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Order of the Polish adjective

Discussion in 'Polski (Polish)' started by Odriski, Jun 28, 2014.

  1. Odriski Senior Member

    Hello everyone here!
    I am just a beginner of Polish. The biggest problem in Polish is the order of the adjective. I've read a rule for Polish adjective, it says: when the adjectives are qualitative adjectives, then they should be in the front of the nouns to be modified, eg: sladka woda, piękne państwo. But if type-adjectives, they should be behind the nouns, eg. język chińsky, republika narodowa
    Then I follow this rule and search some examples to see if this rule is correct, but I found the examples do not always follow this rule. Take chińsky as the example:
    władze chińskie Chinese authorities
    obywatel chiński Chinese citizens
    język chińsky Chinese language


    chińska kandydatka Chinese candidate
    chińska dziewczyna Chinese girl
    chiński smok Chinese dragon
    chińskie towary Chinese goods

    Can someone explain me the rule for the order of the Polish adjectives? As the above case confuses me very much! I am expecting a detailed explanation for the order of the Polish adjective, the more detailed, the better. And please could you explain in English(Czech is also OK as I am also an advanced learner of Czech)?

    Many Thanks and Best Regards

  2. jr123 New Member

    Indeed, in most cases we put the adjective before the noun. It's definitely much more difficult to determine the rules of the adjective's position in the statement than
    e.g. in English. The sequence adjective-noun is used to describe an interim stage (a temporary quality) of somebody or something or when we don't want to emphasize particularly the feature .
    Like in the example: chińskie towary. Imagine that you are in a shop, you pass by the goods produced not only in China but also in other countries and you say by the way: "To są chińskie towary, a tamte są japońskie" (These are Chinese goods and those are Japanese". Or the factory could be bought by a foreign investor (maybe this explains a little bit when to use the sequence).

    I've noticed that often in political (and so on) terms the sequence is: noun- adjective e.g. władze chińskie, obywatel chiński, rada narodowa and also e.g. miasto stołeczne (capital city, in other words: stolica- the capital), hymn narodowy (national anthem), partia polityczna (political party)....
    However, saying "chińskie władze" in place of "władze chińskie" and "chiński obywatel" in place of "obywatel chiński" isn't a mistake contrary to appearances!
    In these cases placing the adjective before the noun makes these terms more common, casual, as they occur in everyday talks between people and the other version more often appears e.g. in speeches of politicians, in newspapers and so on :) If you still have problems, you could always use the genitive and say "władze Chin" (the authorities of China) or "obywatel Chin" (the citizen of China).
    What is important, in contrast to previous examples you could never say "chiński język" in place of "język chiński". It's a rule for all of the languages :)
    Besides, the adjective is always placed after the noun in animal and plant species like: "niedźwiedź biały" (white bear).
    It's also used from time to time to emphasize the importance of the quality, like "sztuka sakralna" (sacred art), not a common art but sacred.

    Good luck in learning Polish
    Hope I helped at least a bit. If you have more questions to my response, don't hesitate to ask :)
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2014
  3. Odriski Senior Member

    Hi, jr123
    Thanks for your wonderful explanation! But is this the complete rule for the order of the Polish adjectives? Or are there still more rules for this? If too many rules to explain this grammatical phenomenon, you can just offer me a relative link.
    Thank you very much for the help!

  4. jr123 New Member

    No, it's not everything :) Firstly, I've written what first came to my mind and now (after a consideration :) ) I could say you a little more.

