The nominative (mianownik) case in Polish is what is read when words are listed in the dictionary, and for that reason it is often considered the most normal, recognizable and ‘common’ case in the language. Consequently, it is also what is usually memorized when a student learns Polish vocabulary and, as learning progresses, students transform the nominative noun into other cases to produce different meanings.
Because the nominative is the dictionary form of Polish words, there is no need to memorize declensions (different word endings) in this case. However, looking at the nominative is a great way to see how nouns are organised in Polish, and understanding the rules around genders, plurals and noun stems, is really important when you come to study other cases.
(It is a good idea to make sure you know how to find a noun stem before you approach learning Polish cases.)
Polish Nominative Endings
All nouns in Polish are divided into three genders: Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. The gender of the noun determines endings they will adopt in each case, and there are differences for singular and plural versions of each noun. These can be seen nicely in the nominative.
For masculine nouns in the nominative the singular word is often identical to the stem of the noun, as many masculine nouns already end in a consonant: pies (dog), byk (bull).
Some nominative masculine nouns, including male names, end in –a: Kolega (colleague), and oddly, Mężczyzna(man).
For plural endings, masculine nouns usually have an -i/-y ending, while hard stem endings are softened; the plural of Student (Student) is Studenci (Students). Masculine titles and names often adopt the ending -owie, like panowie (sirs).
Most nominative feminine nouns will end in –a: Kobieta (woman), ulica (street), torba (bag). But some feminine nouns end with a soft sounding consonant (z, ć, c, j), like twarz (face), rzecz(a thing) – while a select few end in -i, like gospodyni (landlady).
Nominative plural endings for feminine nouns are usually -y (siostry (sisters)) but, after hard stem endings can be-i (noga(leg)). When the stem ends with a soft consonant the feminine plural is formed with the ending -e in the nominative: Ulice (streets).
Neuter nominative nouns either end in -o or -e: Koło (wheel) and morze (sea). However, there are some exceptions, like zwierzę (animal), and some Latinate words that will retain their -um endings.
To pluralise a neuter noun in the nominative we add the ending -a: Piwo (beer), piwa (beers). While the plurals of neuter nouns ending -ę can be quite unpredictable and are worth memorising separately. There are also some other exceptions like dzieci (children) and oczy (eyes).
As with all other cases in polish there are rules that define how adjectives should end in the nominative. In fact, as long as you know what gender the noun you are describing is, it is quite easy to get the right ending for its corresponding adjective in this case. There are also different endings for adjectives describing plural nouns. Simply put, the adjective’s ending must correspond in gender to the noun it describes.
For masculine nouns this means the adjective ending is -y: dobry chopiec (good boy). However sometimes masculine adjectives will end in -i, after -k and -g stem endings, for example. If the noun is plural and masculine the adjective ending is -e, except for personal nouns (mężczyźni (men)) when adjectives take -zy endings.
For feminine nouns the singular adjective ending is -a: For example, ładna lampa (pretty lamp). Here too, if the noun is plural and feminine the adjective ending is -e.
Adjectives describing neuter nouns in the nominative adopt the ending -e: Dobre dziecko (good child). There is no change for plural nominative endings in the neuter.