Tag Archives: Russian grammar

Russian Set Expressions: It’s All in Your Hands

Posted on 02. Jul, 2014 by in language, when in Russia


In the process of acquiring any foreign language the importance of set expressions cannot be underestimated. Scarce or nonexistent knowledge of these language units is what frequently makes us feel as if our mastery of the language is still in its infancy stages. However, people who have invested their time in learning and implementing such expressions appear to have an easier time understanding that foreign language, even if their grammar is severely handicapped. When I first came to the US in 2003, even though my vocabulary and grammar knowledge was excellent (for a foreigner), I felt like people here were speaking a different language altogether. It took me a couple of years to fill the gap with commonly used set expressions and slang before I could easily understand most conversations. Russian is no exception in this regard.

Surprisingly, there is an overwhelmingly large amount of set expressions with the word “hand” and “arm” in Russian. Since most of these expressions are pretty handy :-), why not arm :-) yourself with some of them.

Все в твоих руках (it’s all in your hands) – this one couldn’t be easier, the expression is translated word for word and carries the same meaning.

Example: Ну что, Максим, теперь все в твоих руках! Твои способности открывают перед тобой множество возможностей. (Well, Maxim, now it’s all in your hands! Your abilities open up many opportunities before you.)

Взять себя в руки (to control yourself)

Example: Наташа, хватит реветь! Возьми себя в руки! (Natasha, stop wailing! Get a hold of yourself!/Control yourself!)

Рукой подать (very close)

Example: - Ну и где это кафе? (Where is that cafe you are talking about?)

- Да за углом, тут рукой подать. (It’s right around the corner, very close.)

Быть под рукой (to be handy, to be close by)

Example: У меня словарь всегда под рукой. (I always keep a dictionary handy.)

На руках носить ( to worship, to treasure, to admire, to exalt)

Example: - Как мужу нравится новая работа? (How does your husband like his new job?)

- Нравится, еще как! Его там все на руках носят. (He likes it big time! Everybody worships him there.)

Не покладая рук (nonstop, diligently)

Example: - Я не понимаю, как у них на все денег хватает! (I do not understand where do they get the money to pay for everything.)

- Да что тут понимать, работают люди не покладая рук, только и всего! (There is nothing to understand, the people simply work nonstop.)

Руки не доходят (to have no time/chance to do something)

Example: Я так устаю на работе, что дома не до чего уже руки не доходят. (I get so tired at work, I cannot do anything when I come home).

Золотые руки (gifted hands, said about someone who can make many things with their hands)

Example: Больше всего мне запомнились золотые руки его матери. (More than anything I remember his mother’s gifted hands.)

Иметь длинные руки (to be well connected, to be in a position of power/authority)

Example: У него теперь руки длинные, так что с ним лучше не шутить. (He is well connected now, so it is best not to take him lightly.)

Руки чешутся (to eagerly want to do something, usually not in a positive way)

Example: -У меня руки так и чешутся пирог попробовать. (I can’t wait to taste this pie.)

- Не надо, мама будет ругаться. (Don’t touch it, mom will get mad.)

These are just some of the phrases I was able to recall. There are many others. If you have heard any in the past, please share, preferably with examples :-)

Всего хорошего!


Fascinating Russian: Things you didn’t Know

Posted on 06. May, 2014 by in language, Other Blogs, Russian phonetics



А, Б, В are not just letters of the Russian alphabet but also words. Technically, there are 10 single-letter words in the Russian language: а, б, в, ж, и, к, о, с, у, я.

«А»conjunction, could be translated as “but, while, and, while, as opposed to” in English. Example: Я предпочитаю сырую морковь, а не вареную. ( I prefer raw carrots to cooked carrots.)

«И»conjunction “and.” Я люблю и малину, и ежевику. ( I like both raspberries and blackberries.)

«Б»short form of the conjunctive particle «Бы». Example: Если б я знал об этом заранее, я бы обязательно пошел.Had I known that ahead of time, I would have definitely gone. ) Conjunctive mood may pose additional challenges due to the fact that completely different parts of speech are used in Russian and English to express it; it just takes a little time to get used to :-) .

«Ж»short form (colloquialism) of the particle «Же». Example: Что ж ты мне раньше ничего не сказал?Why didn’t yousay something sooner? ) As you can see, the particle does not translate literally.

«В», «К», «О», «С», and «У» are prepositions. The exact translation will not be the same every time, but I will give you some examples.

В каком ящике расческа? (What drawer is the comb in?)

У Вас есть что-нибудь к чаю? (Do you have anything thatgoes with tea?)

О чем вы спорите? (What are you arguing about?)

Я могу пойти с тобой. (I can go with you.)

У меня болит голова. (I have a headache.) As you can see, the preposition does not even translate into English in this case, but this is a very common use case in Russian: у меня, у тебя, у него, у нее, у ребенка, etc.

«Я» - personal pronoun “I.” Ладно, я сам возьму! (OK, I’ll get it myself!)

What you see below are examples of пантограмма - a phrase where the letter composition is the same but the meaning is completely different and is defined by where the actual words start and end. Basically, the phrases consist of the same exact letters but they make up entirely different words :-) . The first line, for example, translates as follows: заделоit rubbed me the wrong way or it touched me; за делоget started, get going (on something).

Let’s see if you can translate the rest :-) , add your translations in the comment section.




До завтра!



The same-ish, yet kinda different…

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

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!)”