In all languages two types of contact can be distinguish – formal and informal. In English the difference between those two is little but in Polish the cultural context is strongly expressed in grammar structures.

Formal contact in Polish

Addressing someone formally in Polish we replace the standart forms ty or wy with their formal equivalents:
pan – addressing a man
Jak się nazywasz? – Jak się pan nazywa?
pani – addressing a woman
Gdzie mieszkasz? – Gdzie pani mieszka?
państwo – addressing a couple or a group of men and women
Co robicie? – Co państwo robią?
panie – addressing a group of women
Gdzie idziecie? – Gdzie panie idą?
panowie – addressing a group of men
O czym rozmawiacie? – O czym panowie rozmawiają?

Structure of a formal sentence

As you may notice in the exemples above in formals senctences we not only add the words like pan, pani, państwo..but also change the form of the verbs to third form singular or plural. So in the sentence like Gdzie pani mieszka?  what we say exactly is Where does the lady live? (Gdzie pani mieszka?), the same Gdzie państwo idą?Where are they going? (Gdzie państwo idą?). Not addressing a person directly as ty or wy but as on/ona or oni/one is a sign of respect.

When do we use the formal forms?

Polish is a quite formal language so talking to a person we don’t know (doesn’t metter their age as long as they’re not underage), to someone who is older that we are or in any kind of oficial situation the formal forms need to be used. What’s interesting, even people arguing on the street and using invectives far from appropreate will still adress each other as pan/pani.

Nowadays due to the influence of English, usage of the forms pani/pani has becoming less strict between young people especially in the Internet communication and some formal situations.

In written Polish

It is worth to mention that in written Polish, no matter if it is a formal or informal conversation or what age the person is, the forms of the pronouns ty and wy are always spelled with a capital letter.
e.g. Mam się dobrze, dziękuję. A Ty? – I’m well, tank you. And you?
Czy Twoja mama przyjeżdża na weekend? – Is your mom coming for the weekend?
Czy mogę Wam pomóc? – Can I help you?

Let’s practise

If the exercise doesn’t work you may find it here.

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