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Polish Language/Connotations of Dawidek and Vocative & Nominative cases


QUESTION: Dear Maciej St. Zięba,

I asked you a question in 2011 about the name Dawid (here is a link to my question:

I now have three more questions, and would be very grateful if you could answer them!

1. In your original reply to me, you said that the diminutive Dawidek "sounds appropriate for a child of 2, 5, maybe 10 years - but not for a grown teenager, adolescent or adult." What I would like to know is, would it be acceptable for someone's immediate relative (their parent or sibling) to still use Dawidek to an older child or adult?

2. Which is more affectionate, Dawidek or Dawidku?

3. I have been told that both the vocative case and the nominative case are used to address someone during conversation. Please would you explain to me when in a conversation you would use the vocative case, and when you would use the nominative case? Is it just personal choice to use whichever case you feel like? And would you use both cases in the same conversation?

Thank you very much!

ANSWER: Dear Allie,
How nice to hear that someone is willing to have a follow up after a two years' time! And how nice of you that you have thought of me and have given me the link to my previous answer - it has really saved me a lot of time.

Now, returning to your present questions.

1. The most simple answer is "yes".

2. The simple answer says: it's the Vocative "Dawidku".

3. Short answers: "I can and I am going to do it soon (see below)". In general - "Not really, as a rule; but in practice quite often - yes". And "Yes".

Now some more detailed answers:

1. In general, the "rules" for using diminutives differ from family to family, from person to person. It is always possible to use diminutives especially if you are a close relative (or a close friend) under one condition - the the person addressed so accepts it an does not feel offended by being treated too childishly. I have known 85 years old men and women who were addressed by the second or third degree diminutives (i.e. diminutives created out of diminutives etc.) thoughout their lives not only by their relatives and friends but also by anybody who entered into contact with them, simply because they accepted these forms. I have even known people who rejected being addressed by anybody with the full, official form of their names, except in very formal situations. On the contrary I have also known people who since having been teenagers refused being addressed with any diminutive, requesting everybody to use the 'full' form (whether in Nominative or in Vocative). Some Vocative forms sound realy strange, since they are used very rarely, so people prefer to use (or to be addressed witjh) the Nominative .

2. and 3. The Vocative in general introduces a more intimate relationship between the speaker and the person addressed. The Nominative is more neutral. It is quite common that even during the same conversation a person might be addressed by the same speaker with both forms, depending on the speaker's will to catch the attention of the person addressed. You might begin with "Dawidku", then in the following senstences you might use "Dawidek" (don't use the name in every sentence as this would sound very strange, or artificial; like in English you will drop the name in only from time time, perhaps more often if there are more people to the same conversation). And if you see that the person is distracted or you want to put special emphasis to certain information, you would use "Dawidku" again, even with more stress (intonation) on the word.

But as I have written before, it is a matter of personal choise nowadays. The younger / less educated person the less often will he/she use Vocative. In some regions of Poland the Vocative is rare, in other it is frequent. But even some very educated person from the area of the constatnt use of the Vocative may refrain from using it, or on the contrary a young, not well educated person from a region where Vocative is rare, might find it pleasant to use it.

4. Additional remarks: As I have mentioned, I have little practical experience withe the name Dawid, as it is rare in daliy Polish - I have some thanks to the fact that I have a grandson bearing that name - but he is still only 7 years old. His mother (my daughter), my wife and I, we address him using Dawidku/Dawidek, his father quite often and his mother sometimes also call him "Dawid", his teachers at school (women) call him Dawidku, Dawidek, Dawid, his classmates (boys) rather use Dawid, I have not heard classmates (girls) addressing him and my wife does not remember. (I've never heard anybody use the form "Dawidzie"). I can hear that he calls himself "Dawid", using "Dawidek" less frequently (even when signing the Christmas post-card to my mother, his great-grandmother, this year he has written "Dawid" - I only asked him if he does not think that Granny would be more pleased if he had written "Dawidek", only then he added the two letters. (The other grandparents of his passed away when he was respectively 2 and 4 so they used "Dawidek" indiscriminatley, rarely using Vocative, and I can't tell how their language habits could evolve). Myself, I sometimes call him "Dawku" (which is the Vocative of the short would-be diminutive *"Dawek" never used by anybody, even by myself in Nominative). Sometimes I call him in English "Dave". That's all.

