Verbs with Prefixes: Писать

Posted on 08. Oct, 2015 by in Russian for beginners, Verb of the Week

pen writing on paper

It appears that our verbs with prefixes series has been successful. In this series, we take a common Russian verb and discuss its derivatives formed by adding a prefix to the original verb. Be sure to check out previous posts in this series: брать and играть.

This time, we will look at a verb I’m certain most of our readers know — писа́ть. The accent in this word is oh-so-important; the same word — пи́сать — with the accent on the first syllable is the kiddie term for urinating (“to pee”).

The neutral perfective counterpart to писа́ть is написа́ть.

Выписать literally means “to write out,” and it is sometimes used to mean “to summon/recruit” (for example a specialist from overseas):

Не доверя́я оте́чественным мастера́м, Пётр приказа́л вы́писать специали́стов из Голла́ндии. (Not trusting Russian craftsmen, Peter brought Dutch specialists.) [Алексей Домбровский. Царь-буква. К 300-летию русского гражданского шрифта // «Наука и жизнь», 2009]

More commonly, выписать refers to subscribing to a periodical:

Зате́м сра́зу же я взял бума́жку со свои́м но́вым а́дресом […], поше́л на по́чту и вы́писал га́зету. (Then I immediately took a piece of paper with my new address, went to the post office, and got a newspaper subscription.) [Олег Зайончковский. Счастье возможно: роман нашего времени (2008)]

This verb can also mean “to discharge from a hospital:”
Неме́цкое о́бщество хиру́ргов провело́ любопы́тное иссле́дование пацие́нтов, вы́писанных по́сле опера́ций. (A German surgeon society conducted an interesting study of patients released after operations.) [обобщенный. Кунсткамера // «Наука и жизнь», 2009]

Another meaning is “to de-register someone from a place of residence.” This refers to the Russian requirement for people to register their address with the authorities.

Вы́писать из кварти́ры ребе́нка уже́ гора́здо сложне́е. (To have a child de-registered is much more difficult.) [Новые родственники — как уживаемся? (форум) (2008)]

young boy with a soccer ball
The first and most common meaning is to “write down.”

А́дрес и телефо́н я записа́ла на ли́стке из блокно́та уча́стника конфере́нции. (I wrote down my address and phone number on a sheet torn from a notebook given to conference attendees.) [И. Грекова. В вагоне (1983)]

Записать can also mean “to enroll, register for some activity.” This is a transitive verb (to sign someone up). If you are talking about yourself, use записаться.

В де́тстве я ча́сто простужа́лась и боле́ла, вот ба́бушка и записа́ла меня́ в се́кцию фигу́рного ката́ния, что́бы ребёнок закаля́лся. (When I was young, I would catch colds frequently, so my grandmother signed me up for figure skating so that I would build an immunity.) [Николай Зуев. Ирина Слуцкая – снежная королева (2002) // «100% здоровья», 2002.11.11]

описа́ть/опи́сывать – to describe
Я могу́ их хорошо́ описа́ть, потому́ что о́ба они́ запо́мнились мне сра́зу и на всю жизнь. (I can describe them well because I remembered both once and for the rest of my life.) [Ю. О. Домбровский. Обезьяна приходит за своим черепом. Пролог (1943-1958)]

подписа́ть/подпи́сывать followed by a noun in the accusative case means “to sign.”

Я уже подписа́л креди́тные докуме́нты. (I have already signed the loan application.) [Сергей Довлатов. Чемодан (1986)]

This word is sometimes encountered as подписа́ться. In this case, it is intransitive.

Бо́лее 2200 веду́щих росси́йских уче́ных подписа́лись под письмо́м, адресо́ванным президе́нту Росси́и. (More than 2,220 top Russian scientists have signed a letter to the Russian President.) [Ирина Ротару, Михаил Гельфанд. О научных деньгах // «Русский репортер», № 28 (156), 22-29 июля 2010, 2010]

Подписаться can also mean “to subscribe to something,” similar to “выписать.”

