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Top 5 grammar problems for polish learners

11 września 2017, poniedziałek,

English grammar can give Polish learners sleepless nights. And I know what I’m saying (well, writing). Being Polish myself I remember school times when I was taught that without grammar I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively. So I spent hours doing dead-boring grammar exercises. And although I wholeheartedly agree with the opinion that without grammar very little can be conveyed but without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed, English grammar still deserves our attention.

© Mat Wright, British Council

So let’s have a look at top 5 grammar problems for Poles and some tips how they (problems) can be avoided.

 Our good (?) friend – the present perfect

 Have you ever been racking your brains to figure out the difference between the present perfect and the past/ present simple? And how many times have you got bogged down with dozens of rules that tell you when to use this tense? The concept of the present perfect doesn’t exist in Polish that’s why it’s so challenging for us. Do we say: ‚I know her for 10 years’ or ‚I’ve known her for 10 years’?*  And which is correct: ‚Where have you been?‚ or ‚Where were you’? **

Probably the best idea to learn the present perfect is to do it bit by bit. Focus on one particular aspect  (eg. talking about things that started in the past and continue until now – ‚I’ve lived in Poland for 25 years‚) and try to use it as often as possible. Also, when reading in English, try to spot  sentences that use the perfect aspect in this way.

 The present continuous – how often is too often ?

 ‚Everyday I’m working from 8am to 4 pm’, ‚On Saturdays I’m having breakfast and then I’m going for a walk with my dogs’. Well, not really. We don’t use the present continuous to talk about our routines and habits. We should say: ‚Every day I work from 8-4′, ‚On Saturdays I have breakfast and then go for a walk’. And although there are clear-cut rules showing how to use these two tenses, a lot of Polish learners struggle with them.

The reason might be that we use them so often that we don’t even notice when we make a mistake. So the next time you speak English, apart from listening to your interlocutors, try to listen to yourself and you’ll be better able to self-correct if necessary.

 Adjectives and adverbs. Mmm, aren’t they the same ?!

 No, they aren’t. Many Polish learners don’t see the difference between these two parts of speech. Do you speak English good? No, you speak English well. ‚Good‚ is an adjective and ‚well‚ is an adverb.

There’s a simple rule: adjectives go together with nouns: an attentive student, a careful driver. Adverbs go with verbs: to listen attentively, to drive carefully. As a rule of thumb, you can recognise adverbs by the -ly ending (although there are many exceptions).

Prepositions that give you a hard time

 They seem to be countless and to have no rules whatsoever. What’s more they are completely different from Polish prepositions! Poles often say: ‚It depends from …’ although the correct version is: ‚It depends on..’  Why? Well, it’s just the way it is. Although there are some useful rules as to how we should use eg. prepositions of time/ place, etc., most of the time we need to learn them by heart.

Every time you see a new word (a verb, a noun or an adjective) check whether it’s followed by a preposition. If yes, make a note of a full phrase, not a single word, eg. to apply for, in charge of.

 If I used conditional sentences correctly ….

 … I wouldn’t make so many mistakes. Unfortunately, Polish learners frequently translate from Polish into English: ‚Pójdę do kina jeśli będę mieć czas’ → ‚I will go to the cinema if I will have some free time’ (which is incorrect because normally we can’t put ‚will’ after ‚if’). Direct translation is rarely a good idea since English conditional sentences have their own rules. A better idea might be to remember the patterns of various conditionals, eg. If + present tenses + will for the first conditional. Again, there are some exceptions but knowing the patterns will surely help you!


And what are the aspects of English grammar that you find challenging? Share them with us!


*’I’ve known her for 10 years’ is correct. I knew here already 10 years ago and I still know her today.

** Well, it depends! If eg. your friend comes 30 minutes late for the meeting with you, you should exclaim: ‚Where have you been’!? But if you meet your friend for a coffee you can ask him/her: ‚Where were you yesterday’?


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  1. your advice, suggestions are ok

  2. Moim skromnym zdaniem „the definite and indefinite articles’ powoduja czesto bol glowy polskim (i nie tylko) studentom i uzytkownikom angielskiego. Zasady sa niby ‚clear-cut’ ale nawet tak swietny tlumacz jakim byl Baranczak pisal o czestych dylematach z wyborem ‚a’ i ‚the’ (tudziez z ich brakiem – ‚zero article’).