To Know in Polish: Wiedzieć, Znać and Umieć

One English verb “to know” has three equivalents in the Polish language: wiedzieć, znać and umieć. It’s not surprising that many Polish learners struggle to understand the difference between them. Today, I’ll explain to you how to know when to use them.

Znać

The verb znać is used for general knowledge and knowing people. It’s followed by nouns or modifiers with nouns (pronouns, adjectives etc). It’s NEVER used with a subordinate clause. Here are some examples:

Znam Piotra. – “I know Piotr.”

Znać + noun

Znam rosyjski alfabet. – “I know the Russian alphabet.”

Znać + adjective + noun

Znasz jakieś dobre restauracje w Sieradzu? – “Do you know any good restaurants in Sieradz?”

Znać + pronoun + adjective + noun

On zna trzy języki obce. – “He knows three foreign languages.”

Znać + numeral + noun

Wiedzieć

Wiedzieć is a verb used for knowledge about something specific. It often introduces a subordinate (dependent) clause with words such as że (“that”), czy (“if”), kto (“who”), co (“what”) and similar:

Wiem, że masz rację. – “I know that you’re right.”

Nie wiem, czy pójdę na tę imprezę. – “I don’t know if I go to this party.”

Nic o tym nie wiem. – “I know nothing about it.” (about this particular issue)

Wiemy, gdzie on jest. – “We know where he is.”

Wiem, co masz na myśli. – “I know what you mean.”

Umieć

Umieć means “to be able to do or make something“. This verb is also used in the context of tests and exams. This verb is most often followed by another verb in the infinitive (unconjugated) form:

Nie umiem pływać. – “I don’t know how to swim.”

On zupełnie nie umie śpiewać! – “He can’t sing at all!”

Umiecie robić pierogi? – “Do you know how to make pierogi?”

Umiesz mówić po włosku? – “Can you speak Italian?”

Nic nie umiem. – “I don’t know anything.” (something often said before exams)

More Examples

Let’s have a look at some more examples comparing these verbs so that you can understand the difference better:

Znam Annę. – “I know Anna.”

Wiem, kto to jest Piotr. – “I know who Piotr is.”

Umiem rozpoznać Piotra. – “I know how to/I’m able to recognize Peter.”

Can you see the difference in use?

Znam dobrą książkę kucharską. – “I know a good cookbook. “

Wiem, który przepis wybrać. – “I know which recipe to choose.”

Umiem ugotować tę zupę. – “I know how to/I’m able to make this soup.”

And now?

Nie znam prawdy. – “I don’t know the truth.”

Nie wiem, czy to prawda. – “I don’t know whether it’s true.”

Nie umiem powiedzieć, czy to prawda. – “I’m unable to say whether it’s true.”

It should definitely be clear by now!

Summary

Here’s a quick summary that you can also use to refresh your knowledge at a later stage:

You should use znać to talk about general knowledge and knowing people. It follows the structure:

ZNAĆ + noun

ZNAĆ + modifier(s) + nouns

You should use wiedzieć when referring to knowledge about something specific. The most common structure is:

WIEM + a word introducing a subordinate clause

You should use umieć when talking about your ability to do or make something as well as knowledge you may have (or not) for exams. The most common pattern is:

UMIEĆ + verb

I’ve really done my best but let me know in the comments’ section, if you still have some doubts.

Check Your Understanding

Use the exercise below to check your understanding. The correct answers can be obtained by writing your own answers as a comment 😉

1. Martyna _________________ polski i angielski. (Martyna knows Polish and English.)

2. Wojtek _______________ mówić po niemiecku, angielsku i polsku. (Wojtek knows German, English and Polish.)

3. Nie _______________ jak ludzie uczą się więcej niż jednego języka obcego. (I don’t know how people learn more than one foreign language.)

4. ____________ jej brata. (I know her brother.)

5. Nie __________ co ci powiedzieć. (I don’t know what to tell you.)

6. Nie __________ nic na ten egzamin! (I don’t know anything for the exam.)

7. ___________ takie przypadki. (We know (of) such cases.)

8. Ma dopiero 5 lat, ale już ______________ czytać. (He’s only 5 years old, but he can already read.

9. ___________, że to nie jest łatwy wybór. (We know it’s not an easy choice to make.)

10. __________ tę piosenkę. (I know this song.)

I hope you’ve taken your Polish to a new level with this lesson! Now it’s time to say goodbye for now, Mein Schatz. поговорим позже!

Best Resources to Help You Learn Polish in 2020

Learning any language isn’t easy and every language has specific concepts that are difficult for language learners.
Thanks to my experience with articles about learning Polish and teaching Polish I’ve discovered a number of really useful resources. Here goes.