Apart from my grandson I have never known a living person with this name in Poland. The reflections are based on some short stories by Janusz Korczak, where this name appears quite often, but these were about Polish Jewish children from the period before 1939, and language habits of Polish Jews were not necessarily a reflection of common trends, quite contrary - they had sometimes their own peculiarities.

If you ask me this question again in five or ten years' time, I might have some more reflections and experience, who knows?

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Maciej,

Thank you so, so much for your answer. It  was so informative, thorough, clear and helpful, and I'm so grateful to you! It was particularly interesting to read the nicknames used for your grandson (especially the part about the would-be diminutive Dawek never being used – I had always if it was, as to me, it seemed a perfectly logical diminutive!).
I'm also very sorry for my delay in replying to you – I went away for Christmas without my laptop and only got back today!

Would you be kind enough to answer me three more questions?

1. Was the vocative case used more often before the Second World War, and were the cases still used the same way as you described in your answer to me – that is, the nominative and vocative cases were both used in the same conversation by the same speaker? I have heard that before the Second World War, the nominative case was only used very rarely to address someone  – is there any truth to this?

2. How commonly in Poland do you just make up diminutives for names? I am just curious because in England, using the name David as an example, the traditional diminutives of Dave and Davy would be used, but it would also be very common for families to make up all manner of diminutives such as Davling, Davlie, Davel, Davlington, Davilbry, etc. Is this kind of diminutive-creating common in Poland, or do families tend to stick to the traditional nicknames only?

3. Would you be kind enough to tell me, if you can recall, the names of these stories by Janusz Korczak that the name Dawid appears in? Polish Jewish culture prior to 1939 is actually very relevant to my interest, so I would very much appreciate knowing in which stories the name appears – I know the majority of Korczak's work has yet to be translated, but with any luck at least some more of it will be soon.
And, if you can think of anything else relevant about the name Dawid in Janusz Korczak's work, I would be very grateful if you would tell me!

Once again, thank you so very much for your answer – you've helped me immeasurably.

I hope you had a very Merry Christmas,


Dear Allie,

Thanks for the follow up.

ad 1. Well, the answer should be: "I don't remember, I am too young, I was born after the 2nd WW". Why? Because when you read the present day books on Polish grammar, you find everywhere the authours complain that the Vocative is gradually dispappearing from the language, being replaced by Niminiative. So at the face value it seems that the Vocative has been used more frequently in earlier times.
But when you read the "Gramatyka języka polskiego" by Stanisław Szober (1923) on p. 343 you find "The usage of the Vocative forms of the Christian names is becoming nowadays less and less frequent". And the usages of Vocative and Nominative he descibes are exactly the same as I can observe in the present days. Maybe they were different in the 18th century, but I have not met any description of the spoken language of those times, all we have are the descriptions of the written language, and you have to admit that those who write books usualy use a more regular version of the language.
So personally I doubt if any of those Polish language scholars has lived long enough to observe the dispapprearance of the Vocative im daily speech. I think that they have learned the description how and when the Vocative should be used, they use it more frequently than the rest of the population so they are under a false impression that the Vocative is going out of usage.

Let's read what Szober writes:
"595. Sometimes the Nominative is used in the meaning(*) of Vocative. It happens:
1) in familiar or harsh speech, especially relating to Chistian names (Examples: Józek, żegnam cię! - Rozchmurz się, Michał! - Chłopiec, podaj wody!(**))
2) In family names, especially of foreign origin (loanwords), when they folow the Vocative of the word "pan" (Examples: Panie Buchman, panie Prusak) (***)

