Polish cases: what do we need them for?

I’m sure you have been wondering why we use grammatical cases in Polish, what are they, what do you need them for and why there are so many!

What is a grammatical case?

A grammatical case is a form of word that allows us to express the relationships between words in a sentence, something that in English is achieved mostly by word order. 

For example, let’s look at the following words: Maria, zupa (soup), Karolina, łyżka (spoon). They are in their basic form, unchanged. Now, let’s look at the following sentence:

Maria zjadła zupę Karoliny łyżką.

Here, the word Maria is unchanged, which tells us that it’s the subject of the sentence – the word that in English comes first.

The word zupa takes an ę ending, telling us it’s the object of the sentence – the word that in English comes after the verb.

The word Karolina ends with a y, informing us that the soup belonged to her, in English: Karolina’s or of Karolina.

Łyżka on the other hand takes ą, suggesting it was used as a means to achieve something, a tool, in English: with a spoon.

Let’s put it all together:

Maria ate the soup of Karolina with a spoon.

This allows Polish to have a very free word order, so this sentence could sound:

Karoliny zupę łyżką zjadła Maria.

…and still be perfectly correct, logical and understandable.

All the Polish cases

Polish has 7 grammatical cases, each of them has its primary function as well as secondary usages. Let’s have a look at them:

nominativemianowniksubject of the sentenceKot pije wodę.
A cat is drinking water.
genitivedopełniaczpossessionTo jest woda kota.
This is the cat’s water.
This is the water of the cat.
dativecelownikindirect object (receiver)Daję wodę kotu.
I’m giving water to the cat.
accusativebiernikdirect objectKot pije wodę.
A cat is drinking water.
Daję wodę kotu.
I’m giving water to the cat.
instrumentalnarzędniktoolJem zupę łyżką.
I’m eating soup with a spoon.
locativemiejscownikafter certain prepositionsJestem w pracy.
I’m at work.
vocativewołaczaddressing people
(and other creatures!)
Kotku, chodź do mnie!
Hey kitty, come to me!

Now, let’s have a closer look at each of them

Nominative case/mianownik

Primary function

Subject of the sentence:

Maria zjadła zupę. – Maria ate soup.

Dzieci są w domu. – The children are at home.

Ty dużo pracujesz. – You work a lot.

Secondary function

Dictionary form:

łyżka – a spoon

pomysł – an idea

środek – middle, centre, means


Jako – as:

Ty pracujesz jako pilot. – You work as a pilot.

Genitive case/dopełniacz

Primary function

Possessor or instead of the preposition of:

zupa KarolinyKarolina’s soup / soup of Karolina

koniec roku – the end of the year

Boję się pająków. – I’m afraid of spiders.

Note that in Polish all quantities use genitive, as well as most numbers higher than 4:

puszka pomidorów – a can of tomatoes

dużo słów – a lot of words

trochę cukru – a little bit of sugar

mało problemów – few problems

5 litrów – five litres

Secondary function

Direct object of a negative sentence:

Nie znam Karoliny. – I don’t know Karolina.

Nie zrobiłeś ćwiczenia. – You didn’t do the exercise.


Most prepositions go with genitive, among those:

od – from (person)

dla – for (person)

do – into

z – from (place)

u – at someone’s place

bez – without

obok – next to

…and all the prepositions not listed under other cases

Learn more about dopełniacz here:

Dative case/celownik

Primary function

Indirect object of the sentence, a receiver of an action:

Kupiłem Adamowi prezent. – I bought Adam a gift.
Dałem Marcie prezent. – I gave Marta a gift. / I gave a gift to Marta.

If you’d like to learn more about what an indirect object is (and learn celownik plural), have a look at our video here:

Secondary function

This case doesn’t have one 🙂


dzięki – thanks to

przeciw – against

wbrew – despite

na przekór – in defiance

Accusative case/biernik

Primary function

Direct object of the sentence:

Jem zupę. – I’m eating soup.

Widzisz kota? – Can you see a cat?

Secondary function

This case doesn’t have one 🙂


Biernik has a special power: it takes prepositions of location and changes them into prepositions of direction:

na półce – on the shelf→ na półkę – onto the shelf

w ścianie – in the wall → w ścianę – into the wall

It also has one preposition of its own, which is always a preposition of direction:

przez – through

Instrumental case/narzędnik

Primary function

Describing something you use to achieve something:

Jadę do pracy samochodem. – I’m going to work by car.

Namaluj to atramentem. – Paint it with ink.

Secondary function

Used when describing or defining one noun with another with verbs like być – to be or zostać/stać się – to become:

Ania została profesorką. – Ania became a professor.

Kijów jest stolicą Ukrainy. – Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine.


z – with (note that z with genitive means from!)

All the prepositions of location of one object in reference to another, where they’re not necessarily touching:

nad – over, above

pod – under

przed – in front of

za – behind

między – between

Locative case/miejscownik

Primary function

This case doesn’t actually have any functions other than coming with prepositions including the two basic prepositions of location – hence the name.


w – in

na – on, at

przy – by (next to)

o – about

po – after

Vocative case/wołacz


The only function of the vocative case is addressing someone. It’s not obligatory when used with first names, but it is when used with other words:

Panie kierowco, proszę otworzyć drzwi. – Driver, please open the door.

Dziękuję ci za prezent, skarbie! – Thank you for the gift, honey!

How to approach learning it all

Each Polish case has a bit of a different nature and logic – in some of them the ending depends on the word’s gender, in others on their nominative ending, in some cases (!) even on whether the object is a living thing or not. Thus, it’s best to approach every case separately. Watch our video below to see an example of how to do it, check out the set of grammar exercises we prepared or simply sign up for our course and let us teach it to you before you notice!

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