The Polish language is a West Slavic language, and thus descends from Proto-Slavic, and more distantly from Proto-Indo-European. More specifically, it is a member of the Lechitic branch of the West Slavic languages, along with other languages spoken in areas within or close to the area of modern Poland, including Kashubian, Silesian, and the extinct Slovincian and Polabian.
The history of the language can be divided into four periods of development: Old Polish, up to the start of the 16th century; Middle Polish, from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century; New Polish, up to 1930; and Modern Polish, since 1930.
This page lists the most important changes that have taken place in the history of the Polish language.
The declension of nouns has become simpler. Now it depends on the gender of a noun (smok, o smoku – foka, o foce) (a dragon, about a dragon - a seal, about a seal) and to some extent on the hardness of a noun's stem (liść, liście – list, listy) (leaf - leaves, letter - letters). Two categories have appeared in the masculine gender: the category of animacy and of personhood (but, widzę but, widzę buty – kot, widzę kota, widzę koty – pilot, widzę pilota, widzę pilotów) (a shoe, I see a shoe, I see shoes - a cat, I see a cat, I see cats - a pilot, I see a pilot, I see pilots).
Traces of consonant stems still remain but almost exclusively in neuter noun stems ending in -en, -ent- (cielę – cielęcia, imię – imienia) (a calf - of a calf, a name - of a name). For all other stems, the long or short form has become characteristic of all cases. In general, in the past endings characteristic of stems ending in -o-, -jo- and -a-, -ja- were most common. Other endings were disappearing. The endings which did not cause the alteration of the stem were becoming more popular. Traces of the lack of softness in some forms of words softened by front vowels (mainly forms ending with a consonant or ending with -i-, e.g. krъvaxъ > *krwach > krwiach) have disappeared. Often softness is the only remnant of old noun endings (Gen. kamane > kamienia) (of stone).
The disappearance of short forms of stems may be interpreted as the result of the introduction of the accusative noun form into the nominative.
For neuter nouns the ending -ьje sometimes produced a constricted -é (weselé) (wedding). Names of institutions such as podkomorzé, due to the influence of names such as łowczy (hunting), since the 16th century have been declined as adjectives: podkomorzy (chamberlain).
The ending -y has come to be applied to all feminine nouns.
The ending -a has come to be applied to all neuter nouns and to the majority of masculine nouns. In the 16th century, the ending -å, in other words non-acute -a, was applied to neuter stems ending in -ьje: oká (of an eye) but wesela (of a wedding).
After a period of frequent changes (which still has not ended) the ending -u is still applied to some masculine non-personal nouns, but there is no major connection with the original form.
Until the 16th century, the ending -ej, used in the declension of pronouns, was applied to all nouns in the genitive and dative and to feminine nouns in the locative if a noun had an old stem ending in -ja-: paniej, rolej, duszej (lord, role, soul).
The ending -'e is still applied to feminine nouns with stems ending in -a-.
The ending -y is still applied to feminine soft-stem nouns. Occasionally, in the Old Polish ending -y was applied to neuter nouns with stems ending in a consonant: dziecięci, książęci (child, prince).
The ending -owi has come to be applied to almost all stems of masculine nouns. Occasionally, it was applied to stems of neuter nouns.
The ending -ewi in the Old Polish was sometimes applied instead of the ending -owi to the soft-stem nouns and in the 15th and 16th century it was also applied to hard-stem nouns.
The ending -u has come to be applied to all stems of neuter nouns. It is still applied to some masculine noun forms ending in -o-, -jo-. Until the 16th century it was used more frequently, especially following the preposition ku (człowieku (human), głosu (voice), ku południu (towards the south)).
The accusative has remained the same as the nominative for all neuter nouns.
For masculine nouns, the accusative has remained the same as the nominative for inanimate nouns and for animate nouns it has become the same as the genitive. The reason for this last change was most probably the free word order and the ambiguity that it could entail in phrases such as syn kocha ojciec (a son /nom./ loves a father /nom./) and ojciec kocha syn (a father /nom./ loves a son /nom./). The change of their forms into syn kocha ojca (son /nom./ loves father /acc./) and ojca kocha syn (father /acc./ loves son /nom./) helped to resolve this ambiguity. The accusative was the same as the nominative until the 14th - 15th century (in the region of Mazowsze until the 16th century), and nowadays this feature is preserved in common phrases such as iść za mąż (to get married), siąść na koń (to mount a horse), na miły Bóg (dear Lord!), być za pan brat (to be on intimate terms with sbd.).