My notes:
(*) He undoubtedly has meant "function", not "meaning" sensu stricto, as in Para. 591 he has written that "Vocative is not a case in a strict sense, as it does not answer any specific question, it has no meaning proper as the other cases have, as it does not indicate any part of a sentence but points to a word beyond the sentence".
(**) I would say that this last example would not be heard in the modern Polish, with the word "chłopiec", it seems to be a sentence spoken by a rich man / landlord to a low servant, situation quite unlikely in the present day Poland. Apart from that - with other words, like "kelner, podaj wody", "sklepowa, podaj chleba" - this kind of sentence can be heard commonly as a kind of "harsh talk" of not too high educated people.
(***) I can say that this usage is common among uneducated people, or as a "harsh talk", also without the word "Pan", and also with Polish surnames: "Pachowicz! do tablicy" - examples of such usage you can find in the short stories and novels of the Polish positivism (or realism, naturalism) of the 2nd half of the 19th century - they must have been a common feature of the spoken language then as well.

The reasons why the Nominative is so frequently replacing the Vocative are many:
a) the substantives of neutral gender have the same form for Nominative singular and Vocative singular.
b) the substantives of all three genders have the same form for Nominative plural and Vocative plural
c) the adjectives of all three genders have the same form for Nominative singular and Vocative singular (as well as the same form for Nominatve plural and Vocative plural - although different from the singular one)
d) the feminine word "pani" (and all the other feminine words ending in -i) have the same form for Nominative Singular and Vocative singular. and this word is very frequently used.
e) a similar situation is with the masculine word "książę" (prince) originally a word of neutral gender and inflected like a neutral).
f) the Polish surnames ending in -ski/-cki (feminine -ska/-cka) are in fact adjectives, so their Vocatives have the form identical with Nominative. (However one may ecounter a contrary tendency as well: in Warsaw city dialect and in the surrounding Mazovian dialect one may hear false Vocative of these feminine names, as if they were substantives: Pani Kraskowsko! Pani Mazowiecko! instead of the correct form in -a).

Influence of other languages might have also played a role during the last centuries. Czech has a strong usage of Vocative, but intensive Polish-Czech linguistic contacts almost stopped after the 17th century, being replaced by intensive Polish-Russian ones. And Russian has no Vocative at all. Belarusian and Ukrainian (the languages between the Polish and the Russian) have preserved the Vocative to a smaller extent than Polish has.

ad 2. Quite common. Maybe the invention of the Polish people does not go as far as the one of the Englishmen and Englishwomen, as you have shown (the fact higherto unknown to me, thank you for having brought it to my attention). Yet, the "private" or "family invented" diminutives are commonly met with, although they hardly go beyong the usage of the close realtive and/or close friends. To call an example: Julia has the "official" or common diminutives "Jula", "Julka", "Julcia" and "Juleczka", but you may hear Julińcia, Julianna, Julencja, Lulcia, Lulia, Jusia, Junia, and probably several others. Or with my name: Maciej, the regular diminutives are Maciek, Maciuś, but in my lifetime I have heard also: Maciulek (V: Maciulku), Maciusiek (V: Maciuśku), Maciunio (V: Maciuniu), Maciuniek (V: Maciuńku), Macieniek (V: Macieńku), Maciaszek (V: Maciaszku), Maciejek (V: Maciejku), Maciuńcio (V: Maciuńciu), Maciu (used by my maternal grandmother - both in its own role of Vocative and as a Nominative, a very common tendency with certain masculine diminutives!), - and also Maciuch, Machiucha and - Maciocha, Macocha, Maciora (which are not diminutives at all, but their opposite, augmentatives, with pejorative nuance, especially the last one, being only by soiund similat to my name in fact being a common word meaning: "pig" (in fact "mother-pig", ususally depicted as dirty and ill-smelling); the one before last is a "step-mother" also very negatively depicted in many fables and fairy tales); I've never heard Vocatives - the Nominatives were used for Vocatives as tis was always a "harsh talk"). In fact (thank God!) these last were very rarely and occasionally used towards me, so the form of my name I dislike most is the official Vocative of the official form of my name "Macieju" (due to certain negative personal associations with the person who as the only one used it toward me in my childhood).0

Both families and friends play a role in inventing new nicknames.

