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Identifiers

Countable singular nouns

When you use a noun in English which is countable (policzalny) and singular (w liczbie pojedynczej) you ALWAYS have to use an identifier. As the name suggests, an identifier identifies an object by answering the questions który? or czyj?

This is very different to Polish because you normally use context to give you this information and don’t very often use identifiers.

a and an – indefinite article

Indefinite means niejasny and you use a or an when the listener doesn’t know exactly which thing you are talking about. For example:

the first time you tell somebody about something

Wczoraj kupiłem (jakiś) samochód. (słuchacz wcześniej nie wiedział, że masz nowy samochód)
I bought a car yesterday.

Mam (jakąś) nową książkę.
I have a new book.

it isn’t important exactly which thing you are talking about.

Daj mi (jakiś) długopis. (jaki długopis? – mnie to obojętne)
Give me a pen.

Notice that in English we MUST tell the listener which or whose, even if it doesn’t matter.

the – definite article

Definite means określony or oczywisty and you use the when the listener already knows exactly which thing you are talking about. They might know this because:

The speaker mentioned it earlier (you use the to show you are talking about the same thing you told them about earlier)

Wczoraj kupiłem (jakiś) samochód. (Ten) samochód jest bardzo ładny.
I bought a car yesterday. The car is very nice.

It is obvious from the context

Idę na basen. (Jesteśmy w Skierniewicach. Skierniewice ma tylko jeden basen, więc musi być ten basen)
I’m going to the swimming Pool.

There is only one of these things

Idę do wieży Eiffela. (Jest na świecie tylko jedna wieża Eiffela)
I’m going to the Eiffel Tower.

this and that

We normally use this and that to give the listener an idea about the location of the thing we are talking about. It can be close to us, this, or further away, that.

To (tutaj) ta książka, o której mówiłem.
This is the book I was talking about.

To (tam) ta książka, o której mówiłem.
That is the book I was talking about.

You can also use identifiers to identify something by saying who it belongs to.

Kocham (mojego) syna.
I love my son.

Złamałem (sobie moją) rękę.
I broke my arm.

On pracuje w centrali naszej firmy w Warszawie.
He works at our company’s head office in Warsaw.

Remember: When you use a countable, singular noun in English you ALWAYS have to identify which? or whose? thing you are talking about, even if it isn’t important.

In and At 2

Previous: In and At 1

Because we use at to focus on an activity we can often use it in situations where you could talk about either the action or the location.

Jestem w pracy. / Pracuję.
I’m at work. / I’m working.

Jestem w kinie. / Oglądam film.
I’m at the cinema. / I’m watching a film.

When we are talking about work, we can also use in and at to show the difference between being there for the whole day, to do your normal work, or being there temporarily, and not for your normal work.

Jestem w pracy (i cały dzień pracuję).
I’m at work.

(Tymczasowo) jestem w pracy/biurze bo muszę podpisać ważną umowę.
I’m (temporarily) in work/the office because I have to sign an important contract.

It can sometimes be difficult to translate the difference between at and in because you might need to use a completely different sentence to describe the same situation in Polish.

Co robisz? – Jestem na przystanku i czekam na autobus/ciebie.
What are you doing? – I’m at the bus stop and waiting for a bus/you.

Gdzie jesteś? – Chowam się pod wiatą przystanku, bo mocno pada deszcz.
Where are you? – I’m in the bus shelter because it’s raining hard.

We also often use at to talk about points during a journey. This use is really a contraction of the verb arrive at. We often use at for points during a journey and use in to show that this is our final destination.

Gdzie jesteś? – Jestem w górach na nartach.
Where are you? – I’m in the mountains skiing.

Gdzie jesteś? – Już przyjechałem w góry.
Where are you? – I’m at the mountains. (I’ve just arrived at the mountains.)

Jestem we Frankfurcie. Za godzinę powinienem być w Londynie.
I’m at Frankfurt. I should be in London in about an hour.

One unusual situation is when we are talking about water e.g. rivers, lakes, seas or oceans. This difference should be easier to understand because you use different prepositions to show the same difference in Polish, as in the example below.

Kochanie. Gdzie jest samochód? – Jest w rzece. Jeśli mnie kochasz, wybaczysz mi.
Where is the car, darling? – It’s in the river. If you love me, you’ll forgive me.

Gdzie jest samochód? – Jest na parkingu nad rzeką.
Where is the car? – It’s in the car park at the river.

In and At 1

A lot of people are confused by the difference between in and at. In a general sense:

at is normally used to focus on what is happening in a location.

in is normally used to focus on where something is happening.

For example, look at the two sentences below:

Co robisz? – Jestem w kinie z przyjaciółmi.
What are you doing? – I’m at the cinema with some friends.

Gdzie jesteś? – Mocno pada deszcz więc czekam na ciebie w kinie.
Where are you? – It’s raining hard so I’m waiting for you in the cinema.

In the first sentence you can use the context to assume that the person is going to watch a film, the activity is important and watching a film is why people go to the cinema.

In the second sentence, you aren’t interested in what the person is doing, you simply need to know their location so that you can meet them.

You could add more information to the first sentence to make the situation clear, but this isn’t necessary in English. It is usually enough to use at instead of in.

Jestem w kinie z przyjaciółmi i obejrzymy/oglądamy film.
I’m at the cinema with some friends.

Remember that when we use at or in there often isn’t any real difference in the meaning, we are simply focusing on either the activity OR the place. We can therefore often use both prepositions.

Co robisz? – Jestem w kinie z przyjaciółmi.
What are you doing? – I’m at the cinema with some friends. (focus on activity – watch a film)

Co robisz? – Jestem w kinie z przyjaciółmi.
What are you doing? – I’m in the cinema with some friends. (focus on location – maybe we’ll watch a film or maybe we are there for another reason)

There are sometimes situations in Polish where you can use a different preposition to focus on an activity or a place:

Jestem u fryzjera.
I’m at the hairdresser’s.

Jestem w salonie fryzjerskim i czekam na syna.
I’m in the hairdresser’s waiting for my son.

There is no rule which says you MUST use one sentence or the other, but in normal use you would use u fryzjera to show you are having your hair cut and w salonie fryzjerskim to simply show your current location.

Another example might be:

Gdzie jesteś? – Jestem u kolegi.
Where are you? – I’m at a friend’s. (my friend is here with me)

Gdzie jesteś – Jestem w domu kolegi.
Where are you? – I’m in my friend’s house. (maybe your friend is there or maybe they aren’t. It is the location which is important)

Because we use at to talk about activities, we can also use it with nouns which aren’t actually a physical location in the same way as a cinema is a location:

Co robisz? – Jestem na imprezie/koncercie.
What are you doing? – I’m at a party/concert.

Co robisz? – Jem śniadanie/obiad.
What are you doing? – I’m at breakfast/dinner.

There are a lot of phrases where we can only use either at OR in and we can’t use both. You will have to learn these phrases.

at

at home – w domu
at the top/bottom (of) – u góry/dołu (czegoś)
at the side (of) – obok, na poboczu (czegoś)
at the front (of) – z przodu, od frontu (czegoś)
at the back (of) – w tyle (czegoś), głęboko w (czymś)
at the beginning/end (of) – na początku/końcu (czegoś)

in

in a book/magazine/newspaper – w książce/czasopismie/gazecie
in a story – w historii
in the street – na ulicy
in the photo – na zdjęciu
in the middle – na środku
in the corner – na rogu
in a queue – w kolejce
in a car/taxi – w samochodzie/taksówce
in the country – na wsi
in a country – w kraju

Next: In and At 2