Aspect - Imperfective and Perfective verbs in the Polish Language

Category: Grammar Rules

What is Aspect in the Polish language?

In English we have several ways of using verbs. For example "I read a book" (i finished reading a book), "i was reading a book" (it was in progress) etc.

In Polish you distinguish between these slight differences in meanings by using the correct aspect.

Most verbs (probably 95% or greater) have two versions - the Imperfective and Perfective versions. They will both translate to just one word in English. For example pomogać (imp.) and pomoć (perf.) are both the verbs for to help.

On a very simplified level (see below for much more detail), basically one group (imperfective) can be thought of as 'incomplete' or 'currently doing it'. (e.g. I am reading the book = still in progress, not complete).

The perfective version can be thought of as meaning 'complete' or 'finished'. (e.g. I read the book = I finished reading the book)

It is a confusing concept. But hopefully some of the rules on this page will help you out!

How to tell if a verb is Imperfective or Perfective

You just have to learn it!

But a rough rule is that the perfective version will often have a prefix such as po-, na-, do-, za-, etc. See the table at the bottom of the page. There are quite a few verbs where the perfective and imperfective are not very similar too (see the exceptions table at the bottom).

When do you use Imperfective verbs?

  • habitual action - something that keeps happening again and again (or part of a routine).
  • When an action is incomplete

BTW imperfective verbs have all 3 tenses.

When to use Perfective verbs in the Polish Language?

  • Actions that are finished, that are done

BTW perfective verbs have only 2 tenses - past and future. It can't exist in the present tense, as you can't 'finish' an action if it is happening right now (if that makes sense!)

How to conjugate verbs (ja, ty, on, etc)

Imperfective verbs

Past tense

Past tense is the same for perfective and imperfective. It is easy to learn!

For example, mowić (imp.) = to speak.

Masc Fem Neut English
ja mówiłem ja mówiłam I spoke
ty mówiłeś ty mówiłaś You spoke
on mówił on mówiła on mówiło He/she/it spoke
my mówiliśmy my mówiłyśmy We spoke
wy mówiliście wy mówiłyście You (plural) spoke
oni mówili one mówiły one mówiły They spoke

Notice the slight differences between masc/fem (and neutur).

Present tense

Follow the usual rules for present tense verbs. E.g. for mowić (imp.) (=to speak):

  • ja mówię = i speak
  • ty mówisz = you speak
  • on/ona/ono mówi = he/she/it speaks
  • my mówimy = we speak
  • wy mówicie = you (plural) speak
  • oni/one mówią = they speak

Some verbs have slightly different endings, but the rules are easy to learn.

Future tense

Future tense of imperfective verbs is quite easy to do!

pomogać (imperfective) means to help.

To use this in future tense, you have two options:

Option 1 - with infinitive
  • (Ja) bedę pomogać = i will help
  • (ty) będziesz pomogać = you will help
  • (on/ona/ono) będzie pomogać = he / she / it will help
  • (my) będziemy pomogać = we will help
  • (wy) będziecie pomogać = you (plural) will help
  • (oni) będą pomogać = they will help

You also have a slightly different option:

Option 2 - with past tense, to make future tense...

You can also use the past tense (of the on/ono/ona form), after bedę (etc). See below:

  • (Ja) bedę pomagał = i will help
  • (ty) będziesz pomagał = you will help
  • (on/ona/ono) będzie pomagał = he / she / it will help
  • (my) będziemy pomagali = we will help
  • (wy) będziecie pomagali = you (plural) will help
  • (oni) będą pomagali = they will help

(shown above for male speakers. For female speakers use pomagała instead of pomagał, and pomagały instead of pomagali

Perfective verbs

Past tense

Same as Imperfective past tense (see above).

Present tense

Present tense of perfective verbs don't exist!

Future tense

Future tense of perfective is like present tense endings.

For example, pomóc (=to help) is perfective. Future tense of this verb:

ja pomogę I Help
ty pomożesz You Help
on/ona/ono pomoże he/she/it Help
my pomożemy We Help
wy pomożecie You (plural) Help
oni/one pomogą They Help

Notice how it looks like imperfective present tense? This is one of many reasons why Polish is confusing!

Some key points to know / exceptions

List of verbs in Polish with their Imperfective and Perfective version

Imp. Perf. English translation
rozmawiać porozmawiać to talk
jeść zjeść to eat
myć umyć to wash
pisać napisać to write
pić wypić to drink
uczyć się nauczyć się to learn

Some key exceptions/irregular ones:

Imp. Perf. English translation
iść pojść go (by foot)
kupować kupić to buy
pomogać pomoć to help
oglądać obejrzeć to watch
widzieć zobaczyć to see
spotykać spotkać to meet
ubierać ubrać to get dressed
mowić powiedzieć to say
zaczynać zaczać to begin

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