Cooljugator

Polish verbs undergo conjugation. This means that a verb has different forms depending on a person and gender. Have a look at the sample sentences with the verb jeść (to eat):

Jem obiad o pierwszej. – I eat lunch at 1 o’clock.

Zosia je obiad o pierwszej. – Zofia eats lunch at 1 o’clock.

Jemy obiad o pierwszej. – We eat lunch at 1 o’clock.

In Polish I have to use three different forms of the verb, while in English all persons in both numbers would have the same form. The only exception is the third person singular which gets an additional “s” (eat -> eats).

Cooljugator shows you all verb forms for different tenses. Due to numerous rules governing Polish conjugation it’s a great tool to increase your familiarity with the forms as well as a verification tool whenever you’re in doubt how to conjugate a verb.

Online Polish Dictionary

Online Polish dictionary gives you many things.
First of all you get noun declensions. Polish has cases which means that the form of the noun will differ depending on the context. For instance we say:

Widzę drzewo. – This is a tree.

Nie widzę drzewa. – I don’t see a tree.

Marek schował się za drzewem. – Marek hid behind a tree.

Yet again, the same word in English has many forms in Polish. The dictionary will provide you with the standard form in the nominative mianownik, even if you insert a word in a different case. You’ll also be able to see all noun forms.
When it comes to verbs you can see forms of a verb in all tenses, similarly like with the cooljugator. You’ll also learn what case follows a given verb. Last but not least, you’ll find out what aspect does a verb carry.
Wait…what’s an aspect? Brief, it’s what tells us whether a verb is ongoing or completed. In English an aspect is expressed with a tense, while in Polish there are different verbs called imperfective (czasowniki niedokonane) and perfective verbs (czasowniki dokonane). Have a look at the following examples:

Marysia ogladała telewizję, gdy zadzwonił telefon. – Marysia was watching TV, when the phone rang.

The verb used in the sentence above is the imperfective oglądać.

Marysia obejrzała ciekawy program w telewizji. – Marysia watched an (episode of an) interesting TV show.

The verb used is in the sentence above is the perfective obejrzeć.

As you can see, this dictionary is more thorough than Cooljugator but I find it less user-friendly.

Quizlet and Anki App

Quizlet and Anki App are both great for learning vocabulary. Quizlet has a number of advantages over Anki: there’s an interactive learning mode and different ways of studying, you get access to many study materials created by other students and teachers and you can choose which set you want to practise with.
Anki, on the other hand, certainly wins in terms of simplicity. You create your own study sets and the app tracks your learning progress.
Check them both out and see which one works better for you. They’re both really cool for learning on-the-go and I’m a massive fan of NOT wasting time. I use these apps whenever I’m queuing. A big plus is that they don’t make any sounds so you don’t have to fear embarrassment.
Polish is particularly rich in verbs because of the perfective and imperfective aspects I’ve mentioned above. Make sure to pay special attention to learning them.

Duolingo

Duolingo is amazing for beginners. You won’t learn a lot of grammar or understand the rules governing the language but you’ll definitely get a lot of basic vocabulary and phrases that will allow you have simple conversations in Polish. It’s also a fun and interactive app so it keeps you motivated.
Duolingo shouldn’t be your only resource for learning. If you want to see any progress with the language, you should get a language tutor or a partner to practise your speaking skills with. You should also either read about grammar concepts and do exercises online or get some structure with a language learning book.

Clozemaster

Full disclosure: I have written an article for Clozemaster’s blog. It doesn’t change the fact that I love the oldschool look of the app and I use it extensively for my Russian. The Polish course isn’t aimed at beginners as it will mostly speak Polish at you. You can start with Duolingo or a different app and then practise with Clozemaster once you’re more or less intermediate.
The big advantages of Clozemaster is that it makes you fill in sentences in a given language, improving your contextual understanding. You basically learn phrases and the way people speak in Polish without even noticing. Super useful for a language that has a lot of variables that change the way you should make a word look like in a sentence or a phrase.

E-polish.eu

E-polish.eu is probably the most comprehensive Polish learning resource out there. They have uploaded content of two books to an interactive platform with loads of different exercises to help you work on your Polish skills.
There are MANY exercises testing the same thing but it’s a good thing. No one learns a form of a verb by forming it correctly once so a variety of exercises on the same topic will really help you grow your vocabulary.
Yet again, you’ll need someone to practise your speaking skills with. I know I’m repeating myself but the worse kind of a language student is someone who thinks they can just learn a language in a vacuum. You can’t and you won’t so please start practising with someone who’s friendly and willing to help you before you deal with actual native speakers on the Polish streets. And I’m really not saying anything about Polish people here. Really.

That’s all for today, my fellow language enthusiasts. If you’re trying to brush up on your Polish for a weekend trip in Cracov, my post “How to prepare a crash course for yourself” will be more relevant.