Learning Words by sound clusters

Now this idea is either going to work really well for you, or you’ll find it confuses the heck out of you and you never try it again!  But it works for me, so I’ll share it.

The idea is that trying to memorize one new word in isolation is difficult.  This goes back to the idea that some of those amazing memory record holders use – you know the ones who do things like memorize the order of packs of playing cards, etc.  A common trick from them is to build a story which you can visualize, which connects one item to the next and then build a chain of words.

That plainly doesn’t work straight away when you don’t know the words in the first place, so I build little clusters of words which have similarities in their Polish word and then link them together with mental pictures.  I write each group of words on a post-it note with a little stick drawing to help me get started.

Example 1

Kosz (basket), Koszt (cost), Kostować (to cost), Koszula (shirt)

My image is a basket full of shirts, with price tags

This helps me with that feeling of having the right word on the tip of my tongue, but not quite being able to get started.  Once I have a few letters, the rest flows straight out.  So by tying the four words together in my memory, I can remember that the word I need is like ‘basket’, or like ‘cost’ and I find I can recall much faster.

Once you’re comfortable with the cluster of words, then you can start to build out from it with words which aren’t quite so close, but still worth building a mental bridge to.

Example 2

Kość (bone), Kościół (church)

So now, my mental image expands to have some bones sat in the basket on top of the shirts and the setting is now a church.

You might find that adding in more words which have similar roots like this will confuse you and you end up spelling them wrong, but I find that as long as I give myself time to learn the new cluster of words separately from the first group I don’t have that problem.

Example 3

Gość (guest), Gościć (to have a guest), Dość (enough)

This might be one step too far, but once I’ve linked the words which have a common root, I like to find other words with common parts of the word.  In this case, Gość because it’s so close to Kość.  My picture then expands to me handing the basket to a person who in my mind is my guest.  Then the question of how many bones?  Just enough..

The connections might be tenuous, but often the stranger connections or links are actually the ones which become easier to recall, so aim for something striking, colourful or just plain silly.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds this approach useful.  I’ve built up a vocab of about 500-600 words in the last few months that I can reliably recall & this has been one of my primary techniques, so it works for me.  I’m sure it’ll work for some other people too, but I’m also sure that some will find it more confusing than helpful!  Good luck and please let me know if this is useful for you and I might post some of my word cluster maps.

How many summers do you have?

There are 3 common words you’ll see when talking about years.

Rok – One year

Lat / Lata – Years (plural)

As with other numbers, there’s a special rule for when to use Lat and when to use Lata, which is connected to the Genitive (Dopełniacz) case, which I’ll explain in a moment. First though I’d like to point out where the word comes from, because once you know, you’ll remember it forever and that’s another free word in your memory!

The word for Summer in Polish, is Lato.

So when you’re counting in years, you’re actually counting in summers.

Lato is a neuter noun and since we’re dealing with counting, we’re going to be converting it to either :

Lat Genitive plural (Dopełniacz) for numbers greater than 5
Lata Nominative plural (Mianownik) for numbers ending in 2, 3, 4 (but not 12, 13, 14)

Some examples

Masz 1 rok : You are 1 year old

Masz 2 lata : You are 2 years old

Masz 3 lata : You are 3 years old

Masz 4 lata : You are 4 years old

Masz 5 lat : You are 5 years old

Masz 12 lat : You are 12 years old

Masz 22 lata : You are 22 years old

Masz 25 lat : You are 25 years old

Or perhaps it would be easier to remember in this format :

 1  rok
 2, 3, 4  lata
 5 – 21  lat
 22, 23, 24  lata
 25 – 31  lat
 32, 33, 34  lata
 x5 – x1  lat
 x2, x3, x4  lata

Adjectives to adverbs (-o)

Last post I looked at the way many adjectives can be closely mapped to corresponding adverbs, focusing on those which resulted in an adverb ending in -e.

In this post, I’ll cover the other category; those that result in an adverb ending in -o.  As last time, I’ll quote examples of masculine adjective endings, but of course the same patterns apply for feminine and neuter versions.

Adverbs to end in -o

I’ll quote the full list of adjective endings which typically map to a adverb with -o, but effectively, it seems to be everything which isn’t in the list on the previous page for -e.

Soft endings: -ni, -pi, -wi, -si, -cy, -czy, -ży, -chy, -szy

The perennial special cases : -gi, -ki

And finally : -owy

As far as I can tell, there is only one common special change, where it’s not simply i to o, or y to o.

