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Polish Language/Polish Translation


Hello, Maciej.  Previously, you were most helpful with a novel I'm writing that includes a few Polish sentences.  I'm hoping you can help me with a few more sentences for the sequel.

The situation is an older Polish man speaking to a young American women.  They're speaking in Polish.  He is a very, very polite man who will tend toward formality whenever possible.  He asks a question about why she didn't do something (which I don't need translated), and the young woman says, "I don't remember."  I've been using,“Nie pamiętam,” but I want to double check that this is situationally appropriate.  

The older man replies, "How interesting," which I've been translating as “Jak ciekawa,” but every online translator I use gives me a different ending to the word, which I assume is somehow related to case.  

Later on, when the young woman remembers the answer to his question, she tells him, "I remember now."  The translation I'm using is "Pamiętam teraz," but I want to make certain that's using the right level of familiarity for a young person speaking to an older person.

Finally, the older man asks the young woman where the bathroom is.  They're on a camping trip in the forest at this point, so I'm not sure whether he would ask where the bathroom is or where a toilet is.  Or maybe where he should relieve himself?  Whatever you think he would most realistically ask is good with me.  Colloquialisms are fine, if there's one you think he'd be likely to use.

Also, I would love to send you a copy of the book as a thank-you for yours help.  If you'd like to email me privately with an address, I'll be happy to send it.  Thank your so much for all yours help!

Dear Kit,

To miód na moje oczy przeczytać, że moje porady były użyteczne i mogę pomóc ponownie.
(It's honey to my eye to read that my advice has been helpful and I could help again).

NB. We usually say: "To miód na moje uszy słyszeć, że..." ("It's honey to my ear to hear that..."), I could still use this phrase assuming a metaphor, but I prefer to make a paraphrase, thus smuggling in another 'lesson' of Polish.

I. Only the first of your translations seems correct in the given context. "Nie pamiętam" is always correct in such a situation, independent of the age, sex (gender) and social position.

II. The second request of yours requires more explanation. Summing up: In no situation imaginable to me (even abstracting from the context of your novel) we could use as a full sentence the phrase "Jak ciekawa". It's pure and simple nonsense in literate, common Polish.

(In fact, we could use it, if we understood that "jak" has the meaning of "when" or "if", but then it would have to be a part of a longer sentence "Jak ciekawa książka się pojawi, kupię ją" ("When/If an interesting book appears, I shall buy it" - [NB. Polish has future {will appear}, whereas English has present tense {appears}). Or else: "Jak ciekawa kobieta chce coś zobaczyć, to na pewno znajdzie sposób" ("When/If a curious woman wants to see something, then she will certainly find the way [to do it]"). In the last example the word "ciekawa" has also a different meaning: that of "interested (in)" or "curious" instead of "interesting".

Now it came to my mind that "Jak ciekawa" could be a full elocution, assuming the dialogue between a polite man/woman and a woman is made in Eastern Polish dialect, like in the famous movie "Sami swoi":
       (woman) - "Czy mogę zobaczyć? / popatrzeć?" (May I see / have a look?)
       (someone polite) - "Jak ciekawa... [, niech patrzy]". (If she is interested... [(uderstood by default): let her look] = polite/formal (within the dialect), instead of common standard literate Polish: "Jak jest Pani ciekawa... [, niech Pani patrzy]" = It You are interested, Madam, ... [have a look, you are welcome]!).

But that's a completely different story :)

Returning to your story:

(a) The problem with different endings of the word "ciekawa" given by various translators might of course be related to case, but also to gender of this adjective, or to the number (singular/plural). Most probably all of them as the three factors are always influencing the ending. In your example the gender is involved. We have three genders in singular (masculine, feminine and neutral) and two in plural (masculine-personal and not-masculine-personal; although in common perception these are considered still to be the continuation of the three singular ones; it's too complicated to enter into details here; anyhow your sentence deals with singular number). "Ciekawa" is feminine, "Ciekawy" would be masculine and "Ciekawe" - neutral (all of them in Nominative case, singular number). In this situation the adjective does not refer to the gender of any of the interlocutors, nor of any other word (noun) used within the previous locution(s), but to the default immaterial "it" which is "the information that she does not remember why". Such "it" is in Polish considered neutral "to" or "ono". So you should use "ciekawe".

