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!