Polish verbs have two "aspects", imperfective and perfective, which means you use a different word depending on whether the activity you're describing is ongoing or habitual, or if it's definite or completed.

Sometimes the two aspects are just differentiated by an (arbitrary) prefix:

  • "jadłem" I was eating, e.g. "I ate an apple every day last summer" from jeść
  • "zjadłem" I ate, e.g. "I ate an apple yesterday" from zjeść

but sometimes the two aspects are completely different words:

  • "będę mówił" I will be speaking, e.g. "I will speaking every Tuesday" from mówić
  • "powiem" I will speak, e.g. "I will tell you everything" from powiedzić

And for some verbs, verbs of motion, there are two imperfective forms, determinate and indeterminate:

  • "płynąć" e.g. "to swim to Cambodia" (determinate imperfect)
  • "pływać" e.g. "to swim around in the pool" (indeterminate imperfect)
  • "popływać" e.g. "to swim for an hour this afternoon" (perfect)

My question is: are mówić and powiedzić the same lexeme? Abstractly, they're considered to have the same meaning, having to do with speaking. Are płynąć, pływać and popływać the same lexeme? The extreme case is "to go", where iść, chodzić, and pójść are the three forms--do they represent the same lexeme?

And if "lexeme" isn't what the sets represent, what's the right word for it?

  • The same difference exists in English: tell/talk/say/speak. So, mówić = talk, powiedzić = tell, rzec = say. Po- prefix can be roughly translated as "to have some [noun]" Nov 27, 2014 at 18:27
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    The question should be rephrased as "Is the theoretical concept Lexeme applicable or useful in describing Polish aspects (or 'aspects', if it's not a standard term)?"
    – jlawler
    Nov 27, 2014 at 20:12
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    "are mówić and powiedzić the same lexeme?" No of course not. That looks like a classic case of suppletion. "Are płynąć, pływać and popływać the same lexeme?" I don't know enough about Polish morphology to be sure, but just from looking at their surface forms they looks like they could be.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 28, 2014 at 0:14
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    @curiousdannii Suppletion would neccessarily mean that they are the same lexeme. Suppletion is when the inflected form of one word is another, not related word. It can only be the inflected form if it is part of the same lexeme (as long as we are talking about synthetic forms). "went" and "go" are the same lexeme.
    – user9315
    Mar 16, 2015 at 10:29
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    I don't know much about Polish but as for Russian the communis opinio is that aspect is derivational; thus, we have different lexemes.
    – Alex B.
    Apr 14, 2015 at 23:30

3 Answers 3


Let's make following assumptions :

  • Lexeme is a group of inflectional forms connected by the core semantics, the most primitive meaning that points the recipient to a vague semantic cloud
  • Perfective or imperfective aspect is a grammatical category on the same level as number, gender, tense, case etc.

On that basis, I would say that the group of "mówić" and "powiedzieć" and any inflectional form derived from these infinitives ( as: "powiedziałem,mówił,mówiąc,powiedziawszy,powiedzieli" etc.) is in fact the same lexeme. You could even add "przemówić" here and all its forms.

Even though suppletion occurs here it still retains the same basic meaning "to speak", which consitutes a lexeme.


A lexeme (...) is a unit of lexical meaning that exists regardless of the number of inflectional endings it may have or the number of words it may contain.

The last thing to add, if you would try to answer that question on the basis of sheer native speakers' perception of language, I would be quite suprised if any Pole considered "powiedzieć" and "mówić" separate in any different way than "zjeść" and "jeść". And I am stating that as a native Polish speaker :)

  • A clear and consistent answer. But by "that points to the recipient a cloud" did you mean "that points the recipient to a cloud"?
    – Kevin G.
    Aug 13, 2015 at 21:45
  • Yes, yes I did. Just a mistake, editing it now.
    – czypsu
    Aug 14, 2015 at 10:11

They are not considered one lexeme. The aspect is just an inherent feature of Polish (Slavic) verbs.

In Old Polish, the situation was more complicated as most verbs, e.g., wiedzieć, had two simple past tense forms: aorist (wiedziech - perfective) and imperfect (wiedzieach - imperfective). This is how the aspect emerged in Slavic languages but the system was later reorganized, prefixes began to be used to express aspect etc.

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    But if "lexeme" is defined as "one word or several words, considered as an abstract unit, and applied to a family of words related by form or meaning" and this is a case of several words related by meaning, why is that not a lexeme? And if it's not, what is it?
    – Kevin G.
    Jan 20, 2015 at 15:49
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    It is two "abstract units". For English speakers, an analogy would be phrasal verbs. "Look", "look up", "look for" etc. are all related by meaning but they're different lexemes. In Slavic languages, many imperfective verbs have more than one perfective counterpart with slightly different meaning (expressed by prefixes). But I can imagine that someone could consider pairs such as kupić and kupować one lexeme. In this case it's rather tradition that decides.
    – Atamiri
    Jan 20, 2015 at 17:27
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    So you're saying aspect is derivational rather than inflectional in Polish? Are these really markers of Aktionsart rather than Aspect?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 15, 2015 at 22:01
  • Are you sure they emerged this way? The aspects are quite universal among Slavic languages. Even in Bulgarian which retained the imperfect and aorist tenses. Jul 14, 2015 at 17:28
  • @VladimirF Yes.
    – Atamiri
    Jul 17, 2015 at 10:24

I don't know what a lexeme is, but if you can construct examples where one form is used as grammatical antecedent for pronominalizing or deleting another, this could show they are the same in some respect. For instance, in "She was swimming, it looked like fun, and so I decided to, also", "swimming" licenses the deletion of "swim".

  • You might as well consider "lexeme" a label for how two expressions are "the same in some respect". Aug 8, 2015 at 21:40

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