What are Cases in Polish Language?

Introduction to Grammatical Cases

Grammatical cases are a system of marking words in a language to indicate their syntactic role and relationship to other words in a sentence.

In languages that have a case system, such as Polish, words are inflected or changed to represent their case.

Polish has seven grammatical cases:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Accusative
  • Instrumental
  • Locative
  • Vocative

Each case has a specific purpose and function. The nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence. The genitive case indicates possession or relation. The dative case marks the indirect object of a verb. The accusative case is used for the direct object. The instrumental case indicates the means or instrument of an action. The locative case specifies the location or placement of something. The vocative case is used when addressing someone directly.

Grammatical cases allow for more flexibility in word order and sentence construction in Polish. The case ending on a noun provides important information about its role in the sentence. This allows the subject, objects, and other parts of a sentence to be arranged in different ways without causing ambiguity. Understanding cases is essential for grasping Polish grammar and being able to use the language accurately.

The Nominative Case

The nominative case indicates the subject of a sentence. It is used for the dictionary forms of nouns and shows who or what is performing the action in a sentence. Some examples:

  • Pies odrabia lekcję. (The boy is doing his homework.)
  • Dziewczynka maluje obrazek. (The girl is painting a picture.)
  • Koty grają w ogrodzie. (The cats are playing in the garden.)

As you can see, the nouns in the nominative case (pies, dziewczynka, koty) are the ones performing the actions of the sentences. The nominative case always indicates the subject.

The nominative case is also used for dictionary forms of nouns. So if you were to look up a Polish noun in the dictionary, it would be shown in its nominative form. This is the "default" form that other cases stem from.

To summarize, the nominative case has two main functions:

  1. Indicates the subject of a sentence
  2. Used for the dictionary forms of nouns

So whenever you see a noun that is performing an action or existing as the primary focus, it will likely be in the nominative case. This case gives you insight into who or what is at the center of the sentence.

The Genitive Case

The genitive case in Polish indicates possession, relation, or belonging. It is used to show that one noun possesses or is related to another noun.

Some examples of how the genitive case is used in Polish:

  • To indicate possession or ownership:

dom Marii (Maria's house)

książka mojego brata (my brother's book)

  • After numbers and quantifiers:

pięć kobiet (five women)

wiele problemów (many problems)

  • In negations:

nie mam czasu (I don't have time)

on nie lubi deszczu (he doesn't like rain)

The genitive case is formed by adding specific endings to nouns, adjectives, and pronouns. The ending used depends on the gender and number of the noun.

For example:

dziewczyna (girl) -> dziewczyny (girl's)

bliźniak (twin) -> bliźniaka (twin's)

Proper understanding of the genitive case is essential for communicating possession, description, and negation in Polish. It's a core component of constructing sentences correctly.

The Dative Case

The dative case in Polish indicates the indirect object of a sentence. It is used to show the recipient of an action.

Some examples of how the dative case is used in Polish:

  • With certain prepositions like "do" (to), "od" (from), and "przy" (by) to indicate motion towards, away, or location near something. For example:

Poszedłem do sklepu (I went to the store)

Odebrałem paczkę od poczty (I picked up the parcel from the post office)

Siadłam przy stole (I sat down by the table)

  • To indicate the indirect object after certain verbs. The indirect object is the recipient of the verbal action. For example:

Dałem książkę bratu (I gave the book to my brother)

Wysłałem list ciotce (I sent the letter to my aunt)

  • After nouns to show possession. The dative indicates who something belongs to. For example:

To jest samochód mojego ojca (This is my father's car)

Mieszkam w domu moich dziadków (I live in my grandparents' house)

So in summary, the dative case has several uses in Polish grammar - it marks indirect objects, motion towards/away/near something, possession, and the recipient of an action. It is an important case to understand when constructing Polish sentences properly.

The Accusative Case

The accusative case in Polish grammar indicates the direct object of a verb and is used when answering the question "whom?" or "what?". It signifies the recipient of an action. Some examples of the accusative case in Polish:

  • Kupiłem książkę. (I bought a book.) "Książkę" (book) is the direct object.
  • Widzę dom. (I see the house.) "Dom" (house) is the direct object.
  • Kocham cię. (I love you.) "Ciebie" (you) is the direct object.

The accusative case is also used for expressing temporal concepts, such as days of the week, months, years, or times of day. For example:

  • W poniedziałek idę do pracy. (On Monday I go to work.)
  • W lipcu jedziemy na wakacje. (In July we are going on vacation.)
  • W 1999 roku urodziłem się. (I was born in 1999.)

Finally, the accusative case denotes motion in a direction. For instance:

  • Jadę do domu. (I am going home.) "Do domu" indicates motion towards home.
  • Wracam ze szkoły. (I'm coming back from school.) "Ze szkoły" shows motion away from school.