NB. The English word "interesting" can also be an adverb (equivalent to "interestingly"), and a Polish adverb has yet another ending, usually "-o" or "-(i)e", in this case it would be: "ciekawie".

(b) "How" is "jak" (an adverb) only if it is (1) in separate position: "Jak to?" = "How come?" (2) before a verb: "Jak się masz?" = "How are you?" (3) before another adverb: "Jak długo (będę czekać)?" = How long (should I wait)?"; I know that in the last example in English the form of "long" is the same both for an adjective and for an adverb, in Polish they are typically different.

If we use the Polish equivalent of "how" before an adjective, it becomes an adjective itself and therefore must be adjusted in gender, case and number to the gender, number and case of the following adjective, which in turn must fit (follow) the number, case and gender of the noun to which this adjective is referring. This noun coud be something said (before or after the adjective, within the same or previous sentence) or just understood from the context of the dialogue/text or supposed to exist (computer users might say "by default").
Normally an adjective requires a noun, and adverb requires a verb.

So normally we say (using an "Jaka ciekawa ...(opowieść)", "Jaki ciekawy ... (wiersz)", "Jakie ciekawe ... (przedstawienie)", but then in English you could want to translate it into "What an... (interesting ... story / poem / theatre play)", rather than into "How (interesting ... story / poem / theatre play ... is". This usage does not however refer to your story as no (imaginable) noun relating to this adjective can be found within a close context. The only noun understood by default is "information (about your not remembering)" = "it", and in such a case see above, under (a).

One can of course imagine someone saying "Jak ciekawie!" but then the context is the verb. "Jak ciekawie opowiadasz" = (i) "How 'interestingly' you are telling it" = (ii) "How interesting is the way you are telling the story" (I know, there is no word 'interestingly' in standard English. Unfortunately, in the translation (ii) into a more correct English, the referent becomes a noun again: "the way", so the "interesting" turns out to be an adjective, not an adverb - unlike in Polish). The problem with your story is that the only verb there is "don't remember" and I guess you haven't meant: "What an interesting way [of not remembering why]".

(c) In fact we hardly ever use the direct equivalent of the word "how" in such a situation, we rather simply say (an equivalent of) "Interesting!" = "Ciekawe!" or "That's interesting" ("To ciekawe!"). When we use "to" we usually omit the copula "jest", unless we really want to emphasise. Then we could use both use "how" and "is". "Jakie to ciekawe" or "Jakie to jest ciekawe" ("Jakie ciekawe") we could say while listening to or after having heard a long description of application of various fertilizers to different types of plants, depending on the location, climate, season, weather, humidity of the earth, type of soil, presence (or absence) of certain worms, insects, birds, distance to human dwellings, rivers etc. In your context the emphase could be rather: "Ciekaaawe!" he said, lengthening the middle vowel (a typical Polish way of marking such a lengthening is to write it three times), or by adding a special interjection (like "Hmmm,...") or particle (like "No,.." = "Well,...").

Summing up. He should reply:
"Ciekawe!", "To ciekawe!", "Ciekaaawe", "Hmmm, ciekawe!", "No, ciekawe!", "No, to ciekawe", "Hmmm, to ciekaaawe" etc.

III. The third issue concern the verb "remember". I assume it is the same question and that she herself has discovered the answer in her mind/memory, not that he has given the answer to her and this fact has reopened the previously closed gates within her memory. In the latter case your will have to make a follow up, when I will explain you various possibilities.

Unfortunately in Polish, in the first situation - when somebody has forgotten something and then it came to her/his mind back again - we do not use the verb "pamiętać" but the verb "przypomnieć sobie" (in the perfective form) or "przypominać sobie" (in the imperfective form), which refers to a more active function of the memory (as if "to remind to oneself", "to return sth to one's own memory" or "to recall from one's memory"), than the more passive function "to remember" ("to keep constantly in memory").
Nor "it came to my mind" where the action is as if being taken by the "bit of the past memories" which comes

NB. "to remind (to somebody)" is also "przypomnieć/przypominać (komuś)".