The ending -0 is still applied to stems of feminine nouns for which this same ending is applied also in the nominative.
The ending -ę is still applied to the typically feminine nouns.
In Old Polish the ending -ą was applied instead of -ę to nouns which in the nominative ended with -å widzę duszę, boginię (I see a soul, a goddess) but wolą, pieczą (will, care). Nowadays, the only remnant of this rule is the accusative form panią (lady).
The ending -ą is still applied to all stems of feminine nouns.
The ending -em has come to be applied to all stems of masculine and neuter nouns. The development of -ъmь, -ьmь has contributed to the stabilization of the use of this ending.
The ending -im < -ьjemь was applied to neuter nouns ending in the old -ьje: wiesielim, miłosierdzim (joy, mercy), wyobrażenim (imagination).
The ending -'e is applied to hard-stem nouns. Until 15th - 16th century it was also applied to masculine and feminine nouns ending in -k, -g, -ch: Bodze (god), gresze (sin), mlece (milk). For noun stems ending in -n-: We dnie i w nocy (during the day and night), but in general: w dniu (during the day).
The ending -y has come to be applied to all feminine soft-stem nouns. Until 14th - 15th century it was also applied to a very small number of stems ending in -jo-, especially i < -ьji for neuter nouns ending in -ьje.
The ending -u has come to be applied to masculine and neuter hard-stem nouns ending in -k, -g, -ch. It has also survived in forms o synu, domu (about a son, about a house) and is also present in the form o panu (due to the influence of the phrase w Panu Bogu) (in the Lord God).
The ending -'e (with -e, not -ě2, this is why there is the softening connected to the first palatalization) is applied to masculine hard-stem nouns. Until the 16th century it was also applied to nouns ending in -k, -g, -ch. Nowadays it is present in forms such as Boże, człowiecze, Kozacze (also człowieku, Kozaku), and also księże, additionally after -ec: ojcze, starcze(father, old man) (connected with the third palatalization).
The ending -u has come to be applied to masculine soft-stem nouns ending in -k, -g, -ch and also feminine soft-stem nouns known as 'rodzinne' ('family nouns', used when addressing other family members) (ciociu, Helu) (auntie, Hela). It has also survived in forms such as synu, domu! (son, home!).
The ending -o has survived in the old feminine nouns ending in -a- and has also spread onto the majority of old feminine nouns ending in -ja-.
The ending -y is still applied to feminine nouns which stems in the nominative end with a consonant (myszy, kości!) (mice, bones!) and has spread onto the nouns of the same type as pani (lady).
The forms of neuter nouns in the vocative have remained the same as their forms in the nominative.
Until the 15th century the ending -i was the most widely applied ending to the stems of masculine nouns. From the 16th century onwards it was not applied to the stems of inanimate nouns, and from the 18th century – to the stems of nouns referring to non-persons. Forms Włoszy, mniszy (Italians, monks) have been replaced by Włosi, mnisi with the phonetic softness introduced in the 17th century.
In the accusative -y was gradually replacing -i as the ending applied to the stems of masculine nouns. Since the 16th century it was applied even to the stems of nouns referring to persons. It was popular especially in the Enlightenment (syny, wnuki, greki) (sons, grandsons, Greeks). For feminine nouns it is still applied to the stems ending in -a- and also to some forms in the nominative singular ending in -0.
The ending -e, derived from the stems ending in -i- (gost-ьje, lud-ьje) (guests, people), -n- (dьn-e, kamen-e, mestjan-e) (days, stones, townsmen) and forms such as przyjaciele, cesarze (friends, caesars), have dominated soft-stem masculine nouns. For feminine nouns it is still applied to the stems ending in -ja- and has spread onto some of the forms in the nominative singular ending in -0.
The ending -owie in the 14th - 15th century was applied to all stems of masculine nouns. Since the 16th century it has been gradually disappearing, especially from inanimate nouns and those referring to nonpersons, still Norwid (1821–1883) used obłokowie (clouds) to make up a rhyme.
In the Old Polish, soft-stem nouns sometimes had the ending -ewie applied instead of -owie.
