The 2nd Conditional in Polish

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 2nd conditional.

Since Polish has no sequence of tenses, the 2nd and 3rd conditionals are not distinguishable in terms of grammar but in terms of context. Basically, the 2nd conditional is used to express possibility under certain conditions in the present and the past, but also wishes and polite requests. Problems may arise when it comes to stylistic differences (see the examples below), but generally an ending ‘by’ is to be added to a base: 3rd sing. of past tense and then personal ending, e.g. był (3rd sing. past)+by+m (personal ending of ‘I’) = byłbym (I would be). A key word here is ‘gdyby’ + past tense (‘if’) expressing possibility, an integral part of the conditional.

There are three ways to create a conditional; e.g. If I were rich, I’d buy a car.

1) Gdyby|m był bogaty, kupił|bym samochód.

2) Gdyby|m był bogaty, to bym kupił samochód.

3) Kupił|bym samochód, gdyby|m był bogaty.

Splitting ‘bym’ and ‘kupił’ in example 2 is more colloquial, while using examples 1 and 3 is recommended when writing. Expressing requests: Otworzył|by|ś okno? (Would you open the window?); wishes: Napiła|by|m się kawy (I’d drink a cup of coffee).

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