Ten Must-Know Introductory Phrases in Russian — Part I

Posted on 05. May, 2016 by in language

writing hand

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A comment to a recent post asked me to cover some introductory phrases in Russian. These small words are ubiquitous, especially in argumentative writing like news articles, and they link the ideas in a text to help the reader follow the writer’s logic.

In most cases, introductory words (вво́дные слова́) will be set off by commas. Consult an authoritative reference like Gramota to verify specific use cases.

1. Коне́чно

Коне́чно means “of course” and expresses certainty. It is pronounced коне́шно.

  • Коне́чно, снача́ла мы проведе́м инструкта́ж но́вых сотру́дников (Of course, we will first give some instructions to the new employees).

“Конечно” in Russian is fairly neutral and does not sound condescending as an answer.

  • Ты зна́ешь мою́ ма́му? (Do you know my mother?)
  • Коне́чно! (I certainly do.)

Some synonyms of конечно include разуме́ется (clearly) and несомне́нно (undoubtedly).

2. Мо́жет быть

dice

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Мо́жет быть literally translates to “may be” and is similar to its English counterpart. It makes the sentence tentative.

  • Па́ши все еще́ нет до́ма. Мо́жет быть, он задержа́лся на рабо́те. (Pasha [man’s name] still isn’t home. He might have stayed at work late.)

You could also say simply “може́т” in the same sense. Other similar words include возмо́жно (possibly) and вероя́тно (probably).

3. По-мо́ему

This very useful word means “in my opinion, it seems to me that.”

  • Я до́лго объясня́ла свою́ тео́рию, но, по-мо́ему, они ничего́ не по́няли (I explained my theory for a while, but I don’t think they understood anything).

Can we use it to talk about other people’s opinions? We certainly can for ты and вы.

  • Кто, по-тво́ему, победи́т на Еврови́дении? (Who do you think will win the Eurovision Song Contest?)
  • Я, по-ва́шему, совсе́м ничего́ не ви́жу? (Do you think I can’t see anything at all?)

In other cases, use “по ее/его/на́шему/их мне́нию” (in her/his/our/their opinion).

4. Вообще́

Вообще́ conveys the sense of “generally.”

  • Вообще́, мно́гие молоды́е лю́ди по-пре́жнему живу́т с роди́телями (Generally speaking, many young people still live with their parents).

Another variation is вообще́-то.

5. Кста́ти

Кста́ти is used to introduce a comment or a related idea, much like “by the way.”

  • Мое́й ко́шке три го́да. Кста́ти, ты ее не ви́дел? (My cat is three years old. By the way, have you seen her?)

A synonym is между про́чим.

  • Между про́чим, э́той пиани́стке всего́ 12 лет (By the way, this pianist is only 12 years old).

We will continue this list in our next post. Have you come across any of these or other introductory phrases?

One After Another: Past Temporal Clauses in Russian

Posted on 02. May, 2016 by in language

vintage alarm clock

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In this post, we will look at the ways you can introduce temporal clauses in Russian. We will concentrate on past verb forms. Translations are used to illustrate the meaning of the Russian phrases and may not reflect your local dialect of English.

Previous Events

one action before another

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If we want to describe one action that happened before another, we can use the conjunctions перед тем как and до того́ как, both loosely translated as “before.” In terms of punctuation, a comma usually comes before the whole conjunction, although it may come before как. More details on punctuation are available here. Перед тем как is also often used to refer to an action by the same subject that happens before another action.

  • Пе́ред тем как но́вые сотру́дники приступи́ли к рабо́те, их поприве́тствовал начальник (Before new the employees started work, they were greeted by their boss).
  • Дом, до того́ как его про́дали, каза́лся мне мра́чным ко́рнем несча́стий всей на́шей семьи́ (Before the house was sold, it seemed to me the dark cause of all the tribulations that befell our family). [Марина Палей. Поминовение (1987)]

Note that nouns are preceded by до (before, up until) or пе́ред (before, ahead of). No comma is necessary after the temporal clause.

  • До прие́зда уче́ного студе́нты до́лго гото́вили выступле́ния (Before the scholar’s arrival, the students worked on their presentations for a long time).
  • Спортсме́ны мно́го тренирова́лись пе́ред ма́тчем (The athletes trained a lot before the match).

Concurrent Events

one action with another

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If one thing was happening while another was also happening, we can use пока (while) or во время того как (during) to introduce the temporal clause. Both sentences will use an imperfective verb.

  • Пока́ мы разгова́ривали, де́ти жда́ли в маши́не (While we were talking, we children were waiting in the car).
  • Во вре́мя того́ как худо́жник рабо́тал над карти́ной, к нему́ приходи́ло мно́го посети́телей (While the painter was working on his painting, many visitors came to see him).

Note that if you need to express “during + noun,” use во время + genitive case: Во вре́мя совеща́ния постоя́нно звони́л телефо́н (The phone was constantly ringing during the meeting).

What if one instantaneous action occurred in the middle of another sustained action? In that case, you will use an imperfective verb in the dependent clause following пока́/во вре́мя того́ как and a perfective verb in the main clause:

  • Пока́ мы чита́ли ее пе́рвую книгу, она вы́пустила втору́ю  (While we were reading her first book, she had another published).

