Russian Language Blog

How to Say “I am Single” in Russian Posted by on Aug 28, 2013 in Culture, language

Superstitious Russian young ladies know that May is the worst month to tie the knot. As the saying goes, в мае выйти замуж – век маяться (to get married in May is to throw life away). Which sounds like a perfect excuse for single men to stay холостой just a bit longer.

And the adjective холостой is today’s word. It means “single, never married”, but usually applies to men. A man who is холостой is known as холостяк. If we’re talking about a single, never married woman, we might say she’s a холостячка. Actually, the Russian-language versions of the popular reality TV shows,  Bachelor and Bachelorette are called Холостяк and Холостячка respectively (you can find old seasons on YouTube).

Technically холостяк is someone who is neither contemplating marriage nor actively looking for his вторая половина (the second half). Not to say that холостяк cannot change his mind on the issue. That’s exactly what happened to старый холостяк (a confirmed bachelor) character in the now-classic Ирония судьбы (the Irony of Fate) comedy.

Someone who chooses to stay single for a while is also known as убеждённый холостяк (a committed bachelor) or закоренелый холостяк (an old bachelor, lit: someone rooted in bachelorhood). The two most famous закоренелые холостяки of Russian classical literature are, of course, Евгений Онегин (the hero of A. Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”) and Григорий Печорин (the hero of M. Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”). I can’t think of a single закоренелая холостячка of the Russian classical literature, can you?

Speaking of marital situations, here are the options we have when disclosing анкетные данные (personal information).

For men:

Холост  – single, never married

Не женат – unmarried (although might have been in the past)

Женат – married (known informally as женатик as in Я влюбилась в женатика (I fell for a married guy))

Разведён – divorced

Вдовец – widower

For women:

Не замужем – unmarried (while a woman can write in холостая, it doesn’t seem common)

Замужем – married

Разведена – divorced

Вдова – widow

Now, you might think that the lifestyle a single person leads, the unmarried life, is called холостая жизнь. Well, turns out there is another, a bit more common, phrase for it and it’s холостяцкая жизнь.

Энрике Иглесиас решил наконец-то расстаться с холостой жизнью – Enrique Iglesias has finally decided to say goodbye to bachelorhood.

Яичница на ужин – это по-холостяцки. – Fried eggs for dinner – that’s bachelor style.

Плюсы и минусы холостяцкой жизни – Pluses and minuses of being single.

But what would you make of this headline:

Путин обвинил правительство в “холостой работе” по поддержке экономики.

Is the Russian President accusing government officials of bachelorhood? Are they failing to support the economy by being single? What exactly is “холостая работа”?

The answer is in another meaning of the word холостой which is idle, not producing any results. For example, blank ammunition is холостые патроны. To idle a car is to run it на холостом ходу.

So it appears the President chastised his government for working without producing any results, for idling.

Finally, if you have a bachelor’s degree in something or other, the correct word to use is бакалавр as in

Я наконец-то получила диплом бакалавра лингвистики – I finally received my Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics

And now, you can 1) read Eugene Onegin and/or A Hero of Our Time, either in the original Russian or in English; 2) learn about Russian wedding customs and related words here; 3) watch a comedy Женатый холостяк (A Married Bachelor) here or 4) compile a list of bachelors and bachelorettes of Russian classical literature.

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  1. David Roberts:

    Замужем is a fascinating word – obviously formed from За + instrumental of the noun муж – so literally “behind a husband” (walking a respectful 10 paces behind) or “over a husband” (as in “he’s well under, he never comes down to the pub nowadays)”. So thinking grammatically, how should we regard Замужем? It can’t be an adjective, because it’s applied to a feminine noun and doesn’t have a feminine ending. Does it decline? – I would guess not – he fell in love with a married woman would not be translated with Замужему for married. Or am I wrong?

    • yelena:

      @David Roberts David, there’s an interesting expression за мужем, как за каменной стеной. It means the husband is so good and the marriage is so successful, that a woman feels as safe and secure as if surrounded by a brick wall. Although, I saw a quip on the subject of “security in marriage” that went like this за мужем, как за каменной стеной – хочешь пой, хочешь вой, хочешь бейся головой where the second part of the expression suggests that not all is as great as it seems, lit: “you can sing, you can howl, you can bang your head against the wall”. You’re right to say that the word замужем is not an adjective. It’s an adverb. An adjective is замужняя as in Я влюбился в замужнюю женщину (I feel in love with a married woman). In case you’re wondering, a woman would say Я влюбилась в женатого мужчину (I fell in love with a married man).

  2. Erik McDonald:

    I can’t think of a single закоренелая холостячка of the Russian classical literature, can you?

    How about Anna Nikolaevna Bakhareva in Leskov’s Некуда, who becomes сестра Агния? She is a great beauty, and the emperor dances with her at a ball. She and a certain Prince A. T. fall in love secretly; for three years she avoids other men because of the Prince, and then when she gets a note from him breaking everything off, she turns her back on romantic love altogether and joins a convent. Would she count as a закоренелая холостячка?

    • yelena:

      @Erik McDonald Erik, I never read Leskov other than his Левша. I’d like to read Некуда now you mentioned it. But it doesn’t seem that Anna is закоренелая холостячка since she was intent on getting married. Usually холостяк is someone who does not want to “get tied down” by marriage. Maybe that’s why it’s not very common to have this word applied to women. Traditional gender roles seem to still hold firm in Russia and women are assumed to want to get married some day.