Expand Your Vocabulary: Verbs With Prefixes – Играть

Posted on 27. Aug, 2015 by in Verb of the Week


A couple of weeks ago, we looked at combining prefixes and verb roots to expand your Russian vocabulary. One of the verbs that I was asked to cover was игра́ть. This is an excellent suggestion for a versatile and useful verb to have in your arsenal.

The primary meaning of играть is, as you probably know “to play.” This can refer to:

  • sports: играть в футбо́л (football/(US) soccer)
  • music: играть на трубе́ (trumpet)
  • board/party/children’s games: играть в домино́, играть в пря́тки, играть в кла́ссики (dominoes, hide and seek, hopscotch)
  • gambling: играть в аза́ртные и́гры, в лото́, в руле́тку, в ка́рты (to gamble; play the lottery, roulette, cards)

Some of the most widely-used derivatives include игру́шка (toy), игра́ (game), and игро́к (mostly gambler, although can mean player; think of Dostoyevsky’s novel). A popular figurative use of играть is in the idiom играть роль (to play a role in something).

Внутригосуда́рственное законода́тельство игра́ет суще́ственную роль в формирова́нии норм междунаро́дного ба́нковского пра́ва. (National law plays a significant role in forming international banking law.) [Нормы международного банковского права (2003) // «Адвокат», 2003.09.01]

The perfective forms of играть are very versatile depending on what completed action is meant.

playing guitarсыгра́ть – to play once, for a limited amount of time

В 1/8 фина́ла аргенти́нцы сыгра́ют про́тив сбо́рной Ме́ксики. (Argentina will play against Mexico in 1/8 finals.) [Дина Беляева. Ренессанс Марадоны (2010.06.23) // http://www.rbcdaily.ru/2010/06/23/lifestyle/488845.shtml, 2010]

заигра́ть – to start playing

Дириже́р махну́л па́лочкой, и музыка́нты заигра́ли увертю́ру. (The conductor waved his baton, and the musicians started an overture.) [Вальтер Запашный. Риск. Борьба. Любовь (1998-2004)]

доигра́ть – to finish playing to the end

Как добросо́вестный актёр, я доигра́л свою́ роль, не приба́вив, не уба́вив ни одного́ сло́ва из того́, что мне бы́ло предпи́сано ав́тором пье́сы. (A methodical actor, I played my part without omitting or adding one word of what was assigned to me by the playwright.) [А. Н. Апухтин. Между жизнью и смертью (1892)]

поигра́ть – to play for a time

Он воро́чался с бо́ку на бок и раз пять встава́л с посте́ли, что́бы поигра́ть на скри́пке. (He kept turning from side to side and got up about five times to play his violin.) [А. П. Чехов. Скрипка Ротшильда (1894)]

Note that доигра́ться is a way to criticize someone by saying they were pushing their luck and got burned.

И одна́жды доигра́лись мои́ ребя́та, что их пья́ных задержа́л на у́лице команди́р брига́ды, полко́вник. (One day my guys went too far and were detained drunk on the street by the brigade commander, a colonel.) [Э.Г. Казакевич. При свете дня (1960)]

There are also several verbs derived from играть whose meaning is not immediately obvious.

вы́играть – to win (a sporting event, a prize, the lottery, a trial, a battle)

Поколе́ние Ко́лфилда не име́ет тех идеа́лов, кото́рые бы́ли у предыду́щего, вы́игравшего Втору́ю мирову́ю войну́. (Caulfield’s generation does not share the ideals cherished by the previous generation, which had won the Second World War.) [Константин Мильчин. Десять заповедей Холдена Колфилда. По каким законам мы живем с 1951 года // «Русский репортер», q№ 4 (132), 4-11 февраля 2010, 2010]
Я суди́лся с ме́стным кримина́льным авторите́том―в э́то никто́ не пове́рит, но вы́играл. (I took a local criminal boss to court — no one will believe me, but I won the case.) [Новая тема, которую никто пока не трогает (форум) (2008)]

проигра́ть – to lose in a game or in a battle (“to be unable to find something” is потеря́ть); to lose something gambling
Есть станда́ртная процеду́ра рассмотре́ния таки́х дел. Е́сли проигра́етесуде́бные изде́ржки на вас. (There is a standard procedure for hearing these cases. If you lose, you have to cover court expenses.) [коллективный. Почему в России бардак на дорогах (2011)]

These are just some of the most common senses of these играть derivatives. I encourage you to search dictionaries or the Internet for further examples of their usage.