The ending -a is still applied to the stems of neuter nouns. Due to the influence of the Latin language, it has been applied since the 15th century to the stems of male nouns borrowed from Latin and German: akta, fundamenta, grunta, (files, foundations, grounds) and temporarily (and incorrectly) also to originally Polish nouns: okręta, pociska (ships, bullets). Nowadays, the ending -a applied to the stems of masculine nouns is in general considered as incorrect, however: akta (files)akty (acts).
The names of offices such as podkomorzé until the 15th century also had the ending -a applied in the plural. In the 16th century forms chorążowie podczasze podchorąże ma pod sobą were widely used; nowadays in the nominative it is chorążowie (warrant officers), in the dative podchorążych (of cup bearers).
The ending -´a (-´å) < -ьja today is used to construct forms such as brat – bracia (brother - brothers), ksiądz – księża (priest - priests). Initially, these forms were interpreted as collective nouns (bracia stała = braty stały) (brothers stood), księża poszła = księdzowie poszli (priests went), and were declined in the same way as female nouns (others of this type in the accusative had applied the ending -ą, in the genitive, dative and locative: -ej). In the writings of Skarga (1536–1612) they were declined in the same way as plural nouns (braciom, braćmi, braciach, księżom, księżmi, księżach) (brothers, priests). In dialect forms such as swaciå, muzykanciå, adwokaciå (matchmakers, musicians, lawyers)can be found.
The ending -0 has started to be widely applied to neuter and feminine hard-stem nouns. For soft-stem nouns the ending that is also applied is -y. Until the 17th century, its traces were present in the old masculine stems ending in -o-, -jo-: genitive woz (carriage), god, tysiąc (thousand), dziej, włos (hair). Nowadays, it is present in forms such as przyjaciół (friends), dotychczas (until now).
The ending -ów has become characteristic of the masculine hard-stem nouns, for soft-stem nouns the ending that is also applied is -y. In Old Polish it had a slightly different pronunciation and was more widely applied: pisarzow (of writers), koniow (of horses), dniow (of days), miesiącow (of months), in dialects: krolew (of kings).
For soft-stem nouns the ending that is also applied instead of -ów/-0 is -y.
In the past, the ending -om has been widely applied to the stems of masculine and neuter nouns. Since the Middle Polish period it has started to be applied to the stems of feminine nouns.
In Old Polish -am prevailed as the ending applied to the stems of feminine nouns. In the 15th - 17th century it was applied also to the stems of masculine and neuter nouns.
The ending -em until the 17th century was sometimes applied instead of -om to the stems of masculine nouns. There are no traces of this ending being applied to the stems of neuter nouns.
The endings -um, -óm in Old Polish were sometimes applied to the stems of neuter nouns instead of -om.
Initially, the endings -e/-y in the masculine accusative were distributed as endings applied to the stems of non-person nominative nouns. However, in the 17th century the accusative was made the same as the genitive. This change became common in the 17th century. Old accusative was and still is used for stylistic reasons: króle (kings), pany (masters), chłopy (peasants).
The forms of feminine and neuter nouns in the plural accusative have remained the same as in the plural nominative.
In the past, the ending -ami has been most widely applied to the stems of feminine nouns. Since the 15th century it came to be applied to the stems of neuter nouns and in the 16th - 17th century, despite the resistance of grammarians, to the stems of masculine nouns.
The ending -mi was applied in Old Polish to the stems of masculine and neuter nouns, especially to soft-stem ones, and also to the stems of some feminine nouns in the nominative ending with -0. In principle, today it is only applied to the stems of masculine and feminine nouns in the nominative ending with -0 and having a phonetically soft-stem.
The ending -y was applied in Old Polish to the stems of masculine and neuter nouns, especially to hard-stem ones. Until now it has survived in phrases such as tymi czasy (these days).
The ending -oma, derived from the dual number, was applied to the stems of masculine nouns in the 16th - 17th century.
In the past, the ending -ach has been applied to feminine nouns. It could also be found in the masculine and neuter but came to be formally applied to nouns in these two genders in the 17th century.
The ending -'ech was applied in the Old Polish to masculine and neuter nouns, especially those with hard-stem: wilcech (wolf), syniech (son), skrzydlech (wings), leciech. The traces have remained in the names of countries: Na Węgrzech (in Hungary).
