Друзья-товарищи: Degrees of Friendship in Russian Posted by Maria on Dec 22, 2016 in Culture
There are several words for talking about your social circle in Russian. Are all friends created equal? Not so in Russian. There may be some overlap between different words referring to friendship, but let’s concentrate on what’s specific to each of them.
The notion of a friend (друг) is more restrictive in Russian than the corresponding notion in English. For instance, you would not introduce a person you just met a few days ago to a third person as your друг. It does not mean you are keeping your distance or dislike the person. It’s just that friendship (дружба) in Russian presupposes an extensive shared experience and a deep connection to each other, not just casual meetings in social circumstances and mutual affinity.
Она́ всегда́ ста́вит о́чень высо́кую пла́нку в обще́нии, поэ́тому у неё ма́ло друзе́й (She always sets the bar very high in her social life, so she has few friends). [Сати Спивакова. Не всё (2002)]
The forms of this word are somewhat non-obvious:
“To become friends with someone” is подружиться с + dative.
Приятель refers to a casual friend that you enjoy spending time with but probably don’t know too closely and wouldn’t burden with personal problems. Приятель is related to приятно (pleasant). The feminine form is приятельница.
Со́бственно, Ко́стя был вообще́ еди́нственный друг, остальны́е ― прия́тели (Actually, Kostya was my only friend; the rest were buddies). [И. Грекова. Фазан (1984)]
Знакомый comes from знать (to know) and is roughly equivalent to an acquaintance. In other words, this is a person you’ve met, but you may or may not see them regularly or have any meaningful interactions with them. The feminine form is знакомая.
Оказа́лось, что у них, таки́м о́бразом, есть о́бщие знако́мые (So it turned out they knew people in common). [Ю. О. Домбровский. Ручка, ножка, огуречик (1977)]
To be fair, this word can sometimes be pretty similar to приятель in terms of how close you are to a person.
Товарищ may evoke associations with the Soviet Union for many people since it was used as a catch-all salutation (“comrade”). However, this is not the only and not the oldest sense of this word. Товарищ really refers to a peer with whom you engaged in some sort of shared activity. For example, you can say “товарищ по университету” to say “classmate, someone you studied with.”
Товарищ uses the same form for males and females.
Я присе́л к ним, и мы с Ю́рой, как во́дится, повспомина́ли де́тство и шко́льных това́рищей (I joined them at the table, and, naturally, Yura and I reminisced about our childhood and schoolmates). [Фазиль Искандер. Мой кумир (1965-1990)]
This term is becoming less common nowadays and is sometimes used ironically, perhaps due to its political “baggage.”
What other friendship terms can you think of? How did you hear your Russian-speaking friends refer to their friends?