Trips Off the Tongue: Gender & Past Tense

Q: Why is gender used in the past tense of the verb “być” / “to be”, but not in the other tenses? Is it used in only the past tense of other verbs as well?

Pozdrawiam, Jim Waite

A: Dear Jim,

Grammatically speaking, Polish has five gender forms: he, she, it, and then masculine personal (male forms when speaking about people – byli, czytali, spali) and non-masculine personal (basically everything else: women, children, animals, objects – były, czytały, spały). Gender is visible in verbs in the third singular and all plurals of both past and future imperfect tense (actually composed of “to be” and past tense form – będziemy spali vs. będziemy spały), as well as all persons of the conditional. First and second person of past, future imperfect, as well as all forms of present tense (perfect and imperfect aspect) are as a rule common for all genders and for all verbs (gender is reflected by nouns then, also implicitly).

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