The Past Perfect Tense

Krakow Post introduces a series of brief lessons, which should prove useful when learning this beautiful language, as prepared by a native Polish linguist and teacher. This month: The Past Perfect Tense

Surprised? Yes, dear readers, the Polish language officially has the past perfect tense, although it is mentioned in grammar books only formally. Nowadays it is used more often in speech to add a unique, ironic flavor to what is being said. It ceased to exist in regular use at the beginning of the 20th century; however, its elements still play a vital role in the Polish modal “powinien” (“ought to”). Example: pisałem był (I had been writing), pisałeś był (you had been writing), pisał był (he had been writing). Expressing “ought to” in the past tense: powinienem był/powinieneś był, powinien był. The past perfect is to some extent also reflected in the Polish conditional: the particles -bym; -byśmy, -byś; -byście, and -by are movable and sometimes present difficulties for even Polish experts.


Jeśli chcielibyście to kupić, to chętnie to sprzedam. = Jeśli byście chcieli to kupić, to chętnie to sprzedam. – both versions mean if you would like to buy it, I will gladly sell it, and are correct, but the position depends on the stylistic needs of the author.

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