Adjective ending Adverb ending
ni nio

Some common examples

Adjective Adverb English
bliski blisko closely
cichy cicho quietly
drogi drogo expensively
duży dużo a lot
gorący gorąco hot
lekki lekko lightly
ostatni ostatnio lately
suchy sucho dry
tani tanio cheaply
wysoki wysoko high
zdrowy zdrowo healthily

Colours

There is a special rule for colours, which also map to an adverb ending with -o.  The preposition ‘na‘ is added to a colour in order for it to make sense as an adverb,

Adjective Adverb English
biały na biało in white
czerwony na czerwono in red
niebieski na niebiesko in blue
ciemny na ciemno in a dark colour
jasny na jasno in a bright colour

Adjectives to adverbs (-e)

Adjectives and adverbs are a great example of knowing two words as a result of memorizing only one & the rules are largely consistent and predictable for what ending to apply.

Adverbs to end in -e

It seems typical to quote the adjectives in their masculine form for these mappings, so I’ll do likewise.  But each of the endings below typically results in an adverb ending in -e, sometimes with other slight changes to the suffix.

Adjective ending Adverb ending
ły le
ny nie
sny śnie
sty ście
wy wie

Some examples

Adjective Adverb English
ciekawy ciekawie interestingly
doskonały doskonale perfectly
ładny ładnie prettily
osobisty osobiście personally
radosny radośnie joyfully
zły zle wrongly

Exceptions

  1. While -wy ⇒ -wie, this isn’t the case when the ending is -owy.  They map to owo.
  2. Colours.  These also map to the -o ending.
  3. There are just some exceptions to every rule.  Common ones that I’ve see so far include :
Adjective Adverb English
mroźny mrózno freezing
późny późno late
wolny wolno slowly

Next post, I’ll look at the other adverb suffix which I’ve mentioned in the exceptions, -o.

The gender of numbers

In Polish, you get used to changing the ending of adjectives to suit the gender of their associated noun.  Numbers are similar, but fortunately only the first two, which makes life simpler!  In the table below you can see that for one and two, the word changes for a Masculine, Neuter & Feminine noun.  Whereas for three and greater, the word for the number is the same for all.

Masculine Neuter Feminine
jeden kot jedno jabłko jedna kobieta
dwa koty dwa jabłka dwie kobiety
trzy koty trzy jabłka trzy kobiety
cztery koty cztery jabłka cztery kobiety
pięć kotów pięć jabłek pięć kobiet
sześć kotów sześć jabłek sześć kobiet
siedem kotów siedem jabłek siedem kobiet
osiem kotów osiem jabłek osiem kobiet
dziewięć kotów dziewięć jabłek dziewięć kobiet
dziesięć kotów dziesięć jabłek dziesięć kobiet

The other thing you might have noticed if you were paying attention, was that from five, the nouns change too.  This is one of the rules for the Genitive (Dopełniacz) case coming in to play, where a quantity of five or more changes the case to Genitive.  Well, mostly.  Except where the number ends with the word dwa, trzy or cztery (ie, 22, 23, 24, 32, 33, 34, 42…).  But that wasn’t the focus of this post and I’ll cover the rules for Genitive another day.

Pies to Psa, but why not Piesa?

I’m sure you’re aware that basically as you change the case of a noun, you often need to change the ending of the word in some way.

There are dozens of rules about when and why (which I’ll have a go at simplifying some of in the future), but one example you see again and again is Pies (Dog), but it’s a strange one because in various cases Pies turns into Psa, Psy, Psu or Psów.  Yet Kot (Cat) (which is another masculine animate noun) changes to Kota, Koty, Kotu, Kotów.

There are other words which do similar things, where some letters are removed before the ending is applied, but until today I hadn’t found anywhere that explained why these words were special, so I had them all lumped together as special nouns you had to memorize, but I really don’t like having to memorize more than necessary.

Today I found a book which gave me a rule to follow, which appears to hold true for lots of other nouns, so I wanted to share while it was fresh in my mind.

If the noun has an ‘e or an ‘ie in the last syllable, then remove it before adding the ending.

Examples of this pattern (with just the one other case to keep it simple)

Nominative Accusative English
Lew Lwa Lion
Dziadek Dziadka Grandfather
Chłopiec Chłopca Boy
Ojciec Ojca Father

Note this only applies (as far as I can tell) to Masculine Animate nouns, but at least it’s one more pattern and one less magic special case to remember.

Prepositions – Locative (Miejszownik)

Finally, some prepositions which result in you needing the Locative (Miejszownik) case for the noun in your sentence.  Most of these are also shared with the Accusative case, but remember Accusative is all about the motion with respect to a destination, whereas Locative is about the location at which the verb is happening.

Jadę w góry <ACC>

I am going to the mountains

Jestem w górach <LOC>

I am in the mountains

I’ll break down more of the rules for deciding which case to use in a later post, but once again, this post is just to put the prepositions in a group to remember.

 na on
 o at (time)
 po after (time)
 przy at
 w in, inside