Forgetting Things in Polish: How to Use the Verb Zapomnieć


The funny thing about being a native speaker is that you don’t realise certain things can cause difficulties, until you hear foreigners struggling with them. I experiencex such an epiphany when I heard some of my students repetitively misusing the word “to forget” zapomnieć. This probably has to do with the fact that you can do different things with this verb in different languages (for instance, “forgetting your phone at home” is acceptable in some but not others). Anyway… here’s what I have to say about it.

Zapominać czy zapomnieć?

First of all, we have two verbs in Polish to express the idea of forgetting: zapominać and zapomnieć. They differ in aspect, which is one of the things to watch out for when learning Polish. Brief, zapominać is used for repetitive or unfinished actions. It can be used in all tenses. Zapomnieć, on the other hand, is used to speak about the completion of actions. It doesn’t have a form in the present tense. Here are some examples for zapominać:

Ciągle zapominam telefonu! – “I always forget my phone.”

On zawsze zapomina o moich urodzinach. – He’s always forgetting about my bday.”

Kiedyś niczego nie zapominałam, ale teraz mam słabszą pamięć. – “Back in the days I didn’t forget anything but now I have a weaker memory.”

And for zapomnieć:

Cholera! Zapomniałam portfela! – “Shit! I’ve forgotten my wallet.”

Helena nie może o nim zapomnieć. – “Helena can’t forget him.”

Zapomnij o tym! – “Forget about it.”

Allowed Structures for Zapomnieć


There’s a number of structures allowed for the verb zapomnieć:

  • zapomnieć, że – “to forget that”

    Zapomniałam, że dziś mam pilates – “I forgot that I had Pilates today.”

  • zapomnieć + gdzie, czy, jak itp. – “to forget where, whether, how etc”

    Zapomniałam, czy dziś mam pilates. – “I forgot whether I had Pilates today.”

  • zapomnieć o – “to forget about”

    Zapomniałam o pilatesie. – “I forgot about my Pilates.”

  • zapomnieć + czasownik w bezokoliczniku – “to forget + infinitive”

    Zapomniałam pójść na pilates. – “I forgot to go to Pilates.”

Useful Phrases with Zapomnieć

There’s also a bunch of useful phrases and idiomatic expressions with zapomnieć:

  • zapomnieć na śmierć – to forget “for death”, meaning entirely (Polish people aren’t usually dramatic but here you go)

    Na śmierć o tym zapomniałam! – “I’ve completely forgotten about it.”
  • kompletnie zapomnieć – to forget entirely

    Kompletnie o tym zapomniałam! – “I’ve completely forgotten about it.” (I know. Two ways of saying something are better than one)
  • zapomnieć języka w gębie – to lose one’s tongue

    No co? Zapomniałeś języka w gębie? – “What’s wrong? Have you lost your tongue?”
  • zapomnieć o całym świecie – to forget about the whole world

    Przy nim zapominam o całym świecie! – “Around him I forget about the whole world.”

Hope this has been somewhat helpful. Any suggestions? Doubts? The comments’ section is waiting for you!
Btw the Polyglot Gathering is happening online this year so I can attend it after all (yay!). You can still get your tickets, if you’re keen. Hurry up, though it starts this Friday! There’ll be speeches by polyglots, crash courses and language tandems. I’m excited and I hope to see you there!

Preparing Meals in Polish: Robić and Gotować

In my last post I’ve discussed the family tree of the verb robić. You can check it out to learn words from this verb’s family. Today, I’ll discuss the use of this verb for food preparation. What’s the difference between robić (“to do/to make”) and gotować (“to cook”)? You’ll find out today! (And I’m sure you’re as excited as when you’re about to find out who the wrongdoer in Scooby-Doo is).