    1) We use sequence noun-adjective (let's call it N-A) when we describe sth that is specific, concrete or one a kind e.g.:
    -powstanie warszawskie (the Warsaw Uprising)
    -Układ Słoneczny (solar system)

    2)There are also some set phrases where adjective should be written after a noun. They rather can't be defined as one a kind. You'll be recognising them while learning more advanced Polish, e.g.
    -znaczek pocztowy (postage stamp)
    -tort urodzinowy (birthday cake)
    -wata cukrowa (cotton candy/ candy floss)

    3)The sequence n-a is used to describe grammatical rules etc. for example:
    -rodzaj męski/ żeński/nijaki (masculine/femine/neuter)
    -rzeczownik policzalny/niepoliczalny (countable/uncountable noun)
    4) Btw, returning to goods, in every day language you'll hear e.g. "drewniany stół" (wooden table) rather than "stół drewniany" oraz "bawełniana koszula" (cotton shirt) in place of "koszula bawełniana". But, if you are googling and visiting online shop or you received a leaflet (generally in all situations connected with commerce) you are more and more likely to see the second version. But it's not a rule, it's only my own observation. And rather it's a curiosity than sth that you should keep obligatorily.
    5) When the adjective you have in mind is a numeral you use sequence A-N like in phrases:
    -druga wojna światowa (second world war) (mark that 'światowa' is after the noun because it affects an event that is one a kind)
    -pierwszy kwietnia (April the 1st)
    6) Colours are also placed before the noun e.g. "niebieska poduszka" (blue pillow) or biała kartka (white sheet of paper)
    7) The next is also my own notice and so far no exceptions come to my mind: you use sequence N-A with the names of dishes or everything connected in some way with cuisine, e.g.:
    -zupa pomidorowa (tomato soup)
    -sok jabłkowy (apple juice).

    Returning to temporary quality I have another example, maybe better and more vivid than the previous one:
    you say "zła pogoda" and not "pogoda zła" (bad weather) because it could improve at each moment.
    8) Besides when sth you say is (as in the example above) subjective and somebody else could have another opinion the sequence is A-N, e.g. ładna dziewczyna (beautiful girl), interesujący wykład (an interesting lecture).
    9) The sequence n-a is used when the noun is a general category and the adjective more detailed (it applies to the domains of science for example but not only :)), e.g.
    -chemia organiczna (organic Chemistry),
    -lek przeciwbólowy (analgetic (medicine))
    Indeed, point 7. could belong to this category too but I've distinguished it to enable you to speak quicker.

    I could promise you that as you learn Polish longer, you would gain a linguistic intuition and you would know where to use which option spontaneously.
    Hope I haven't messed with your mind more than earlier :)
  5. Odriski Senior Member

    Thank you very much! This does a great help!
  6. vpprof Junior Member

    I won't give you explanations quite as elaborate as jr123 has—but I can say this:

    Often when both orders are correct (adj.+n. and n.+adj.) the order noun+adjective sounds more formal:
    e.g. 'białe pieczywo'—that's what I'd use if my friend were going to the store: 'Kup mleko i białe pieczywo' (Buy some milk and white bread)
    'pieczywo białe'—that's what I'm likely to come across while reading a technical biochemical analysis of its nutritional value.

    But Polish has a veeeeeery flexible word order (unlike Chinese, if my Chinese friends tell me the truth :) ), which you can change the way you like to show some nuances of the mood, provenance of the speaker etc. With time, you'll gain enough fluency to know which order to use. And remember, languages are very different from logic or mathematics, there are no strict rules that apply to all cases.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2014
  7. Odriski Senior Member

    Thanks, vpprof. This is OK
  8. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    I think that the set of rules can be simplified:
    1. The basic order is adjective+noun.
    2. The order noun+adjective can be used for emphasis.
    3. The order noun+adjective is used in classification (botanical, zoological, commercial). Examples: Konopie siewne, pies domowy, samochód osobowy.
    4. The order noun+adjective is used in set phrases and brand names (see this thread Pasztet Francuski)
    It can appear that the n+a order is more formal, but it is not. The examples that appear formal are related mostly to expressions made for classification purposes. If you speak informally about animal species you will still use "pies domowy", and even if you make an exposé as a president of the country, you will use expressions like "dobrzy obywatele", "dzielni żołnierze", "niebezpieczni terroryści", and not in the opposite order.
  9. Ben Jamin Senior Member

    I think that all this is covered in my post #8
  10. Odriski Senior Member

    Thank you for all the explanation, so I've got the most detailed info as I want now

    Best Regards


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