Tag Archives: Russian grammar

The same-ish, yet kinda different…

Posted on 06. Feb, 2013 by in General reference article, language, Russian for beginners

The original textbook exercise reads “Cross out the item that doesn’t belong here, and give an explanation that uses the word not.” The writing in red says “The lemon is not the right lemon.”

Hello, it’s good to be back! Я целую неделю лежал в постели, с всеми признаками гриппой. (“I spent the entire week in bed with all the symptoms of flu.”) У меня были кашли, насморк в голове, лихорадка, и хуже всего, меня постоянно тошнило. (“I had coughing, head congestion, a fever, and worst of all, constantly felt nauseous.”) А теперь я вылечиваюсь, хотя я ещё не вполне поправился. (“But now I’m recovering, although still not completely back to normal.”) Короче — дорогие читатели, уберегитесь от гриппой! (“In short — dear readers, guard yourselves from the flu!”)

Anyway, I was just reading Yelena’s post about “Gangnam Style”, with all the Russian parodies of the Korean original. Мне очень понравились прикольные клипы — “I really enjoyed the cool videos”. (Although at various times I found myself wondering А как это видео не запретили в Питере, согласно с местным законом о так называемой гей-пропаганде?!, “How has this video not been banned in St. Petersburg, in accordance with the local law about so-called gay-propaganda?!”)

The third video (“Oppa, Russian Style”), in particular, как-то мне напоминает некоторые старые клипы шведской группы Army of Lovers — “to me it was somewhat reminiscent of certain old videos by the Swedish group…”. (If you don’t remember Army of Lovers, their videos were known for tongue-in-cheek satire, sexual humor, and outlandish costumes.)

Which is to say that Это видео немного похоже на клипы, исполненные группой Army of Lovers. (“This video somewhat resembles the videos performed by Army of Lovers”)

Which is to say that Видео «Russian Style» в некоторых подробностях подобно таким клипам как, на пример, «Israelism»”. (“The Russian Style video is similar, in certain details, to such videos as, for instance, Israelism.”)

As you can guess, the vocabulary theme for today’s post is the concept of “same” and “different,” and also how one expresses shades of meaning in between, such as “similar” or “reminiscent” or “slightly distinguishable”.

«Грок» — в древнегреческом мифе, это было чудовище с головой льва, и туловищем льва — однако, не одного и того же льва.
The grock, in ancient Greek mythology, was a monster with the head of a lion, and the body of a lion — however, not of the same lion. (Woody Allen)

“The same” isn’t always translated the same…

For English speakers, the word “same” can be hard to render properly in Russian, because it has a number of different translations and the choice is highly context-dependent. If you mean “the same as (something already mentioned),” then the construction тот же (or тот же самый) is generally suitable. But when “same” implies “one together”, then you can use один. To illustrate:

Разве ты живёшь в доме №50, ул. Садовая? А десять лет назад, я снимал квартиру в том же самом доме!
Really, you live in #50 Sadovaya Street? 10 years ago, I used to rent an apartment in that same building!

Мария и Ольга живут в одном доме.
Maria and Olga live in the same building (as each other).

And один can express “the same” in quite a number of contexts. Оказалось, что мы летали в Калифорнию на одном рейсе. (“It turned out that we flew to California on the same flight.”) Они одного возраста — “They are (of) the same age.” And одноклассник means “someone in the same school grade; classmate” — which is not to be confused with первоклассник, “a first-grader”.

Also deriving from один is одинаковый, which means “absolutely the same; identical”. (Не путать со словом «одинокий». — “Don’t confuse it with the Russian word for lonely.”)

Они одинаковы по возрасту. (То же, как “Они одного возраста”)
“They are the same age.” (It means the same thing as “Они одного возраста”)

По моему мнению, все романы Дикенса — более или менее одинаковы.
“In my opinion, all Dickens novels are more or less indistinguishable from each other.”

А как будет по-русски «different»?

The best translation of “different” is also very context-dependent. When you mean “another” or “other than the one already mentioned,” you can use другой. However, when the sense is “various” or “more than two things that are all different,” it’s often better to use разный (which is most often encountered in the plural). And sometimes, you can translate “different”‘ by negating one of the expressions that signifies “same” — e.g., не одинаковый (“not identical”) or не тот же самый, как (“not the very same as”) or не сходный (“not similar”), and so forth. Вот вам разные примеры (“here are various examples for you”):

Мария и Ольга живут в одном доме, а Борис живёт в другом доме.
Maria and Olga live in the same building, but Boris lives in a different building.