Tetris: Not Just For Fun?

Posted on 26. Aug, 2015 by in Culture, General reference article, Russian life, Scientific Russian

Industrial Tetris

Industrial Tetris by Anton Novoselov on flickr.com

Which activity, if performed for three minutes, can reduce your cravings for sex, alcohol, drugs, food, and cigarettes? If you guessed playing Tetris, you’re correct! We’ve all heard about Tetris, many of us have played it, but few know much about it. Today’s post is all about Tetris and its potential benefits. Even if you aren’t one for playing games, you will be fascinated how this one can help change your life.

Те́трис or Tetris was invented by Russian programmer, Alexey Pajitnov. While working as an artificial intelligence researcher at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Alexey would write simple games in which he tested the capabilities of new hardware for his job. In June of 1984, he came up with Tetris.

The name Tetris was actually made by combining the Greek numerical prefix for the number four, which is tetra- and Alexey’s favorite sport, tennis. His profound invention has been made available for almost every video game console and electronic device created since 1984. Tetris also was also the first Soviet-produced entertainment software to be exported to the United States.

For those of you not familiar with the game, here is a short video that will demonstrate what the rest of the world has known for many years:

YouTube Preview Image

The power of Tetris cannot, nor should not, ever be underestimated. A recent study by a team of psychologists at Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology did a study that proved just how beneficial this game can be. In all, 31 students play the game at home or wherever they happened to be on an iPod for as little as three minutes per day. Via text messaging, students would report on  levels of cravings seven times per day.  The study will be published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors. Regarding the results, Jackie Andrade, a professor from the School of Psychology and the Cognition Institute at Plymouth University said:

“Playing Tetris decreased craving strength for drugs, food, and activities from 70% to 56%. This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating. We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity. Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery; it is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.”

For more information about the study, click here. It is not likely that playing Tetris is the best or only way to kick cravings for certain things people can be addicted to, but it could be used in combination with other techniques to further aid people. It should also be mentioned that playing the game is actually fun and I am not even a gamer.

Всего хорошего!

It’s All Greek to Me: Greek References in Russian

Posted on 24. Aug, 2015 by in Culture

Greek statue

Although words of Greek origin may not strike you as something you need to know in Russian, they come up in conversation with surprising frequency. Apart from the numerous Greek loanwords in the area of arts and sciences, there are many Greek references that have entered the Russian lexicon.


First of all, Greek mythology is often brought up in conversation. Greek gods and their Roman counterparts remain a popular trope. Some of the most recognizable ones are Посейдо́н/Непту́н (Poseidon/Neptune; the sea is referred to as царство Нептуна́), Аполло́н/Феб (handsome and athletic men may be nicknamed Аполлон), Афроди́та/Вене́ра (used to refer to a beautiful woman), Аре́с/Марс, Зевс/Юпи́тер.

Не ка́ждый подво́дник вхо́дит в ца́рство Нептуна́ с его́ пи́сьменного разреше́ния. (Not every diver has Neptune’s written consent to enter his kingdom.) [В. Веревкин. За кораллами // «Спортсмен-подводник», 1965]

[Катя, Ольга Волкова, жен, 52, 1939] Како́й краса́вец! Ой! [Фима, Лия Ахеджакова, жен, 53, 1938] Аполло́нБельведе́рский! (So handome! Oh my! // Apollo Belvedere!) [Эльдар Рязанов и др. Небеса обетованные, к/ф (1991)]

Е́сли бы она́ была́ Вене́ра Мило́сская и лет на двести моло́же… (If she only was Venus de Milo and about 200 years younger…) [Эдвард Радзинский. Спортивные сцены 80-х (1986)]

Apart from deities, Greek heroes are also well known and brought up in conversation. Examples include Гера́кл/Геркуле́с (Hercules, referring to a strong man and also to rolled and steamed oats); Еле́на Прекра́сная (Helen of Troy); Одиссе́й/Ули́сс (Odysseus), Ахи́лл (Achilles; and of course, ахилле́сова пята́, referring to the Achilles heel, a vulnerable point).