One Action Until Something Happens

one until another

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You will remember from the point above that while-clauses in Russian can be introduced by пока. The way Russian expresses until-clauses is, literally speaking, “while not” (пока́ не).  Note that не does not have to follow immediately after пока́. The dependent clause will have a perfective verb.

  • Музыка́нты игра́ли, пока́ не ушли́ после́дние посети́тели (The musicians kept playing until the last visitors left).
  • Я люби́ла живо́тных до тех пор, пока́ меня́ не укуси́ла бродя́чая соба́ка (I used to love animals until I was bitten by a stray dog).

Subsequent Events

one action after another

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This scenario is similar to the before-clause. The “change-inducing” or preceding action of the dependent clause is usually expressed by a perfective verb (you could come up with an imperfective example). The verb in the main clause may be perfective or imperfective depending on whether a repeated or one-time action is meant.

  • По́сле того́ как писа́тель посети́л Рим, он ча́сто писа́л об Ита́лии (After visiting Rome, the author often wrote about Italy).
  • По́сле того́ как певи́ца просла́вилась, ее альбо́мы разошли́сь огро́мным тиражо́м (After the singer became famous, her albums sold a lot of copies).

Когда-clauses

One final note concerns the conjunction когда́ (when). The sense of the sentence is largely defined by the verb aspect (perfective/imperfective). “Когда + imperfective, perfective” refers to one action that occurs in the middle of another or interrupts it:

  • Когда́ я жила́ в А́встрии, я познако́милась с Фре́йдом (While I was living in Austria, I met Freud).

“Когда + imperfective, imperfective” refers to two concurrent actions, similar to пока, or repeated actions:

  • Когда́ мы ложи́лись спать, ма́ма расска́зывала нам ска́зки (When we would go to bed, our mother would tell us fairy tales).

“Когда + perfective, perfective” refers to two consecutive actions, just like после того как:

  • Когда́ мой брат око́нчил шко́лу, он поступи́л в институ́т (After graduating [from] [high] school, my brother went to university).

What aspects of temporal clauses do you find logical/confusing/fascinating? What other scenarios would you like to have covered here? Obviously, this post only touches upon certain structures and omits others, and there is much more to be added!

Indo-European Roots of Russian

Posted on 28. Apr, 2016 by in History, language

Book

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Learners of the more popular Germanic languages — English and German — and the more popular Romance language — French, Spanish, and Italian — may be tempted to think of all Indo-European languages in terms of these high-visibility languages. I’ve once heard someone say “Russian is so different from Indo-European languages.” Some languages of Western Europe may be related to each other more closely and have more shared features thanks to closer ties; however, Russian is, in fact, also an Indo-European language.

Russian belongs to the East Slavic language group, which is part of the Indo-European language family. Granted, it “split off” from the rest of the languages in the group a long time ago, but some core vocabulary illustrates their connection. Note that the English equivalent may not be a cognate of the Russian word.

Family

The most obvious group of cognates with other Indo-European languages describes family relations. Some examples are:

  • мать (mother; you will remember that in oblique cases, мать becomes ма́тери, etc., which is much more similar to its cognates)
  • брат (brother)
  • дочь (daughter, oblique cases — до́чери, etc.)
  • жена́ (wife)
  • сестра́ (sister)
  • сын (son)

To give one example, in terms of etymology, the cognates of жена́ in other Indo-European languages appear in Armenian, Celtic, Germanic (“queen,” anyone?), Greek, and Indic languages.

Home

Several things around the house also have Indo-European names, which have cognates in other languages.

  • у́гол (corner, angle)
  • дым (smoke)
  • ого́нь (fire)
  • дом (house)

The Hindi आग ‎(āg, fire) is a cognate of the Russian ого́нь.

Common Verbs

The next group is made of verbs denoting common actions and states.

  • веле́ть (to bid/order)
  • верте́ть (to spin)
  • ви́деть (to see)
  • дать (to give)
  • есть (to eat)
  • жить (to live)

An example of a cognate of верте́ть in another language is the German werden (to become).

Numbers

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Russian numbers are also of Indo-European origin. One notable exception is со́рок (forty), which comes from an old measure used in hunting.

  • два (two)
  • три (three)
  • де́сять (ten)

The Greek δύο (two) is one of the cognates in this group.

Food

glass of water

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Names of basic food items are also thought to come from the old Proto-Indo-European language.

  • вода́ (water)
  • мя́со (meat)
  • соль (salt)

The Spanish onda (wave) is one of the cognates of вода. Fun fact, whisky is another cognate.

Nature and Outdoors

Another group of words refers to plants, animals, and landscape features. Some examples are:

  • волк (wolf)
  • берёза (birch)
  • гусь (goose)
  • кот (cat)
  • бе́рег (coast)
  • гора́ (mountain)
  • мо́ре (sea)
  • луна́ (moon)

A cognate of луна in an Indo-European language outside of Europe is the Persian روشن (rowšan, light).

At this point, many of the cognates are hard to identify, so having this information may not be helpful in learning Russian. However, if you look at a Latin verb conjugation table and compare it to Russian, you will see that your knowledge of other Indo-European languages may, in fact, aid your Russian learning.