polish greetings

Aspect in Polish in the Past Tense

Polish Aspects in Past Tense

We choose the imperfective aspect (e.g.  czytać, gotować, pisać) when:

  • the situation was normal
  • the action was “infinite”
  • the result was not important or we did not see the result – the process

We choose the perfective aspect (e.g. przeczytać, ugotować, napisać) when:

  • the situation was specific
  • action was “finished”
  • the result was/will be important or we saw the result – the end of the process


The semantic differences between the perfective and imperfective aspects stand out very clearly in the past tense because this tense can be used with verbs in both aspects. Compare the following examples:


  • Śpiewali “Sto lat!”. Długo czekali. / eng. They sang Happy Birthday! They waited a long time. —> focus on duration


  • Zaśpiewali “Sto lat!”. Zaczekali na nas./ eng. They sang Happy Birthday! They waited for us. —> focus on result / completion


  • Mary często śpiewała. Mary zawsze tam kupowała kwiaty. / eng. Mary sang often. Mary always bought flowers there. —> focus on repetition / habit


Mary weszła do pokoju. Jean zamknął okno. / eng. Mary entered the room. Jean closed the window. —> focus on a one time occurrence.

English uses several tenses to express these nuances in meaning. Some of the correspondences between the Polish aspects and the English tense system are seen below.


  • Mary właśnie zjadła obiad. —> Mary has just eaten dinner. (Pres. Perf.)
  • Zrobiłam dziś dobry obiad. —> I’ve made a good dinner today (Pres. Perf.) / I made a good dinner today. (Simple Past)


  • Rzadko kupowali mięso. —> They rarely bought meat. (Simple Past) / They would rarely buy meat. (Cond.)

Cały dzień czytał książki. —> He was reading books all day long. (Past Cont.)

Aspect and the Use of Adverbs

The following expressions of time are associated with the imperfective aspect:

  • always, daily, often, usually, from time to time, sometimes, regularly, seldom
  • once a week/month/year/5 years
  • twice a week/month/year
  • every Tuesday/every month/year
  • every month/week/year
  • from Friday to Sunday
  • from morning to evening
  • from 13.00 to 17.00
  • for 2 minutes/day/week/month/year
  • all day/week/month/year

The following expressions of time are associated with the perfective aspect:

  • now, finally, finally, finally
  • suddenly
  • in one moment, in one moment
  • immediately
  • in two hours, in one night, in one evening

There is also a close interaction between aspect and the use of adverbs. Since perfective verbs express completed and / or instantaneous action(s), they occur with nagle, zaraz, natychmiast, wreszcie and nareszcie (eng. suddenly, immediately, immediately, finally and finally) – adverbs all stressing “suddenness” or “finality”.

Likewise,imperfective verbs combine only with adverbs such as ciągle, często, nieraz, zawsze, zwykle and długo (eng. always, often, sometimes, always, usually and long),  which emphasize the repetition or duration of an action. The interrogative expression jak długo (eng. how long) also requires imperfective verbs both in the questions it introduces and the answers it requires.

For example:

Jak długo czekali? Czekali dwie godziny. / eng. How long have they been waiting? They waited two hours.

Jak długo się uczyła? Uczyła się cały dzień./ eng. How long has she studied? She studied all day.

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