You must use the phrase (i) "Teraz przypomniałam sobie" or (ii) "Teraz sobie przypomniałam" (Now, I have reminded to myself) - at least that's how we say "Now I remember". The phrase (ii) is better, the reversed syntax gives a less formal, more natural way of saying that.

NB. "przypomniałam" is a feminine gender, "przypomniałem" would be masculine. Yes, the compound forms of the Polish past tense (both perfective and imperfective; here the perfective one is used) - translated as the English present perfect - are originally participles which behave like adjectives.

I have no time now to enter into more details here.

IV. The issue of asking for the toilet is a complicated one. It depends what are the relations between the two.

The most neutral one would just be:
"Gdzie tu jest toaleta?" or "Gdzie tu jest ubikacja?" and I think you should stick to it.
The first one (taken from French) is more "high", the second one (taken from Latin, so about 300 years earlier) is more "common" (colloquial), but both are perfectly acceptable.
"Gdzie tu jest łazienka?" is formally also possible and acceptable (but I can't imagine any bathroom in the forest, maybe my imagination is too weak; and we use the word "bathroom" in this context much, much less frequently than the Americans do, especially if we are talking within a public building; unless it is within a private house, apartment).
More colloquial, especially among the countryside people, or uneducated working class, would be:
"Gdzie to jest wychodek?", or "Gdzie to jest ustęp?"
but these words might sound obsolete, or regional, or ridiculous to educated people from the cities.

You can always change "jest" (is) to "może być" (may be/can be) - this would be less straightforward.

Talking about "relieving oneslef": "Gdzie tu można/mogę/mógłbym się załatwić?" (Where here one can/I can/I could relieve oneself/myself?")* would rather be considered too straightforward, colloquial, good among family, close realtives, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, I doubt it would fit your situation.

* In Polish we have one word "się" for all the English equivalents (oneself, myself, yourself, thyself, himself, herself, itslef, ourselves, yourselves, themselves), but it can be inflected by cases (się, siebie, sobie, se).

Talking / Asking about the toilet is a delicate issue, especially among an elderly man with a young woman (yes, it's human, I know, but we in Poland are less extravertic than Americans), so you might try to add a more polite form of request, but then we enter into a plethora of possibilities - so I advice you to forget about the forms most obvious to Poles. Otherwise you should have to explain to me plenty of things about how they do address each other, what is their family relationship, if any, what are their social relations, what is their age, education, social status etc. You write:
>  He is a very, very polite man who will tend toward formality whenever possible.  
but for me that's not enough. One might be "very polite" and "tending toward formality whenever possible", while using the form of address with the first name without any prefixes, either in its full form (Anno!) or a diminutive (Aniu!), with the prefix for Mrs (Pani Annno, or Pani Aniu) or for Miss (Panno Anno, Panno Aniu), rather not with the last name but the prefix alone with some 'affective' adjective (Szanowna Pani, Droga Pani), etc. etc.

I have no time now any more, to enter into more details here. Please read the article on Polish names in Wikipedia, section on the forms of address.

You might restrain yourself to being just polite (like asking "Do you know where...") then we only have two possibilities:
- Czy wie Pani, ...? (Do you know?... - form of address formal, but you cannot use it if he normally called her just by her first name - like the elderly people do with the one ones, unless they are the men who are very 'charmant')
- Czy wiesz, ...? (Do you know? form of address formal between an elderly person and a young person; informal  between friends)

If you cannot resolve these doubts easily, you might simply add: "Przepraszam,... " = "Excuse me, ..." in the beginning - that would make it a bit more polite than not.

Pay attention to all commas I have addes before "...", they are needed in Polish.

Wishing you success with your novel.

For the sake of your final remark, please kindly send me another question marking it as private this time. Then the answer will not be published and I will give you more details.

All the best,


PS. If you have more phrases to ask about, ask now, as I take my holidays in July, August and September, asking question then will be locked.

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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)

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

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