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A Whole Lot of Nothing: Sayings with Ничего in Russian Posted by on Jun 29, 2015 in Russian for beginners

Ничего́ (nothing) one of these seemingly basic words that you learn in the first months of learning Russian. However, it is also one that appears in a number of idioms and expressions that are not immediately obvious to the learner.

 

1. Ничего for doing well

Ничего is a popular response to the question “Как дела́?” It is a neutral answer, roughly equivalent to “alright.” Another answer with a similar meaning is “Норма́льно” or “Потихо́ньку.”

2. Ничего (стра́шного) for no worries

Ничего can also be a response to “Извини́те” (I’m sorry) or any other apology or explanation.

– Я забы́л поли́ть цветы́ (I forgot to water the flowers).

– Ничего́ стра́шного (That’s OK).

3. Ничего́ себе! for surprise

Ничего себе is used to express surprise or amazement. Many people oppose what they see as unjustified use of borrowed interjections like “ва́у” (wow) and prefer to use expressions like ничего себе or у́х ты!

– У мое́й ба́бушки бы́ло пя́теро дете́й (My grandma had five children).

– Ничего себе! (Oh wow!)

Ни фига́ себе is a colloquial and some would say vulgar variant of this phrase. There are many other similar expressions, some quite vulgar, that follow the same syntactic pattern and convey amazement.

4. Ничего for approval

Ничего can also mean that something or someone is alright or cool. “А до́мик у них ничего” (Their house is not too shabby). When used about a person, this usually refers to their looks. “А сосе́дка-то вполне́ ничего́” (Our neighbor is quite alright).

5. Ничего не поделаешь for acceptance

Ничего́ не поде́лаешь is used to express resignation and acceptance of the situation. Literally, the phrase means “there’s nothing we can do.”

Ничего не поделаешь, пришло́сь встре́чать Но́вый год в аэропорту́. – We had no choice but to celebrate the New Year at the airport. [As you may know, New Year’s is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, and you don’t want to miss out on it.]

Are there any other expressions with ничего you can think of? This seemingly simple word is used in ways that may be unique to Russian and not obvious from its primary meaning, so I hope this post is useful. I would like to finish it with a song that makes extensive use of this word.

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. Kasey Stricklin:

    I really liked this post! I am at a point in my Russian where it is very helpful for me to learn colloquial sayings and idioms, so I find these posts especially helpful. Thanks!

    • Maria:

      @Kasey Stricklin Thank you, Kasey. Glad you find this useful. I figured familiar words used in unfamiliar ways can throw one off.

  2. Katherine:

    What I always struggle with is ничего vs нечего. Do you have any tips on understanding the difference between the two? Спасибо! 🙂

    • Maria:

      @Katherine Katherine, I looked into it briefly when researching this post. Нечего is more like “there is nothing to…” and is usually followed by a verb. Here are some definitions: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%87%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%BE. Ничего is just nothing, lack of everything, and can be an indirect object. Examples:
      Нам нечего терять – we’ve got nothing to lose.
      Он ничего не помнит. – He doesn’t remember anything. (vs Ему нечего помнить – He’s got nothing to remember [because it was so mundane, for example]).
      Им нечего есть vs Они ничего не съели (They’ve got nothing to eat vs They didn’t eat anything).

      I hope this helps!

  3. Gary Simons:

    Great lessons

  4. A.KRISHNAN:

    VERY GOOD FOR NEW LEARNERS!THANKS!