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Knowledge Day or Back to School Posted by on Sep 10, 2013 in Culture, Nouns and their grammar

Did you like school as a child? I did, but only for the first few days. In fact, I am pretty sure that many kids in Russia really like school for at least one day and that day is Первое сентября (September 1st) also known as День Знаний (Knowledge Day). It is definitely one of the most exciting school days each year (the other one being the last day of school) as we talked about some time ago in this post.

To honor the Knowledge Day and its cutest symbol, a smiling первоклассник (first-grader), today’s word is класс. It means quite a few things in Russian, but all of them with one exception reflect the general idea of “class” as a group of objects that share something in common.

For example, pupils in Russian schools are grouped by age into классы (grades), starting with первый класс (first grade) and ending with одиннадцатый класс (eleventh grade). A first-grader is первоклассник; a second-grader is второклассник; a third-grader is третьеклассник, etc (although there really is no word to say “fourth-grader”). These kids are known collectively as младшеклассники (elementary school students; literally – those in lower grades). The grades they attend are frequently called младшие or начальные (primary) классы.

Мой старший сын учится в седьмом классе, а младший только начал школу в этом году. Он – первоклассник. – My eldest son is in the seventh grade and my youngest just started school this year. He is a first-grader.

Eventually kids move to старшие классы (middle and high school) and are known as старшеклассники. Fourth grade and up is typically when the school day becomes longer as more классы are added to the schedule. This time the word класс means the period of instructional time as in

У меня в понедельник всего четыре класса, зато в среду целых шесть! – I only have four study periods on Monday, but six on Wednesday.

Класс also means “classroom” and often refers to a homeroom.

В нашем классе поставили новые парты – There are new desks in our home room.

В этом классе висит огромная карта мира – There’s a huge world map hanging in this classroom.

The one instance when the word класс means something other than “a group sharing common properties” is when the word is used as a noun predicate to express excitement, approval or even a sense of awe:

Каникулы были – просто класс! – I had an awesome vacation!

One of the most important people in the student’s life is his or her классный руководитель. Here, the adjective классный means “of grade-level” and классный руководитель is a home-room (in the US)  or form teacher. Of course, классный руководитель (homeroom teacher) might turn out to be классный (awesome), for one reason or another.

Наш химик показал интересные эксперименты и вообще, он такой классный! – Our chemistry teacher showed us some interesting experiments and, overall, he is pretty awesome!

Ты видела, какая на нашей классной (руководительнице) классная кофточка сегодня? – Did you see the awesome blouse our homeroom (teacher) was wearing today?

Other words with the root класс that are education-related are классический (classical, classic) as in

В этом году мы продолжаем изучать классическую музыку – This year we will continue studying classical music.

Ваш ребенок – классический пример способного, но ленивого ученика – Your child is a classic example of a bright, but lazy pupil.

Розыгрыши типа натирания доски мылом – это классика жанра! – Practical jokes such as rubbing the blackboard with a bar of soap are classic!

Back in the days we used to study a lot about социальные классы (social classes) and things like классовая борьба (class struggle), not to be confused with классическая борьба (Greco-Roman wrestling), and were told we lived in a бесклассовое общество (class-free society).

Much of school time is spent learning классификация (classification, taxonomy) and how классифицировать (to classify) as in

Как можно классифицировать живые организмы? – How can life forms be classified?

Для вас – это шутка, натереть классную доску мылом, но я классифицирую это, как хулиганство. – Rubbing the blackboard with soap is a joke to you, but I classify it as disorderly conduct.

Fortunately, schools have перемены (breaks) between классы (study periods). Time to head outside for such классические (classic) children’s games as догонялки (tag) and классики (hopscotch). Time flies when you are having fun. Next thing you know, the break is over and it’s time to head back to класс (classroom), perhaps to study a very different kind of классики. But more on классики и современники another time.

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  1. Don Schafer:

    Just want the publisher/author of this Russian Blog to know how much I enjoy it. It is always a delight to read. I just finished reading the blog about “class, classical, etc” in Russian and Russian Knowledge Day. It was all so interesting, and the examples are so well chosen to be both interesting and illustrate well the variety of uses of the words in question.

    Again, many thanks (bolshoye spasibo) and keep up the good work


    • yelena:

      @Don Schafer Don, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you’ve found both the post and the examples in it useful.

  2. Gerry Grablewski:

    Excellent article on Russian schools and classes. As teacher with a homeroom,I’ll be sure to share it with my kids.
    Gerry G

    • yelena:

      @Gerry Grablewski Thank you, Garry. One more school-related article is coming up.