NB. During this Christmas I have heard a new diminutive of Dawid: "Dawciu" (in Vocative, so Nominative would be "Dawcio", quite a regular formation, but I had not thought about it earlier). It was used by my mother-in-law, the great-grandmother of Dawid, and immediately taken up by a sister-in-law of my wife.

ad 3. It is somewhere in the volume "Mośki, Joski i Srule". (I read it many, many years ago, as a child - it used to be in the library of my parents, but has disappeared since, probably during one of the removals). The book is a rare one - published in 1910 it was republished only once in 1997 Warszawa: Oficyna Wydawnicza Latona, and it is not available, according to the publisher's website as there is a on-going legal dispute concerning the copyrights to all Korczak's publications; and it has not been translated into any language, afaik - but it is accessible as an audiobook These are the stories about Jewish children (mostly if not exclusively boys) and the title contains three diminutives of Jewish boys' names. Searching for it now in some libraries' catalogues I have found out that there is yet another volume of Korczak's stories about Polish children (boys again?) which I haven't even read "Józki, Jaśki i Franki" (1911, republished Warszawa: Grupa Wydawnicza Foksal, 2013 - I have tried to order it it but due to the Christmas - New Year's time I was not successful).

The only diminutive form of Dawid used there, if I remember well, is "Dawidek" (I dont't remember if they use the Vocative "Dawidku").

All the best to you for the whole year 2014.


PS. (20th January, 2014). I started regularly using the form "Dawciu" (it means that I use it from time to time, alternatively with the most common form "Dawidku", that's how it works with most of the diminutives - you alternate them, except when there is only one used or when one has got so stuck to the person that you cannot imagine useing another one in relation with her/him).
But today I have heard another one "Dawideczku" (Nominative: Dawideczek).



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Maciej St. Zięba


I am native Polish and from time to time I teach Polish to foreigners. I know (passively of actively) more than 15 other languages - so I can answer many questions concerning Polish grammar, pronounciation, spelling, etymology and usage - as compared to English, French, German, Russian, Dutch, Esperanto or Norwegian. Also questions concerning other Slavic languages, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, or general linguistics, especially scripts (writing systems and transcriptions) - are welcome.


Teaching English, French, and Esperanto to Poles, Polish to foreigners, teaching Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese, Classical Chinese and Tibetan. Tour Guide in English, French, Russian and German. Former President of the Regional Examination Committee for Tourist Guides (English and French)(1999-2005).

Polish Oriental Society (since 1979); International Association of Buddhist Studies (since 1986); Klingon Language Institute (since 1986); Learned Society of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (since 1989); Polish Philosophical Association (since 1997); Universala Esperanto-Asocio (since 1978).

Books: "Origin of the World According to Rigveda" (Montreal 1996); "Our River Bug. Creating Conditions for Development of the Border Areas of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus through Enhancement and Preservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage" (Lublin 2008); "Migration - a Challenge to the 21st century" (Lublin 2008); "Migracja zarobkowa do Woch" (Job migration to Italy) (Lublin 2008); more than 100 articles in "Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii" (Universal Encyclopedia od Philosophy) vol. 1-10 (Lublin 2000-2009); many more in Polish, some of them available online, see: here and here (a list up to 2012.

Studying philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) 1976-81; PhD in Philosophy (1989). Having learned languages in Gdansk and Gdynia (Russian, Esperanto, Latin, English - International Bacalaureate), Lublin (KUL - French, German, Dutch, Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek; UMCS - Chinese, Japanese; elsewhere - Esperanto, Spanish, Italian), Paris (IIAP - French; INALCO - Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese; Sorbonne - Sanskrit), Asker (Norwegian, while working in a kindergarten!), Montreal (McGill - Chinese); Rome and Venice (Italian); Taichung, Taiwan (Chinese), Shimla, India (sanskrit). Self-taught: Slavic languages (other than Polish and Russian), Hungarian, Korean, Vietnamese, Klingon and several other.

Awards and Honors
2012 Golden Medal of Civil Service of Poland; 2012-13 Taiwan Fellowship - Tunghai University (Taichung)

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AllExperts users (since 12/03/2003); Wikipedia readers in many languages (since 2004); students learning languages (since 1979).

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