performance and so on). In Polish the adjectives have got different forms and must agree with the nouns.
For instance, English adjective ‘good’ in Polish language has got following forms: dobry (when agrees with grammatically masculine noun), dobra (when agrees with grammatically feminine nouns), dobre (when agrees with grammatically neuter nouns). So you would say:
- dobry chłopiec (good boy)
- dobra dziewczynka (good girl)
- dobre dziecko (good child)
If you do not know the gender of the nouns, you can only guess which form of the adjective to use and may make a mistake, like to say dobry dziecko 😮 (masculine adjective with neuter noun). It is not the end of the world but it sounds just incorrect.
That is the reason you need try to remember the grammatical gender of the words. I learn French at the moment it is pretty much the same. The only difference is that when learning French articles tell us which grammatical gender of the noun we have, in Polish language you need to know the meaning of the word and look at its last letter.
I hope you had found it useful, feel free to ask me some questions in the comments below. Later this week I will try to create a Youtube video explaining Polish nouns and their grammatical genders, so hopefully this will be the next resource that will help you to help you.