Фили́п был огро́мный мужчи́на, соверше́нный Геркуле́с, не боя́вшийся, по его со́бственным слова́м, ниче́го и никого́ на све́те […] (Filip was an enormous man, a perfect Hercules who by his own admission was not afraid of anything or anyone.)  [Г. А. Газданов. Призрак Александра Вольфа (1947)]

«Ахилле́сова пята́» шелково́дствасезо́нность: капита́льные сооруже́ния, обору́дование и рабо́чая си́ла испо́льзуются 3-4 ме́сяца в году́. (The Achilles heel of silk production is its seasonal nature — installations, equipment, and labor are used for 3 to 4 months of of the year.) [обобщенный. Шелк // «Химия и жизнь», 1970]


As with people, there are a number of places frequently referred to in Russian. I will only name a few that come to mind.

trojan horseСпа́рта – Sparta; спарта́нский figuratively means “tough, rugged.”

Англича́не скло́нны суро́во относи́ться к со́бственной пло́ти, и их жили́ща во мно́гом отража́ют э́ти спарта́нские нра́вы. (The English tend to treat their flesh harshly, and their dwellings largely reflect these Spartan attitudes.) [Всеволод Овчинников. Корни дуба. Впечатления и размышления об Англии и англичанах (1974-1978) // «Новый мир», 1979]

Атланти́да – Atlantis

Когда́-нибудь у́часть Атланти́ды пости́гнет Петербу́рг(One day, Petersburg will suffer the fate of Atlantis.) [Д. С. Мережковский. Александр Первый (1922)]

Сци́лла и Хари́бда – Scylla and Charybdis

Но́вая Росси́я оказа́лась ме́жду Сци́ллой и Хари́бдой: чтобы развива́ть постиндустриа́льную эконо́мику, необходи́м рабо́тник ры́ночного ти́па (самостоя́тельный, креати́вный, предпри́имчивый), но для его воспита́ния снача́ла ну́жно созда́ть класси́ческое ры́ночное хозя́йство индустриа́льного ти́па. (The new Russia found itself between Scylla and Charybdis — to develop a post-industrial economy, you need a market worker — independent, creative, driven; but to foster one, you first need to have a classical industrial market economy.) [Рецензии (2003) // «Неприкосновенный запас», 2003.01.15]


There are numerous other idioms, allusions, and references of Greek origins in Russian. It is impossible to list all of them here, but the most popular ones include:

кля́тва Гиппокра́та – the Hippocratic oath, taken by medical practitioners entering the profession

троя́нский конь – Trojan horse; a trap, a ploy to deceive someone

Драко́новы зако́ны – Draconian laws; unjust, unnecessarily harsh laws

Пи́ррова побе́да – Pyrrhic victory; a victory that is so devastating to the winner that it is tantamount to defeat

Я благода́рен Пе́рвому кана́лу за то, что он взя́лся за э́ту те́му. Но у них есть свои́ драко́новы зако́ны телеви́денияформа́т се́рий 55 мину́т. (I am grateful to the First Channel for taking on this subject. But they live by the draconian laws of television — each episode had to be 55 minutes long.) [ // Труд-7, 2005.12.08]

Е́сли э́ти врачи́ (дава́вшие кля́тву Гиппокра́та) научи́лись лечи́ть опа́сные фо́рмы шизофре́нии, то пусть опублику́ют свои́ достиже́ния в нау́чных журна́лах. (If these doctors, who had taken the Hippocratic oath, were able to treat dangerous forms of schizophrenia, let them publish their findings in scientific journals.) [Инна РУДЕНКО. Мальчик свободен. А мы? // Комсомольская правда, 2007.02.14]

Have you heard any of these or other expressions when speaking Russian with someone? What other expressions should be added to the list?