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Polish Imperatives

Polish Language Imperatives

Chodź!: Forming the Imperative in Polish and Controlling Your Dog

When I first moved to Poland, I stayed in a house with some friends near Kraków. They had recently bought a new German shepherd puppy, and she was naughty, very naughty. Apart from chewing my computer accessories and shoes, she swiftly destroyed any room she was left alone in, and literally ate anything and everything (including an essay I wrote for my writing class). So, I was thrown in at the deep end so to speak, and, as ‘nie wolno' and 'Chodź' were the few isolated phrases that could exercise a smidgen of control over the frantic canine, I had to learn how to form the Polish imperative very quickly indeed (that is, at least if I didn't want to lose all of my socks!).


The imperative form is more commonly known as a 'command' in English, and it's used in a variety of situations, most notably to issue stern orders, but also to give advice or instruction. It's quite easy to form the imperative from most verbs in Polish, but as usual there are exceptions to the rule.

The General Rule

As a general rule the imperative in Polish is formed from the stem of the third person singular present tense formation of a verb, by dropping any additional endings incurred by the personal conjugations of the infinitive verb.

Now, I know what you're thinking: 'that's more of a mouthful than my friend's dog could get hold of!' But honestly, it’s not, and if we check some examples, it's actually quite easy:

Let's take a look at some common verbs used in writing that play by the rules first. Take kupić (to buy), first we need the third person present tense singular, which is kupuje (he buys/she buys, depending on your choice of pronoun [on/ona]), and then, all we need to do - according to the general rule - is to drop the ending from the stem, or the part which indicates we are talking in the third person. Therefore, the imperative form of kupić is, simply, kup (naturally, you can add an exclamation mark for imperative effect - kup!).

The Exceptions and Nuances

Naturally there are exceptions, but again - and without giving you another mouthful of grammatical terms - they are relatively few in number and easy to grasp here.

Firstly you will often come across a third person singular stem that ends in -a (czekać (to wait), for example is czeka [he/she waits]), and when this happens, rather than dropping the ending, we simply add a -j: Czeka becomes czekaj! (Wait!).

Another nuance of the Polish imperative is a change in vowel from -o- to -ó- in the imperative stem. This doesn't happen with all verbs that fit this mold however and it's something you will need to learn from experience. For example, the imperative of robić (to do) is rób, but when I delivered the command ‘to come’ to my friend’s uncontrollable dog, I left the stem vowel as it was: The imperative of chodzić (to come) is simply chodź (come!).

Finally, there are some verbs which form the imperative with the ending -y or -ij (these are invariably verbs with a third person singular stem ending in either a consonant and -n or -rz). There are also a number of totally unorthodox and irregular verbs, which form the imperative in unpredictable ways. But, as with most exceptions in grammar and academic research, it's much easier to learn these from experience (or from the school research stories of students). Perhaps if, when being shouted at, you find yourself pondering the grammatical intricacies of your interlocutor’s commands, you may have come across an irregular imperative formation, just maybe.