Episode 14: I Am In Bus, Not On Bus!

Jestem w autobusie, nie na autobusie!

English Phonemes: "YEHS-tehm v ah-oo-toh-BOO-shyeh, nyeh nah ah-oo-toh-BOO-shyeh"

Literal translation: “I am in bus, not on bus!”

Important (and lesson-relevant) Fun Fact: Polish doesn’t have articles! That’s why using “a” and “the” correctly in English is tough for Polish speakers learning English. (True for other languages, too.)

Jestem = I am
W = in, inside
Autobusie = bus (singular object form) 
Nie = no, not
Na = on, on top of

Listener Mom suggested I talk about the difference between "on the bus" and "in the bus". Thanks, Mom!

In English, we say “I’m getting on the bus” to mean that we are boarding a bus. But when James Bond jumps onto a speeding bus from a bridge, we also say in English that he is “on the bus”. However, in Polish, there is a distinct linguistic difference between these two types of being “on the bus”. To Poles, the bus is an object into which you get, but not onto which you climb. Only daredevils get on a bus. 

This is why sometimes you’ll hear a Polish speaker say in English “I get in the bus.” Conceptually, that’s correct. Linguistically, it’s correct also. It just sounds strange to us native English speakers because we always say “I get on the bus” even though we all know we don’t intend to climb on top of the vehicle. (And don’t get me started on ‘hopping’ buses!)

Similar distinctions exist for other stuff like trains, or when Poles talk about what’s “on” TV, meaning a physical object on top of the TV set, versus what’s “in” TV, meaning what program is playing. In English, we say “what’s on TV” to mean the programs, and we switch to say “what’s on THE TV” to refer to physical objects on top of physical television sets. But Polish doesn’t have articles! So aside from the conceptual way Poles consider the objects themselves, Poles have to be particular and deliberate about using “in” versus “on” to achieve the same specificity that articles provide in English.

Perhaps you have a native Polish speaker in your life that makes correct but sometimes odd-sounding turns of phrase? Now, hopefully, you know a bit more about why.  :-)

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Julia Tutko