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Add Emotion to Your Russian: Emphatic Particles (Part I) Posted by on Feb 22, 2017 in language, Russian for beginners

Whenever I read English translations of Russian literature, they strike me as rather matter-of-fact. This may be because Russian often not only describes reality but also expresses the author’s attitude towards it. One way of doing that is through particles (частицы).

book and highlighter

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Take a look at this excerpt from the story “Записки на чинаровых листьях” (“Notes On Oriental Plane Leaves”) in the “Дружба Народов” (Friendship of the People) journal.

Это сейчас мир стал ярок. В советское же время он, в той же нашей Сибири, виделся пасмурным даже и под солнцем.

This could be translated into English as “It is only recently that the world has become colorful. In the Soviet era, however, even in our Siberia, it looked overcast even when the sun was shining.” What would change if we took out the highlighted words? While the meaning would remain, the passage would lost much of its poignancy. In this post, let us look at several common particles used for emphasis.

Даже

Probably the most common participle is даже (even). This usage is pretty straightforward and similar to English.

Даже в анкетах при трудоустройстве есть графа: “Как вы оцениваете собственные профессиональные качества?”
Even job applications have a box asking, “How would you assess your professional qualities?”
[Сергей Довлатов. Переводные картинки // «Иностранная литература», 1990]

И

You likely know и as the conjunction “and.” However, it is also often used for emphasis. Often, и is a synonym for даже and is placed before the verb. That is not always the case. Let us look at some specific examples.

А об этом никто и не задумывался.
No one even stopped to think about it.
[Дина Рубина. Медная шкатулка (сборник) (2015)]

Here, и could be replaced with даже (even) to mean the same thing.

Да, пожалуй, вместе с этим и конец всей истории вообще.
That would probably be the end of the whole story.
[Анатолий Кирилин. Нулевой километр // «Сибирские огни», 2013]

И here is not a conjunction connecting two ideas or clauses. Instead, it is used for emphasis.

parents with daughter in a field

Image from Unsplash

Так моя мама попала в семью известного писателя, автора нескольких книг . . . У них моя мама и выросла в любви и уважении.

That’s how my mother ended up in the family of a well-known writer, the author of several books […] It was in that family that my mom grew up in love and respect.

[Дина Рубина. Медная шкатулка (сборник) (2015)]

Here, и refers back to an antecedent — the family where the mother grew up. It is similar to the English “it was there that…” construction. A famous example of this construction is the passage in Crime and Punishment — no spoilers! — where the detective tells the suspect, who had asked him who had killed the victim, “Вы и убили.” This can be translated “You did” or “It was you who did it.”

Же

Же is a particle used to express a contradiction or surprise or to drive a point home.

Я удивился:
― Вы что, университет кончали?
― Имею диплом с отличием.
― Так почему же вы здесь?
― А где же мне быть? Где же мне работать, по-твоему?
I was surprised, “So you have a university degree?”
“I graduated with honors.”
“So why are you here?”
“Where else should I be? Where should I be working, in your opinion?”
[Сергей Довлатов. Виноград (1990)]

Here, же emphasizes the questions and makes them sound like a contradiction to previously presented information.

Вот и я понимаю… Я же не дурак! Я же с образованием…
I understand that, too. I’m not stupid, in the end. I’m educated, after all…
[Григорий Горин. Почему повязка на ноге? (1960-1985)]

Here, too, же contrast the statement with the previous information or expectations.

Же also appears in expressions meaning “the same,” e.g. “тот же дом” (the same house), “тогда же” (at the same time), etc.

We will continue this discussion next time.

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About the Author:Maria

Maria is a trained Russian translator. Originally hailing from Russia, she now lives in Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. When she's not at her computer, she is dancing, out taking photographs or practicing German or Spanish at local language meetups. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. Richard:

    Hi Maria,

    Are there any general rules regarding the placement of emphatic particles? Word order in Russian is my big stumbling block at this point.

    • Maria:

      @Richard Hi Richard, thank you for your comment! I have not seen any single recipe, but here are some observations:

      between the subject and the predicate/verb can work for emphasizing the verb or the whole sentence: Ты же/ведь видишь, что я болею! (Can’t you see I’m sick!)

      This works for the “unexpected outcome” sense of и, as in “Вот тебе, бабушка, и Юрьев день!” (said about something not working out as planned/promised, originally referring to the landlords breaking their promise to let serfs change owners). We only have the subject here (Юрьев день), but we are emphasizing the entire sentence as being contradictory to expectations.

      Даже can be placed before the word we are focusing on: Там холодно даже в июле (It’s cold there even in July).

      This is, obviously, an incomplete attempt to explain the position of particles. I’d love to hear about more comprehensive sources if our readers know any!

  2. Richard:

    P.S. A very good post! 🙂

  3. Richard:

    Thanks, Maria. That helps me quite a bit!

    “between the subject and the predicate/verb can work for emphasizing the verb or the whole sentence”

    That’s interesting. And also very useful! Thanks again!

  4. Mark S:

    Quite interesting. You’re right, that the translations are missing something. It’s almost like you’d need to add in synthetic emphatic expressions. E.g for the же example:


    So why the heck are you here?
    Where on Earth should I be working? What the heck should I be doing, in your opinion?

    I wonder whether italics would do it.


    So why are you /here/?
    Where /should/ I be working? What /should/ I be doing, in your opinion?


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