Там же вы смо́жете подписа́ться на on-line ве́рсию журна́ла в форма́те pdf. (Now you can also subscribe to the online PDF version of the magazine.) [обобщенный. Реклама // «Наука и жизнь», 2009]

прописа́ть/пропи́сывать can refer to prescribing a medication:

В 1890 году́ Альфре́ду Но́белю, у кото́рого заболе́ло се́рдце, прописа́ли нитроглицери́н. (In 1890, Alfred Nobel, who was suffering from heart pain, was prescribed nitroglycerin.) [От динамита до «Виагры» // «Коммерсантъ-Власть», 2000]

The more Russia-specific meaning is the opposite of “выписать” — to register someone at a certain address.

А у тебя ско́лько челове́к пропи́сано в кварти́ре? (How many people are registered at your address?) [Наши дети: Подростки (2004)]

Расписа́ть literally means to adorn something with decorative paint or patterns. You are more likely to see the reflexive form расписаться — to sign (intransitive).

Он склони́лся над бла́нком и […] ― не расписа́лся, а, как всегда́, […] по́лностью вы́вел и́мя. (He leaned down over the form and didn’t just sign it, but, as usual, wrote his full name.) [Дина Рубина. Белая голубка Кордовы (2008-2009)]

wedding ringsA more surprising meaning is “to get legally married without a big celebration” (close to “elope,” but it doesn’t have to be secret and always refers to a civil and not religious wedding).

Одна́ко, к у́жасу мои́х роди́телей и шоки́руя всех про́чих бли́зких нам люде́й, о́сенью мы реши́ли расписа́ться. (However, to the shock of my parents and other loved ones, we decided to get married in autumn.) [И. Э. Кио. Иллюзии без иллюзий (1995-1999)]

списа́ть/спи́сывать can mean “to write something off” (as a loss).

Из-за кри́зиса на ры́нке ипоте́чного кредитова́ния мировы́е фина́нсовые структу́ры уже́ бы́ли вы́нуждены списа́ть бо́лее 400 млрд долл. (The subprime mortgage crisis forced financial institutions worldwide to write off more than 400 billion dollars.) [Владимир Павлов. Lehman Brothers ищет покупателей (2008.08.04) //, 2008]

Another meaning has to do with academic cheating or copying someone else’s work.

Спи́сывать у него́ бы́ло почти́ бесполе́зно, потому́ что он сра́зу узнава́л спи́санную рабо́ту и начина́л высме́ивать её. (It was impossible to cheat in his class because he recognized copied assignments right away and would make fun of them.) [Фазиль Искандер. Тринадцатый подвиг Геракла (1966)]

As you see, verbs derived from писать are very versatile. Are there any others you can think of?

Russian Vodka Drinking Etiquette

Posted on 07. Oct, 2015 by in Culture, Russian life, Traditions

Andrei's Choice

Andrei’s Choice image on

If you are a type of person who occasionally enjoys drinking adult beverages, read on. Today’s blog is about proper vodka drinking etiquette as I have observed it. Consuming this spirit is definitely a part of Russian culture – for some it is a larger part. It is my hope that you will be entertained, even if you don’t drink, and that you understand that I am in no way advocating consuming vodka irresponsibly.

Drinking vodka with Russians isn’t like drinking beer with your buddies – there is a right and wrong way to do it. Obviously, as with anything, there is more than one way to do it. What follows are the “unwritten” rules that many Russians seem to follow.

Let’s assume you already have chosen a decent vodka actually made in Russia – this does not guarantee quality though. Check to make sure the vodka is made in Russia because some have a Russian label but are made abroad. Here is a quick link with quite a few Russian vodka choices and ratings.

Before you begin drinking, make sure you have something to eat or at least, smell. In Russia we call it закуска. The word is not easy to translate but basically it means something you follow alcohol with. It can be anything but your most common types of закуска are pickles, any other pickled vegetables, breads, salads, salami and other kinds of processed meats, and of course, fish. Dry fish is most commonly paired with beer, while a pickle is your number one choice for following vodka.

Some of my Russian friends could drink a good-sized glass of vodka without stopping and simply smell a pickle. I have tried this with a smaller glass of vodka and it sort of works, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Eating the pickle works even better for most people. Some people prefer to eat something with fat; that helps keep you in the game a bit longer. Sausage, cheese, bread, and even butter by itself, can all help.