The ending -och was applied to nouns of all genders in the 14th - 16th century, especially to soft-stem nouns and also to those ending with -k, -g, -ch, most probably because of the influence of the endings such as -owie, -ów, -om.
The plural vocative has remained the same as the nominative.
The mixed declension is characteristic of forms such as poeta (poet), mężczyzna (man), Jagiełło, Fredro, sędzia (judge).
In Old Polish forms such as starosta (prefect), poeta (poet) were declined like feminine nouns. In the 16th century plural forms were changed due to their meaning (also plural dative such as mężczyznam).
Until the 17th century, nouns such as Fredro in plural had forms Fredra, Fredrowi, Fredrę and so on.
In the 15th century nouns such as sędzia < sądьja (judge) were given in singular genitive, dative and accusative forms like adjectives. Later on, forms such as sędzim, sędziem (judge) appeared in the instrumental. Sometimes the locative sędziej was also present.
The declension of adjectives as nouns has almost disappeared (exception: pełen) (full).
The adjectival declension in combination with the pronoun jь has given rise to a new type of declension combining the two: adjectival and pronoun declensions. It is different from the noun declension: jego, tego białego słonia (his, of this white elephant).
The declension of hard-stem pronouns with genders has assimilated to the declension of soft-stem ones.
Primarily, the singular feminine accusative ending was -ę. The form ją (her) was the only exception. Due to the influence of adjectives the use of the form -ą came to be more widely applied. Nowadays, the only existing form is tę. (In 1996 the accusative form tą was accepted as correct in the spoken language.)
They have undergone just slight changes:
The old genitive čьso was transferred to the accusative and has spread to be applied to the nominative. The old accusative has preserved its prepositions: w niwecz < vъ nivъčь, przecz < prěčь, zacz < začь.
Ordinal, multiplicative and multiple numerals declined and still decline in the same way as adjectives so they will not be discussed here.
Numeral jedinъ has preserved the mixed pronoun-adjectival declension.
For the declension of numerals a new and quite irregular pattern has been constructed, based on the dual number.
Combinations of words have been turned into compounds.
The forms of collective numerals have been blended (portmanteau)
Dual number has disappeared, only some endings have been preserved: oczy (eyes), uszy (ears), rękoma or rękami (with hands, both correct), also in dialects and in proverbs: "mądrej głowie dość dwie słowie, lepszy wróbel w ręku niż gołąb na sęku". ("Two words are enough for a smart head, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush").
The distinction between stems of the present tense verbs and stems of the past tense verbs has been preserved.
The ending -i has disappeared (at first from endings *-cy < -ci):
It has undergone just slight changes:
Many verbs have changed their present tense forms:
Instead of -ętъ for athematic verbs or for verbs with stems ending in -i-, the form -jątъ is used:
Based on the conjugation of athematic verbs, the new conjugation -am, -asz has been introduced (very rarely -em, -esz):
By analogy to dam (I will give) - dasz (you will give):
in general (compare with dadzą) (they will give):
Aorist - a past perfective tense, used to mark an action that happened only once and was fully accomplished in the past. Initially, it was used with both perfective and imperfective verbs. Out of the three types of aorist: asygmatic, sygmatic I and sygmatic II, only the sygmatic I was used in the Polish language. It was used with verbs which stems in the infinitive ended in a vowel.
Imperfect - was used to mark an action that took place or was repeated in the past. It was used with imperfective verbs.
The past imperfective tense has become a past simple tense bylъ jes-mь > byłem. (I was)
The pluperfect is currently disappearing.
The present forms of perfective verbs have retained their future meaning.
The future tense of imperfective verbs is still constructed by combining a conjugated form of będę with an infinitive or a past participle: będę chwalić or będę chwalił. (I will be praising).
The Protoslavic form of a conditional was replaced by the aorist (Old Polish bych), which then underwent some changes due to the influence of past tense endings.
Dual number survived until 14th - 15th century with some slight changes:
In the 16th century dual number disappeared from the literary language. It has been preserved in a number of dialects but the meaning of words in the dual number is equal to their blending in plural. The first person ending -ma is sometimes used as a result of merging -wa with -my.
chodźwa, chodźma (=chodźmy) (/we/let's go).
Only in the region of Tarnobrzeg does the distinction still exist for niesiewa, nieśwa (dual number) and niesiemy, nieśmy (plural) (we carry, let's carry).