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Bags and Shoes — Russian Words for Everyday Items Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in Russian for beginners

When I taught Russian, I noticed many learners without much exposure to the language would often get confused when choosing the right word for the most mundane objects. Perhaps textbooks are partly to blame, if they simply list the native/English word and its “equivalent” in Russian without defining or describing the Russian word in detail. In any case, here is a collection of very simple words that tend to give beginners trouble.

Bag

The English word “bag” is very versatile. Just look at these examples from the Corpus of Contemporary American English:

  • A trash bag was taped over the door window inside.
  • Place steak in resealable bag.
  • I’m not one of those people who get funny about a friend buying the same shoe or bag as me.

I’m sure there are several more distinct usage examples you can think of, not to mention set expressions like “sleeping bag” or “air bag,” which tend to have their own designations (спа́льный мешо́к and поду́шка безопа́сности in Russian).

Let’s look at some words that refer to a bag of sorts.

Су́мка – the most general word. A woman’s purse is сумка. A soft baggage bag is сумка, although a suitcase is чемода́н. However, not every item that could be referred to as a “bag” in English can be called сумка.

Паке́т can refer to a plastic shopping bag. Many people in Russia carry big plastic bags with company logos (not the flimsy supermarket ones) to carry other things, but this may be considered not very classy. No one refers to a plastic bag as пластиковая сумка. If you need a modifier, it’s usually called полиэтиле́новый пакет.

Кулёк – some people call the bag type above кулёк. This word also has the meaning of a paper bag or cone used for dry foods — think of the paper bags roasted chestnuts are sold in.

Мешо́к literally means “sack.” This may describe a large canvas sack used, for example, for storing coal or potatoes. However, some people may call plastic bags мешки, as well. I think the takeaway here is not to assume that you can call them сумка just because it’s a “bag” in English.

Shoes

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way — shoes as in “footwear” is о́бувь (feminine, uncountable). This is what you would see in catalogs and on store/shop signs.

Ту́фли – these are shoes that normally cover most of the foot and are of the dressier kind. What follows from this is that slippers, flip flops, etc. are not called туфли in Russian. Туфли is what you wear to work in your work in a traditional office. Don’t take my comment about slippers literally, though — of course, what Cinderella left at the ball is a ту́фелька although it’s referred to as a slipper in English. But you’d agree that it’s not the same kind of slipper you wear at home.

Боти́нки — boots worn outdoors in cooler weather. Boots that go above your shins and higher are called сапоги.

Босоно́жки are women’s summer shoes that show the skin of your foot. The word literally means “barefoots.” Сандалии is the word for a similar type of shoe that is usually flat — this is a cognate of “sandals.”

Та́пки or та́почки are house slippers, which guests are expected to put on in the host’s house.

Are there any other generic things that you have a hard time choosing the Russian word for? Do you use the words above similarly to what I described?

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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 in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


Comments:

  1. Alex:

    Hi María!

    If only dictionaries were this clear. I started to learn Russian very recently and just the other day I saw a picture of shoes and clothes in my textbook. I remember staring at all the different words for seemingly identical things and thinking: “Ok. It’s gonna be a long rough ride…” 🙂

    Thanks for this!

    • Maria:

      @Alex Hi Alex, thanks for your comment. Glad to hear this was helpful. Are there any other items that you’re not sure which Russian word to use for?
      I think I know what you mean about the illustrations. The Russian textbook used in my school used very non-obvious pictures of clothes, where the word for a t-shirt was illustrated by what looked like a sweatshirt.
      No worries about the name — I get that a lot in my work email. Hope you come back again!

  2. Alex:

    I’ve just realized my Spanish spell checker decided to misspell your name. Sorry about that

  3. Cheryl B:

    This is great! Tufli always confused me a little…your description is very clear.
    Bag is less of a problem…I studied Russian so long ago we never called a purse a “bag.” That’s relatively recent. Although some of us called a purse, or “sumka” a “pocketbook.”
    Did you know that “bag” and “sack” are completely synonomous? Use of one or the other in the US is completely a regional thing. Like pocketbook, in fact. 🙂

    • Maria:

      @Cheryl B Great addition, Cheryl. That’s why it’s important to differentiate between the senses that a word conveys and not get hung up on words. I assume people still check their bags and not their sacks in the regions that use them synonymously?
      Мешок is really a bag for carrying things, often food or belongings. Сумка can be that but can also be a woman’s purse or a suitcase.