So in summary, the accusative case in Polish grammar is used to indicate the direct object of a sentence, express time concepts, and denote movement or direction. Mastering this case is essential for communicating accurately in the Polish language.

The Instrumental Case

The instrumental case in Polish answers the question "with what?" or "by what means?". It has several main uses:

  • To indicate the means or instrument by which an action is carried out. For example:

Piszę długopisem - I am writing with a pen

  • In passive constructions to show the agent performing the action. For example:

Ten list został napisany przez moją ciocię - This letter was written by my aunt

  • To indicate accompaniment or companionship. For example:

Poszedłem do kina z przyjaciółmi - I went to the cinema with friends

The instrumental case is formed by adding the endings -em, -ą, -om for masculine nouns,  for feminine and neuter nouns, and -ami, -ami for plural nouns. It's an important case for constructing Polish sentences correctly.

The Locative Case

The locative case in Polish grammar indicates location. It is used after certain prepositions in Polish to show where an action takes place.

Some examples of prepositions that are followed by the locative case include:

  • w (in, inside)
  • na (on, at)
  • o (about, concerning)
  • po (after, along)

For example:

  • w lesie (in the forest)
  • na stole (on the table)
  • o rodzinie (about the family)
  • po obiedzie (after dinner)

The locative case is formed by adding the ending "-e" for masculine and neuter nouns, and "-y" or "-i" for feminine nouns.

This case has been largely replaced by the prepositional case in modern Polish, but is still found in certain set phrases, place names, and with certain prepositions. The locative helps specify the location where an action takes place in a more precise way than the prepositional case.

The Vocative Case

The vocative case is used for direct address. It's used when you want to call out to someone or get their attention. For example, you would use the vocative case when calling someone's name.

The vocative case only applies to animate nouns and pronouns - in other words, people and animals. You would use the vocative case when addressing a person directly, but not when addressing an inanimate object.

Some examples of the vocative case in Polish:

  • Mamo! - Mom!
  • Tato! - Dad!
  • Aniu! - Annie! (addressing a woman named Anna)
  • Janku! - Johnny! (addressing a man named Jan)

As you can see, the vocative case often uses a distinct form of a name or noun specifically for addressing someone directly. It's a way to get someone's attention and speak directly to them. The vocative case is very useful in Polish for starting conversations, calling out, or even yelling at someone. Just remember it only applies to animate nouns and pronouns!

Declension Patterns

The endings of nouns in Polish depend on the grammatical case, gender, and number. There are several main declension patterns that nouns follow.

Overview of case endings for noun types

Polish has three grammatical genders - masculine, feminine, and neuter. The case endings differ slightly between these noun classes.

Masculine nouns generally take -a or -u in the genitive singular, -owi in the dative singular, -ę or -a in the accusative singular.

Feminine nouns often end in -a or -i and take -y or -i for the genitive singular and -e for the accusative singular.

Neuter nouns commonly end in -o or -ę and take -a for the genitive singular and match the nominative in the accusative singular.

Masculine personal nouns

Masculine personal nouns referring to people have distinct case ending patterns. For example:

Nominative: mężczyzna (man)

Genitive: mężczyzny

Dative: mężczyźnie

Accusative: mężczyznę

In the plural, these nouns take -owie for the nominative and -om for the dative.

Feminine nouns

Feminine nouns, especially those denoting professions, nationalities and family members, have the ending -a in the nominative singular. Examples:

Nominative: kobieta (woman)

Genitive: kobiety

Dative: kobiecie

Accusative: kobietę

Some feminine nouns take the ending -i in the nominative instead. For example:

Nominative: nauczycielka (female teacher)

Genitive: nauczycielki

Dative: nauczycielce

Accusative: nauczycielkę

Neuter nouns

Neuter nouns have distinct endings. In the nominative/accusative singular they end in -o or -ę. Examples:

Nominative/Accusative: okno (window)

Genitive: okna

Dative: oknu

Nominative/Accusative: dziecko (child)

Genitive: dziecka

Dative: dziecku

The full range of declension patterns for all Polish noun types is complex, but these examples illustrate some of the main categories. Mastering the case endings is essential for fluency.


Grammatical cases play an important role in Polish by providing vital information about a noun's function in a sentence. As we've seen in this overview, Polish has 7 cases - nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative and vocative.

Enroll in lessons with our proficient native speakers, who are dedicated to guiding you through the nuances of each case, ensuring a comprehensive understanding and practical application. If you prefer a flexible, on-demand approach, our First Step to Polish Proficiency course offers online lessons and exercises tailored to empower you in mastering these intricate grammatical structures.

With seven cases at their disposal, skilled Polish speakers can express themselves with great subtlety and eloquence. Cases empower Polish grammar and unlock the full expressive capacity of the language. Though complex, dedicating time to study and practice cases will be hugely rewarding for any learner of this fascinating tongue.


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