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!