Russian Language Blog

April fun with paronyms Posted by on Apr 23, 2021 in Grammar

What better month than April to cover a few words that confuse even native Russian speakers? Ведь не даром говорят, «Непостоя́нен обма́нщик-апре́ль: на дню семь пого́д». (There is a good reason people say that “April-liar is fickle because it changes the weather seven times per day”.)

Here are a few trickster paronyms, one pair for each letter of the month, апре́ль:

А — авторита́рный и авторите́тный

There are a few things that can be авторита́рными, but for the most part this adjective is reserved for political discussions.

авторита́рный режим – authoritarian regime

авторита́рное госуда́рство – authoritarian country

Авторите́тный (reputable or highly regarded) is used mostly when talking about people or sources, as in авторите́тный хирург (highly regarded surgeon) or авторите́тный источник (reputable source). Also, you might have come across a phrase пользоваться авторите́том, which equates to “be respected or popular” although literally sounds as “to use authority”.

Проду́кты из льна по́льзуются авторите́том среди́ сторо́нников пра́вильного пита́ния.

Flax seed products are highly regarded by those who follow a healthy diet. 

П — продукти́вный и продукто́вый


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

You can have продукти́вный день (a productive day) or go to продукто́вый магази́н (grocery store), but neither would really work if you switch the adjectives.

Р — разде́ть и разоде́ть

dressed up puppy

Photo by mark glancy from Pexels

Be careful with these two! While both have to do with clothing, разоде́ть (with an ‘о’) means ‘to dress up in a showy kind of way’ and разде́ть means ‘to undress somebody’. That one letter difference may lead to an awkward communication gaffe. Oh, and remember that разоде́ть is usually said in a reproachful and even slightly mocking way as opposed to a compliment.

«А что это ты разоде́лся во всё но́вое сего́дня?»

“And why are you all dolled up in your new clothes today?”

Е — еди́нственный и еди́ный


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The difference between these two is equivalent to the difference between “only” and “one” (meaning ‘unified’) in English.

Мой еди́нственный сын — my only son

Еди́ный Госуда́рственный Экза́мен — Unified State Exam

Л — лета́льный и лета́тельный

plane sketch

Image by schachnerah from Pixabay

This is one of those paronym pairs that is just begging to be turned into a pun. While лета́тельный means ‘flying’, as in лета́тельный аппара́т (an aircraft), лета́льный means ‘lethal’ and is common in phrases like лета́льный исхо́д (a lethal outcome) or лета́льный слу́чай (a lethal incident).

Ь — воскресе́ние и воскресе́нье (pronounced the same)

Since there aren’t words that begin with мягкий знак «Ь» (soft sign), I chose this pair for two reasons: first and foremost, the words differ because воскресе́нье has мягкий зна́к (soft sign) while воскресе́ние has the letter “и” in its place. Second of all, orthodox Easter is coming up (May 2nd this year) and I thought it would be great to talk about the significance of those paronyms for the occasion.

The basic rule is this: воскресе́нье means ‘Sunday’ and it’s spelled with Ь and воскресе́ние means ‘resurrection’ and is spelled with И.

In terms of Easter, you might hear the following greetings:

Со Све́тлым Христо́вым Воскресе́нием! [So Svе́tlym Khristо́vym Voskresе́niyem!]

OR Cо Све́тлым воскресе́ньем! [So Svе́tlym voskresе́niyem!]

While there are many Easter blogs that I could reference here, I’ll leave this one up because it shows how that пасха́льное приве́тствие (Easter greeting) is used on a poster outside of a church in Yekaterinburg.

Lastly, our older blogs are proof that paronyms are fun to talk about and our readers have previously shared creative mnemonic devices to differentiate between some of them. For more paronymous pairs in general see here.

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