In Polish there are many uses for the genitive case. It is perhaps best known for showing possession, but it has many other uses, which are quite varied and, for many learners, hard to keep up with. Here, we’ll look at where and when the genitive case should be used and how it is formed with masculine, feminine and neuter nouns and adjectives.
Uses of the Genitive
As we have said, the central use of the genitive is to show all cases of possession; it is the Polish equivalent of the English apostrophe: Dom mojej siostry (My sister’s house).
The genitive is also always used after a number of Polish prepositions, the most common being: bez (without), od (from someone), dla (toward/for), z (out of/originating from) and u (at a particular place).
Because the accusative case is used to express the object of transitive verbs (verbs which act on something), It is often forgotten that the genitive is also used to express any negated transitive verbs. So, if you want to say ‘I love my sister’, you will use to accusative to express it (Kocham moją siostrę ), but if you aren’t so inclined to expressions of familial love, and want to say ‘I don’t love my sister’ it is the genitive case (Nie kocham mojej siostry).
Another use of the genitive, which often catches people out, is for nouns of quantities higher than or equal to five. So, it’s not pięć jajko as it would read if we were trying to say ‘five eggs’ in the nominative, but pięć jajek.
There are few other, less common uses for the genitive, but, marginal as they are, these tend to come with practice and for now, it is better to get the hang of these usages, especially using the genitive for possession.
Declensions in the Genitive
The noun and adjective declensions in the genitive are a little harder than the nominative and accusative, but with practice they will start to come just as naturally.
Just as in the accusative case, in the genitive there are different declension rules for masculine animate nouns and masculine inanimate nouns. The former take the ending -a, the same as all neuter nouns in the genitive, while the latter take the ending -u.
For adjectives describing masculine nouns in the genitive, the ending is always -ego, and it’s the same for all adjectives describing neuter nouns.
As an example let’s use the genitive to show possession, doubtless its most common application. If we wanted to say, ‘my father’s house’, the syntax of our sentence flips around from the English and we start with the object: Dom mojego ojca. Notice the declensions here are for masculine animate nouns.
For feminine nouns - both animate and inanimate – the genitive ending is -i after word stems ending with -k or -g, or after any soft sounding consonant like -j or -n. Any other feminine nouns take the ending -y.
For adjectives describing feminine nouns in the genitive the ending -ej is used (with the single exception of the ‘ta’ which always takes the accusative form tę when used for possession).
Let’s use a similar example to show the use of the genitive in the feminine. To say ‘my sister’s house’, we apply the -y ending to the noun and -ej ending to ‘moja’, leaving us with the possessive, genitive sentence, dom mojej siostry.
Because it’s so common in Polish, the genitive case is often the first case taught in classes. It’s definitely worth getting to grips with the declensions here, and although they may appear more difficult than the ending changes in other cases, it is relatively easy to remember when the genitive case should be used.