Russian Language Blog

«Класс!» – On the Importance of Calling Things by their Proper Names Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in language

There are days when «словарь» [the dictionary] is not you best friend. It might still be «друг» [a friend] of yours, «но не самый лучший друг» [but not the very best friend]. Why is that? Because on these particular days the dictionary fails to explain certain words to you. Or explains them in such a way that makes it impossible for you to understand why they’re used in one (or many) sentence in such a (seemingly) strange way. Today our example of this will be the word «класс». If you look up «класс» in an average dictionary you’ll see that it translates as ‘class; classroom; status; section, department; genus, category; kind, type’. So… alright. Have you memorized that? Good, because we’ll keep this translation in mind when trying to understand the following dialogue:

Саша говорит: «Я купила новый альбом Земфиры[Sasha says: I bought Zemfira‘s new album!]

Петя отвечает: «Класс!» [Petya answers: … wait a minute – Class! No, that can’t be right, can it?]

Understanding the word «класс» as ‘class’ will work fine when you’re, for example, reading «произведения Маркса, Энгельса, Ленина, Сталина» [the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin] in Russian because these guys were really talking ‘class’ and nothing else. When they write «классовая борьба» you know this should be translated as ‘class struggle’ or ‘the struggle between classes’. Whenever you come across the adjective «классовый» you know that it belongs to the noun «класс» as in ‘class (Politics)’. As a matter of fact, while reading most «научные работы» [scientific works] that were published in the Soviet Union, you’re bound to simultaneously find out a lot «о классовой борьбе» [about class struggle]. Back in the days of the USSR everything had to be understood in the light of struggle between classes. You’ll also see that Lenin is always quoted «во введении» [in the introduction] – even if it’s a dissertation «по искусствоведению» [on the liberal arts]. But we’re not in the Soviet Union anymore. The word «класс» means something entirely else in Petya’s reaction to Sasha having just bought Zemfira’s latest disc. But what?

To help us figure this out we have another adjective derived from the noun «класс» -«классный» [classy, stylish; first class]. Do try and not confuse «классовый» with «классный». To help you I have this advice: the longer adjective «классовый» is longer because it secretly contains all of those names that I mentioned previously – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin… The shorter «классный» is that way because it makes it more stylish – which is also one of it’s meanings! Smart? Well, maybe it not so much, but at least I’m trying.

So the best way to figure out what Petya means when he says «класс!» is to look it up in a Russian-to-Russian dictionary. His way of using this word sounds like it is as far from Communism as can be, and thus should be nothing else but an example of «разговорный язык» [colloquial speech]. Here’s the explanation I found in Russian:

«Класс: как сказуемое выражает восхищение» [‘Class’ – as predicate expresses delight (admiration, adoration; rapture, ravishment, applause)].

And what other ways can one express delight in Russian? Try reactions like «здорово!» [well done!, good job!; marvelous!, splendid!] or «замечательно!» [great!, exceptional!].  Or why not «классно!» [awesome!]. If this adverb means ‘awesome’, then to use the noun it was derived with an exclamation mark must mean pretty much the same thing, right? You think you got it now? I sure have! (At least I think so… but I’m always happy and thankful to be corrected when completely wrong and far off track!) Here’s another situation to illustrate:

Маша спрашивает: «Ты читал «Котлован» Платонова?» [Masha asks: Have you read Platonov‘s “The Foundation Pit“?]

Митя отвечает: «Вчера только прочитал. Класс!» [Mitya answers: I finished reading it just yesterday. Awesomeness!]

Do you agree with this translation? And have you ever heard this word used in this way before? Slang tends to change fast in Russian language – some words come quickly into use and then disappear into the nowhere they seemed to have come from…

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  1. Katya:

    This is exactly the way I hear that word used among the Russian teenagers I work with. It seems to be the favourite word for ‘cool’ at the moment, along with ‘круто’.

  2. Mark:


    I completely agree with your translation.

    I have seen «Класс!» used many times in a Russian-language forum, when a user comments on a previous post. Many times, the comments include other text that indicate the writer is pleased and therefore, responding in a positive manner (sometimes, they also follow «Класс!» with a smiley face).

    Forum comments made after the «Класс!» posts have also proven the word translates to something better than just “good” or “I agree.”

    “Awesome” or “awesomeness” seems to be the perfect translation.

    Thanks for the excellent post! It is a nice mix showing the historical use of a particular word and how it has been altered for use in modern day slang.

  3. Paul:

    Fantastic blog entry, as usual! I was treated to классно last night on вконтакте (maybe worth a blog entry one day?) when I showed a picture of the English mail box that I used to mail a letter for a Russian friend:
    Ящик вызывает ощущение надежности!!!:))) Классно!!!

  4. Jen:


    I (being a very elementary student of Russian!), completely agree. I just got back from Russia and they kids/students there (13-30ish years old) all say класс–generally in a way that can be translated as Awesome!

    My biggest problem is understanding the difference between класс, приколь, and круто. They’re all the same to me. I think I normally use круто for cool and класс for awesome or sweet. I could be totally wrong though. ))))

  5. Steffen Bartsch:

    Maybe it derives from the german slang “klasse!” which means the same thing: very good! for indicating something of a superior quality.

    And we find it also in the italian word “fuoriclasse” meaning something or someone of outstanding quality.

  6. Lisa:


    This is a fun post… I was particularly interested to hear that teenagers are using класс to mean, roughly, “awesome”: I’ve been using it that way for many years!


  7. John:

    Now coming from the other direction…I must comment on your use of “on” in this sentence: “Because on these particular days the dictionary fails…” Maybe in Sweden your study of English tells you a different usage, but us Native speakers understand it this way. An event happens on a day, but when the time example refers to many days, such as a month, we use the word “in” as in “In the Month of May” or “In these days there is much trying of men’s souls.” So your example should have been “Because in these particular days the dictionary fails…”
    I still enjoy you and your posts, so as we say in the US, “Keep on keepin’ on”

    Longing for Volgograd,


  8. Gordon:

    Класс!!! But I miss your photos…

  9. Chris:

    I disagree with the earlier poster’s objection to the use of ‘on these particular days’. In my view ‘on’ is the correct preposition here. We don’t say ‘in Monday’, any more than we say ‘on May’. So if you’re referring to something that happened Monday, Wednesday and Friday but not on other days (which is the intended meaning in the original text), the more natural expression would be ‘on these particular days’ and certainly not ‘in these particular days’.

  10. Alan:

    Josephina Hi,
    Stick to your guns and do not be discouraged …. you and Chris are correct. Things happen “on particular days” and not “in particular days” unless you are referring to a long event which must be “jambed” into the duration of a day.
    Your command of English is better than some native speakers.

  11. piuma:

    The italian equivalent of класс , among the teenagers (and not only) is “figo” or “che figata!”, quite yulgar but everywhere widespread.

  12. Charly:

    I never wondered about the Russian “Класс!”, because it is, as Stefen mentioned the exact same use as the German “Klasse!”. (Which supposedly is “slang”, but actually no living breathing person ever uses it… at least no human being I know today. It might be true that is was used in everyday language back in the 20th century, and you might find it in children’s or YA books, but other than that – it’s a word everybody knows, probably one might use it in a ironical context and it is probably also passed on in some books.)
    So it’s pretty interesting, that is is such up to date living slang in Russia. 🙂