Ольга и Борис живут не в одном доме.
Olga and Boris live in different buildings. (“in not the same building”)

Ольга и Борис живут в разных домах.
Olga and Boris live in (two) different buildings.

За свою жизнь, он жил в многих разных городах.
“During his lifetime, he lived in many different (various) cities.”

За свою жизнь, он жил и в Екатеринбурге и в многих других городах.
“During his lifetime, he lived in Yekaterinburg and many other cities.”

So much for translating the adjective “different.” But what’s the best way to say “differ” or “be different”? In general, you can use the verb отличаться/отличиться — which can be followed by от кого/чего to express the persons/things from which the subject is different, and by чем (i.e., an instrumental noun) to express the particular quality that distinguishes the subject from others:

«Доктор, наша внучка значительно отличается ростом от своих подруг того же возраста.»
“Doctor, our granddaughter is signficantly different in height from her (girl) friends of the same age.”

But bear in mind that отличаться/отличиться can also have a more literally reflexive meaning: “to distinguish oneself”, sometimes with the implication of “to excel, be outstanding”. From this particular sense comes the adjective отличный, “excellent”:

Солдат отличился свом мужеством.
“The soldier has distinguished himself by his courage.”

And, finally, the non-reflexive form отличать/отличить means “to tell apart (from others), to distinguish”:

У попугайчиков, довольно трудно отличать самца от самки без анализа крови (хотя птички сами, конечно, знают!).
“Among parakeets, it’s quite difficult to tell the male from the female without a blood test (although the birds themselves know, of course!)”

Days of Our Lives or Have You Bought the Tree Yet?

Posted on 14. Dec, 2012 by in language

YouTube Preview Image

This is the time of the year when Russian kids start asking their parents когда мы за ёлкой поедем? (when will we go get the New Year tree?) For busy parents the best day might just be завтра (tomorrow), not because it has particular significance, but because it is the weekend.

Of course, if завтра is not good for you, you can always say you’ll get the tree послезавтра (the day after tomorrow). Literally, послезавтра simply means “after tomorrow”. So it has that air of deadline-busting uncertainty that the English “day after tomorrow” totally lacks.

Trying to sound more committed? Try через день (in a day) instead:

Позвони мне через день – Call me in a day

although a more common turn of phrase is через день-два (after a day or two). An even more nebulous future date is на следующей неделе (sometime next week) or в следующем месяце (sometime next month).

You might know the quote никогда не откладывай на завтра то, что можно сделать сегодня (don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today). If you try to search online for the phrase “don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done the day after tomorrow”, you will get lots of references to the 2004 movie The Day After Tomorrow which screened in Russia as Послезавтра .

However, searching for the same phrase in Russian – не откладывай на завтра то, что можно сделать послезавтра – gets you, among other things, a page that says this quote принадлежит перу Марка Твена (was penned by Mark Twain). I’ll leave fact-checking of this tidbit на завтра (‘til tomorrow).

And by the way, should you say на завтра or до завтра?

Я решил отложить это до завтра is as good (or bad) as Я решил отложить это на завтра – I decided to put it off until tomorrow.

But we say подожди до завтра и будет тебе ёлка – wait until tomorrow and you’ll get your New Year tree

and Мне необходимо выслать эту посылку до завтра – I must send this package by tomorrow

We need to перенести на завтра (reschedule for tomorrow), but are trying to дожить до завтра (survive until tomorrow, live to see tomorrow). If a store закрыт до завтра, it will remain closed until tomorrow. A store that is закрыт на завтра will stay closed the entire day tomorrow. You might decide to go to bed early and спать до завтра (sleep until tomorrow) so that you will набраться сил на завтра (gather strength for tomorrow).

But if you promise to do something завтра, you better do it. Or else you’ll be known as someone who завтраками кормит (lit: feeds breakfasts; metaphorically – someone who doesn’t deliver on promises).

Сколько можно кормить ребёнка завтраками! Сегодня же покупаем ёлку! – How much longer can we keep promising things to a child! We’re going to get the New Year tree today!

Russian word for yesterday is вчера. Yep, sounds much like вечера (evenings):
Вчера вечером мы наряжали ёлку – We decorated the New Year tree yesterday evening

A day before yesterday is, therefore, два дня назад or позавчера or, confusingly, третьего дня (thankfully this last one is seldom used nowadays):

Два дня назад мы достали с антресолей ёлочные игрушки – Two days ago we got New Year tree ornaments from the ceiling cabinet.
Мы купили ёлку позавчера – We bought the New Year tree the day before yesterday.
Соседи нарядили свою ёлку третьего дня – Neighbors decorated their tree the day before yesterday.