So now you’ve got your vodka, glass, and food to eat after. One person will proceed to pour for everybody at the table and usually lead in the toast before drinking. Remember to pour your own last – it is rude to pour your’s first. Sometimes the toasts get more creative with each passing round; at other times, you might quit toasting after several rounds. For many people leaving an empty bottle on the table is a big no-no, it is considered a sign of bad luck.

Once everybody has their various sized shots of vodka, a toast will be made. “To your health,” works in many cases. “To love” is usually the third toast. Basically, feel free say something positive or maybe even humorous :-). It is also common to toast to your host, to parents, to children, etc.

Just after the toast is made, exhale sharply and then throw back you shot. Sipping is not usually an option but can be tolerated by some. Sometimes I cannot/will not drink the entire glass depending on the situation. You should do what makes you feel comfortable because you are trying to have a good time – no need to demonstrate false bravado at the expense of ruing the experience.

As soon as you swallow the vodka and before your brain has a chance to question what you’ve just done, eat whatever food you’ve placed on the table. Some love the flavor of good vodka, others merely tolerate it. As I belong to the latter group, I like to eat something as soon as possible.

By remembering that if you pour the shots, you make the toast, and pour yours last, you’ll appear cordial. In my experience, you never want to simply pour yourself a shot and then drink it. Even if you can’t drink with the ferocity of some, don’t worry – the purpose is to relax and enjoy yourself. Stay in the game as long as you like, bow out before crossing the threshold into oblivion. Remember, all things in moderation!

Here is a short video on the subject that I found somewhat entertaining:

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Four Quirks Russian Non-Speakers Get Confused About

Posted on 01. Oct, 2015 by in General reference article

puzzled look

Most of our posts are meant for people who already know or are learning some Russian, however little. Still, there are people out there who are interested in the language and the many cultures using it, but have not ventured past the first few phrases yet. For this reason, I will not be the Cyrillic script in this post (have you checked out our alphabet courses yet?).

Some of the questions below have been covered in other posts on this blog, and we are now bringing them together on one page. Even beginner students of Russian will likely find this information basic, but hopefully it will answer some of the questions by those interested in the language but not yet learning it.

Why do some Russian words have KH in place of a K?

Why is there an “h” after the “k” in Khrushchev? What’s the difference between the last names Volkhonsky and Volkonsky?

The reason lies in transliteration — writing Russian words with Latin characters. Russian is usually written with Cyrillic letters. There no one to one correspondence between the two writing systems — instead, there are several transliteration tables. The Russian letter “х” — a breathier version of “ha” — is sometimes transliterated as “kh” into Russian. It’s not just another way of spelling the “k” sound — in fact, the Russian pronunciation of Khrushchev is closer to Hroo-SHOF .

Why do Russian last names end in -sky and why is it sometimes spelled -ski?

This is a common ending of a male last name (more on that below). In Russian, it has 4 letters: ский. The first two letters form a common suffix “sk.” The third letter is the equivalent of “i.” The fourth letter is the equivalent of the “y” sound in the English word “yes.” So, to transliterate Russian last names accurately, you would really need to spell then with -skiy, e.g. Rimskiy-Korsakov. However, conventionally, these names have often been written with just a single vowel at the end, i.e., Rimsky-Korsakov.

Why do men and women in the same family have different last names?

Russian surnames are essentially adjectives describing the appearance, occupation, origin, or other group membership of a person. They often take the form of a possessive adjective — Ivanov (Ivan’s). Since adjectives normally agree with the noun they modify in Russian, a woman’s last name will be in the “feminine” form. For example, a woman’s last name would be Petrova, Nogina, or Belskaya. The corresponding surname for a man would be Petrov, Nogin, or Belsky.

man and woman toasting with wineI’ve always said “Na zdorovye” for “Cheers,” but now my Russian friend tells me it’s incorrect.

I’m not sure where this myth originated — perhaps in Anglophone films. Na zdrowie is the Polish for “cheers,” for sure. Russian toasts are more of a dedication and need to be custom-said every time. The Russian phrase “na zdorovye” is an answer to “Thank you” (so, the equivalent of “You’re welcome”) or giving permission to do something (“Go ahead”).

Are there any other aspects of Russian our Russian-curious readers have been wondering about? I and our veteran readers will try to cover them for you.