Cultural Note

A lot of people will tell you that robić is used for not hot/uncooked meals and gotować for the ones that require warming up. This is true to vast but it won’t make much sense for a person who comes from a different culture.
Of course, the way Polish people eat has been changing to accommodate the modern workplace. Lots of Poles have breakfast, lunch and dinner like other Westerners. However, the language has been around for a while and when certain expressions were created they reflected reality.
Polish people less recently used to eat an uncooked breakfast śniadanie (often sandwiches), second breakfast drugie śniadanie (yet again, sandwiches, this time packed), obiad (a cooked meal around 4 o’clock), podwieczorek (an afternoon snack) and dinner kolacja (and yes, yet again, often sandwiches).
Obiad is very often translated to English as “lunch” but as you can see from the description above it doesn’t really carry the same idea.

Robić or gotować?

The main question is whether we “cook” (gotować) or “make/do” (robić) something. Robić can be used even if something is cooked but it doesn’t work the other way round. That’s why we would say:

  • robić śniadanie – “to make breakfast”

    Tata robi śniadanie dla dzieci. – “Dad is making breakfast for children.”
  • robić/gotować obiad – “to make/cook lunch (for lack of a better word)”

    Robię/Gotuję obiad, oddzwonię później. – “I’m making lunch, I’ll call you back later.”
  • robić kolację – “to make dinner”

    Co robisz na kolację? – “What are you making for dinner?”

Robić AND gotować

Just like in the example with obiad we can use both gotować and robić for some things. There will be a difference in meaning, though so choose wisely.

Robić pierogi means to form them out of pastry. You can also use the verb lepić (literally: “to glue”) here. The verb gotować should be used for pierogi, when you’re making them ready to eat by boiling them in hot water.

By the same token, we say robić makaron when describing the activity of cutting and shaping pasta and gotować makaron for cooking it.

Check Your Understanding

I hope that the difference between these two verbs is clear to you now. Just to make sure, do the test below. Remember to comment with your answers below so that I can tell you, whether you were right or not:

  1. Mama _____________ pizzę. (Mom is making pizza. Hint: forming the dough not baking it)
  2. Karol ____________ śniadania, a ja ___________ obiady. (Karol makes breakfasts and I make lunches.)
  3. ___________ pierogi już od godziny. (I’ve been making pierogi for an hour.)
  4. Zaczęłam ___________ pierogi, będa gotowe za 10 minut. (I’ve started to boil pierogi, they’ll be ready in 10 minutes.)
  5. Po polsku nie mówi się _________ kolację tylko ___________ kolację. (We don’t say cook dinner in Polish but make dinner).

A Family Tree: Verb Robić

I consider “family trees” a very effective method of learning vocabulary. A “family tree” are words related to one another. They look similar but are used in different ways. An example of a small family tree (should I say a shrub?) in English is: comfort (noun), discomfort (noun), to comfort (verb), comfortable (adjective) and uncomfortable (adjective).

Robić is a super important verb in Polish. This is why today, we’ll discuss the robić family tree.

Robić – Verb

Robić means “to do/to make” and is the most commonly used word in Polish to express this idea. It’s an imperfective verb, which means its focus is on the action and not on the completion of a given activity. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Robię zupę na kolację. – “I’m making a soup for dinner.”

Robisz swoją pracę domową? – “Are you doing your homework?”

Paweł nic nie robi całe dnie. – “Paweł does nothing all days.”

Zrobić – Verb

Zrobić also means “to do/to make” but it’s a perfective verb and its focus is on the completion of an action. We can’t use this verb in the present tense as it can merely refer to something we will complete or we’ve already completed. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Zrobię zupę na kolację. – “I’ll make a soup for dinner.”

Zrobisz swoją pracę domową? – “Will you do your homework?”

Paweł nic nie zrobi cały dzień. – “Paweł will do nothing all day.”

Wrobić – Verb

Wrobić kogoś means “to frame someone” or “put someone in a situation when they have to do something they don’t want to do” in Polish slang. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Jestem niewinny! Wrobili mnie! – “I’m innocent! They’ve framed me!”

Nie wrobisz mnie w to! – “You won’t put me in a situation when I’ll have to do it.”