Children who master the meaning of послезавтра and позавчера are often overheard talking about events that happened поза-поза-позавчера or will happen после-после-послезавтра. Which sounds confusing (and fun) even to themselves. Adults avoid sounding childish and instead say things like

три дня назад – three days ago
на прошлой неделе – last week
на позапрошлой неделе – the week before last
в прошлом месяце – last month


через три дня – in three days
на следующей неделе – next week
на послеследующей неделе – the week after next
в следующем месяце – next month

Я иду в отпуск через неделю – I am going on vacation in a week
В следующую пятницу у меня важное совещание – I have an important meeting next Friday
Новая версия популярной игры поступит в продажу в следующем месяце – The new version of the popular game will appear in stores next month

Последний раз я была в отпуске два года назад – Last time I went on vacation was two years ago
На позапрошлой неделе к нам приезжали гости – We had guests visiting us the week before last
Я пробовала тебе позвонить пару дней назад – I tried calling you a couple of days ago

Practice makes perfect, so try answering these questions

когда ваш следующий отпуск? – when is your next vacation?
когда вы в последний раз были в кино? – when was the last time you went to the movies?
что вы делали позавчера? – what did you do the day before yesterday?
какие у вас планы на завтра и послезавтра? – what are your plans for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow?
and of course, когда вы наконец-то купите новогоднюю ёлку? – when will you finally buy the New Year tree?


Going Negative with Accusative and Genitive

Posted on 25. Sep, 2012 by in language

I really enjoying finding good Demotivators, such as the one above. It reads “It doesn’t make sense to leave the house. After all, we always return.” What made it so fun for me is not the observation itself, but the grammar in  it. And I owe it to one of our readers, Sarah, and her wonderful question about the use of genitive and accusative in certain Russian sentences.

Does anything in the above photo strikes you unusual or funny (ok, apart from the carpet on the wall)? How about this phrase Не вижу смысла (It doesn’t make sense to me).

The verb видеть is transitive, so according to the rule the noun смысл must be in accusative. Yet смысла is not accusative, but genitive case (check out the complete declension table).

Besides, if I were to say Я вижу смысл в чём-то (Something makes sense to me), the noun does conform to the rule and is in accusative.

Why would you say

Я понял вопрос – I understood the question


Я не понял вопроса – I did not understand the question


Я помню твой адрес – I remember your address


Я не помню твоего адреса – I do not remember your address


В его произведении есть глубокий смысл – There’s deep sense in his work


В его произведении нет никакого смысла – There’s absolutely no sense in his work

The only difference between each pair of sentences is that the first sentence is a positive one and the second is a negative one.

So it looks like even if a verb is transitive, but is used in a negative sentence, genitive case will be used for a noun.

That is indeed the case except… ok, let’s consider the following examples:

Я не купил эту книгу (I did not buy this book) – The word книгу is accusative of книга (book).

Я не купил его преданности (I did not buy his loyalty) – The word преданности (loyalty) is genitive of преданность (loyalty).

Не урони тарелку! (Do not drop the plate!) – the word тарелку is accusative of тарелка (plate)

Не урони достоинства! (Do not demean yourself!) – the word достоинства is genitive of достоинство (dignity)

Сам я не вынесу стол (By myself I won’t carry the table out) – стол is accusative of стол (table).

Я не вынесу этих трудностей (I won’t endure these difficulties) – трудностей is genitive of трудности (difficulties)

You’ve probably noticed that accusative was used for tangible nouns – a book, a plate, a table. Genitive was used for abstract nouns, such as loyalty, dignity, and difficulties.

However, this is not a hard and fast rule, but more of a general guide. We prefer to use accusative for tangible and genitive for abstract nouns. But we don’t always do. That is why you are as likely to encounter both

Я не понял вопроса and Я не понял вопрос (I did not understand the question)
Мы не достали билетов and Мы не достали билеты (We did not get the tickets)
Он не уронил тарелки and Он не уронил тарелку (He did not drop the plate)
Ты не вынес стола and Ты не вынес стол (You did not take out the table)
Она не съела борща and Она не съела борщ (She did not eat borscht)

To confuse the situation a bit more, idiomatic expressions are excluded for this altogether and the correct declension must be memorized:

Не морочь мне голову (Do not pester me)
Не заговаривай зубы (Do not give a runaround)
Не находить себе места (To feel antsy)
and more

If you feel confused, take solace in the fact that many native speakers tend to just as confused about the use of accusative and genitive cases in negative sentences. Remember, the more you speak, the higher the chance you will get it right!