Russian Language Blog

Есть – To Eat Or To Have Posted by on Nov 19, 2020 in language, Russian for beginners

– Пить есть?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          – Пить есть, есть нет.

Есть пить – To eat a drink?
Not really. This funny play on words was popular in the USSR.

Есть” [jes’t’] are two distinct, not connected etymologically, homonymous verbs in Russian. Before the orthographic reform of 1918, they were even spelled differently: as “есть” ((it) is) and “ѣсть” (to eat). After that, the letter “ѣ” (Yat) was replaced with “е.” There is no writing distinction anymore.

The first one is the infinitive form of “to eat” (есть/кушать).
This word does not mean anything other than “to eat food”:
“Я люблю есть поздно вечером.” – “I like to eat late at night.”
Есть фрукты полезно для здоровья.” – “Eating fruit is good for your health.”

To eat

Image by Miroslav Vajdic from Flickr

The second one is the third person present tense singular from “to be” (“is”):
– with the meaning of “there is/are” when expressing availability, existence, or presence:
“В доме есть две спальни” – “There are two bedrooms in the house.”
Есть ли в России пустыня?” – “Is there a desert in Russia?”

– rarely used for emphasis (usually omitted when used with a person or a thing):
“Кто ты есть?” – “Who are you (at all)?”
“Любовь есть сила жизни” – “Love is the power of life”

-when expressing possession (to have (иметь)
It is a common way to denote a construct of “someone having something.” The basic formula here is “У“+genitive+”есть“+nominative.
In Russian, we rarely use “I have something” (“я имею что-то”) for speaking about possession. We usually literally say, “at someone there is something”:
“У него есть яблоко” – “He has an apple.”
“У тебя есть совесть?” – “Do you have a conscience?”
“Он имеет яблоко” and “Ты имеешь совесть?” sound unnatural.

Often “есть” and “иметь” are used interchangeably. But “иметь” is more formal:
“Ответчик имеет в личной собственности квартиру в Кировской области.” – “The defendant owns an apartment in the Kirov region.”
Although a sentence with “иметь” may be grammatically correct, in everyday speech, the verb “есть” is used much more frequently. However, in some set phrases, we cannot replace “иметь”:
“Это не имеет смысла” – “It makes no sense” or “Я имею в виду” – “I mean”.


Image by Nenad Stojkovic from Flickr

In negative sentences, we use “нет” meaning “не + есть”. So you don’t put the verb “есть” in the sentence:
“У него нет яблока.” – “He doesn’t have an apple.”
“У тебя нет совести.” – “You have no conscience.”

There is also a military expression, Есть!”, which means “Yes, sir!” Nowhere else is this verb used in this meaning.

Thus, based on the above, “Есть пить? Пить есть, есть нет.” translates as:
“Is there anything to drink? There is something to drink, but there is nothing to eat”

or “(У тебя) есть (что-нибудь) пить? Пить (у меня) есть, (но) есть (у меня) нет.” – “Do you have anything to drink? I have something to drink, but I don’t have anything to eat.”

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  1. Pavel Gromnic:

    I very much enjoy the new vocabulary and grammar I learn here. I’m pretty old, in my seventies, But have loved Russia, the language, customs, and history for all my life. Thank you all so much for enriching my life and giving me insights to a beautiful people.

    • Nadya:

      @Pavel Gromnic Thank you, Pavel! Glad you found this helpful.
      Hope to see you on this blog again.