Wrobiła mnie w organizację spotkania. – “She’s put me in a situation when I have to organize the meeting.”

Przerobić – Verb

Przerobić means “to turn something into something else”. It’s often used to speak about clothes. It’s used with the accusative case, biernik.

Przerobiłam moje zasłony na sukienkę. – “I’ve turned my curtains into a dress.”

Przerobić can also refer to material studied at school or at university. In that case it translates as “to cover”.

Nie przerobiliśmy jeszcze tego zagadnienia. – “We haven’t covered this topic yet.”

Przerobić is a perfective verb. An imperfective form is przerabiać. Compare:

Przerabiamy salon na jadalnię. – “We’re turning the living room into a dining room.”

Przerobimy salon na jadalnię w przyszłym roku. – “We’ll turn the living room into a dining room.”

Zarabiać – Verb

Zarabiać means “to earn”:

Wiesz, ile on zarabia? – “Do you know how much he earns?”

Pracuje i pracuje, a zarabiam grosze! – “I work a lot but I still earn peanuts!”

Nie zarabiasz tyle, ile powinieneś. – “You don’t earn as much as you should.”

Zarobić is a perfective counterpart of zarabiać.

Kupię samochód jak na niego zarobię. – I’ll buy a car when I earn enough money.

W przyszłym miesiącu powinienem zarobić więcej. – I should earn more next month.

Zarobiłem na wszystko co mam. – I’ve earned everything I have.

Robota – Noun

Robota is a slang word for work or job. It’s used in many handy expressions such as:

Dobra robota! – “Good job!”

Robota nie zając, nie ucieknie. – A loose translation: “Work can wait.” Literally: “Work isn’t a hare, it won’t run away.”

Mam dużo roboty. – “I have a lot of work.”

Robot: Noun

Do you know what a false friend is? It’s when a word that looks the same or similar in two languages but differs in meaning. Fortunately, robot in Polish is your real friend (or a so-called cognate).

Rumba to robot sprzątający. – “Rumba is a cleaning robot.”

Myślisz, że roboty przejmą panowanie nad światem? – “Do you think that robots will take over the world?”

Robotnik: Noun

Robotnik is a word used for a physical worker. The female version of this word is robotnica and it can also refers to bee workers. There’s also a vulgar slang expression for a physical worker robol.

On jest świetnym robotnikiem! – “He’s a great (physical) worker!”

Robotnice pomagają królowej. – The female workers are helping the Queen.

Nie lubię słowa robol! – “I don’t like the word “robol”. “

Robienie: Noun

Robienie is a noun that translates to “doing” or “making”.

Robienie sobie żartów ze starszych ludzi, nie jest okej! – “Joking about the elderly isn’t okay.”

robić sobie żarty – “to joke”

Robienie własnego chleba nie jest łatwe. – “Making your own bread isn’t easy.”

Nic nie robienie jest super. – “Doing nothing is amazing!”

I hope this post has been useful. If you’re looking for a way to organize your vocabulary use AnkiApp or Quizlet (I have a BIG preference for the latter).

Check Your Understanding

Here’s a short test for you to check your understanding of the difference between these words:

1. Ten _____________ ciężko pracuje. (This worker works very hard.)

2. ____________ więcej niż na początku mojej kariery. (I earn more than in the beginning of my career.)

3. Zachowuje się jak ______________. (He’s behaving like a robot.)

4. Co ___________ ? (What are you doing?)

5. Co ____________ jeśli ona nie wróci? (What will you do, if she doesn’t come back?)

6. ___________ bigosu strasznie długo trwa. (Making bigos takes a very long time.)

7. Adam mówi, że go _____________ i ja mu wierzę. (Adam says he’s been framed and I believe him.

8. _______________ ten temat jutro. (We’ll cover this topic tomorrow.)

9. Ta _________ jest głupia, ale dobrze mi płacą. (This job is stupid but they pay me well.)

How did you do? Remember to comment to get your answers. Adieu!

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!