Na początku

Let this entry serve as an introduction to a number of important points of Polish grammar, to raise the reader’s awareness of what he will encounter in his study of the language. To highlight these points, the reader will consider the text of the first verse of Genesis 1.

So does Genesis 1:1 read in Polish, version Biblia Tysiąclecia:

Na początku Bóg stworzył niebo i ziemię.

From the text of this verse, the following vocabulary is to be learnt: na (in); początek (m., beginning); Bóg (m., God); stworzyć (pf., to create); niebo (n., heaven); i (and); ziemia (f., earth).

Początek is a masculine noun meaning beginning. The Polish for in the beginning is na początku. There is no word for the in Polish. The reader will note the change of form from początek to początku: this change of form, or inflection, is caused by the use of na, here meaning in. This use of na requires the noun following it to fall into locative position. The way a noun inflects follows patterns that the student will come to recognise. For instance, as początek takes the locative form początku, so wypadek (event) takes the locative form wypadku.

God is called Bóg in Polish, which is a masculine noun. In Polish, a noun can be masculine, feminine or neuter in gender. It is important to know which gender a Polish noun takes, that the speaker should be able to modify adjectives and verbs used in conjunction with it. In this first verse, we have one example of a noun from all three genders: Bóg is a masculine noun; niebo is a neuter noun; ziemia is a feminine noun.

Stworzyć (to create) is what is known as a perfective verb. In the past tense, a perfective verb expresses completed action. Stworzyć, in the third-person singular of the past tense, takes the following forms, which, depending on their context, may take the meanings created, did create, has created, had created: stworzył (masculine); stworzyła (feminine); stworzyło (neuter). For Bóg is a masculine noun, the Polish for God created is Bóg stworzył. The masculine, third-person singular form stworzył here agrees with its masculine, third-person singular subject Bóg.

In opposition to a perfective verb is what is known as an imperfective verb, which, in the past tense, expresses ongoing action (e.g., was creating rather than did create). To take a simple example, the perfective verb zrobić means to make; in its imperfective aspect, this verb takes the form robić. What distinguishes the one from the other in this case is the prefix z- in the perfective aspect. In the masculine, third-person singular of the past tense, zrobił may, in a given context, be read he made, whereas robił may be read he was making.

The Polish for heaven is the neuter noun niebo, whereas for earth it is the feminine noun ziemia. In the text of this verse, these two nouns fall into accusative (‘direct object’) position. Whereas, for instance, ziemia is the nominative (‘subject’) form, ziemię is the accusative (‘direct object’) form. Consider these two examples: ziemia jest (the earth is); Bóg stworzył ziemię (God created the earth). In the first example of the pair, ziemia is the subject, whence the use of its nominative form; in the second example of the pair, ziemia takes its accusative form ziemię, for it functions as direct object (what did God create? the earth). As for niebo, a neuter noun, it takes the same form in the nominative and the accusative; such is the behaviour of a neuter noun. Niebo is however no less in accusative position in the text of this verse; let its identical nominative and accusative forms not lead the student to believe otherwise. In the text of this verse, both niebo and ziemia are in accusative position as niebo and ziemię.

Wherefore:

Na początku Bóg stworzył niebo i ziemię.
In the beginning God created heaven and earth.