I’m hoping someone can clarify something for me.

My Polish cousin recently sent me a photo of a garden by Whatsapp. I wanted to ask her in Polish ‘(were you) in your own garden?’. As it was an SMS, I shortened it to ‘w Swoim ogrodzie?’. (I thought that ‘byłaś’ would be understood from the context).

My cousin told me that I had made an error and I should have written ‘w Twoim ogrodzie?’.

Was I completely wrong by using ‘swoim’ in this instance? I checked a Polish grammar book and it says you can only use a reflexive possessive personal pronoun (e.g. swój etc) in Polish, where the subject of the sentence is stated. Therefore if I had written in full ‘Byłaś w Swoim ogrodzie’, would this have been correct? Would a better version have been ‘Byłaś w własnym ogrodzie?’.

Thanks in advance.

Glad you asked this question, this is definitely something many learners have problems with.

The form “swoim” was perfectly correct in this case, I’d even say it is preferred over “Twoim” here. The only minor error I can spot here is the capitalization—normally you don’t put capital “S” in forms of “swój”, even in formal writing. Capitalized “Twój” and “Wasz” are very common, however, and many people use them in text messages.

It is true that you generally use “swój” when the subject is known, but it doesn’t have to be stated explicitly.

“Własnym” would technically be correct here, but it could seem a bit out of place. You mostly use it for emphasis: saying “w (swoim) własnym ogrodzie” would be more or less equivalent to “in your own garden”.

I’m sure you already know all the basic rules for using possessive pronouns, but maybe someone else reading the thread will benefit from checking out my guide to Polish possessive pronouns on the Clozemaster blog. There’s even a section on reflexive pronouns :wink:

1 Like

Many thanks for clarifying this for me Adam. I didn’t want to go back and challenge my cousin, as she is a very well educated person and I’d assumed that she was correct when she advised me that I’d made a mistake! Thanks also for the link to the guide, the subject matter is very well explained and was useful revision for me. The full chart of possessive pronouns is very good reference material, even if it does remind me of the difficult challenge I have taken on to learn Polish :slight_smile:

Hi Adam, a question about your comment :-

The only minor error I can spot here is the capitalization—normally you don’t put capital “S” in forms of “swój”, even in formal writing. Capitalized “Twój” and “Wasz” are very common, however, and many people use them in text messages.

What are the ‘rules’ (if any) about when it is appropriate to capitalise a personal pronoun? In many email/text exchanges I’ve had with native Polish people, I’ve often seen them capitalise personal pronouns such as ‘Ciebie’ or ‘Was’. I was once given feedback that I should do the same thing, as ‘it is a sign of respect’ to the person you are writing to. Is this something which has grammatical rules, or is it some kind of ‘unwritten rule’ that is widely accepted in informal writing? According to the ‘rules’ (formal or informal), which pronouns would normally be capitalized and which not? (You’ve already indicated that the forms of ‘swój’ would not be appropriate). Thanks!

Typically, you capitalize all the forms derived from the 2nd person pronouns “ty” and “wy”. This includes personal pronouns in all grammatical cases (“Cię”, “Was”, “Ciebie”, “Wami”, etc.), as well as the respective possessive pronouns (“Twój”, “Wasz”, “Twoją”, “Waszymi”, etc.).

The reflexive forms—both personal (“siebie”, “sobą”) and possessive (“swój”, “swoich”) are never capitalized in the middle of a sentence, regardless of whom they refer to. The rule of thumb here is that when you address someone directly, you might want to capitalize the pronoun to show your respect for the person. Reflexive pronouns are not very direct compared to regular pronouns, hence they are never capitalized.

There is another group of words that function as direct forms of address—the formal “you” pronouns such as “pan”, “pani”, “państwo”. As you know, the very purpose of formal pronouns is to give the person the respect that is expected in a formal setting, so it is only logical that they would also be capitalized when put in writing. So if you’re addressing a person you’re not on familiar terms with in a letter or an e-mail, you should always capitalize the pronouns—“Pani”, “Pan”, “Państwo”—in the middle of a sentence.

Note that this is different from using these words as normal nouns, as in “Tamta pani to moja ciocia” (“That lady is my aunt”)—here you are not expected to capitalize the word (since it’s not even a pronoun).

Finally, you will sometimes capitalize third person pronouns (“On”, “Ona”) when they refer to divine beings, royalty, or someone who is very important to you. But this is really a fringe case.

And of course, you are often expected to capitalize some formal titles etc. (from Profesor Nowak to Jego Wysokość [“His Majesty”]), but there isn’t really that much difference between Polish and English in this respect. Some companies even like to capitalize “nasi Klienci” in their marketing copy, which I find a bit over the top.

1 Like

Many thanks for your reply.