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Life Finds a Way: “Natural” Adjectives in Russian Posted by on Aug 1, 2019 in vocabulary

How do you say “natural” in Russian? The answer depends on what you are talking about. This post will look at the different ways of referring to organic things and when each of them is appropriate.

For the sake of variety, I will be listing the feminine forms of the adjectives in this entry.

sunflower

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Есте́ственная

This word can be a bit of a tongue twister, so let’s trace down how it came to be. You may remember the word есть in the sense of “there is” or “someone has,” not to be confused with the infinitive есть meaning “to eat”:

  • У нас есть ко́шка (We have a cat).
  • Здесь есть туале́т? (Is there a toilet/washroom/restroom here?)

In turn, есть is technically the 3rd person singular conjugation of the word быть, to be. This verb has lost its conjugation in contemporary Russian, but it used to look like this:

Я есмь Мы есмы́
Ты есь, еси́ Вы есте́
Он, она, оно есть Они суть

Естество́ means the nature of something, its unaltered state. Add a suffix, and you get есте́ственная.

Есте́ственная refers to something happening naturally without external intervention, something being self-evident and almost inevitable, or someone behaving naturally.

Here are some examples:

  • есте́ственный отбо́р — natural selection
  • есте́ственные языки́ — natural languages
  • есте́ственные нау́ки — natural sciences
  • есте́ственное число́ — natural number
lake landscape

Photo by Riccardo Chiarini on Unsplash

Приро́дная

Приро́да means “nature” and belongs to an extended word family with the -род- root, which has to do with birth and blood relations. The primary meaning of приро́дная is “pertaining to nature.” Unlike есте́ственная, it’s not that приро́дная necessarily happened on its own — it’s just that it happened out in “the wild.” However, there may be some overlap with есте́ственная if something nature-made or innate is meant.

  • приро́дные ресу́рсы — natural resources
  • приро́дная катастро́фа — natural disaster
  • приро́дная среда́ — natural environment/habitat
  • приро́дные да́нные — innate characteristics/talents
  • приро́дный исто́чник — natural source
vegetables

Photo by Correen on Unsplash

Натура́льная

Finally, натура́льная quite obviously comes from Latin. Here the emphasis is on being organic and unadulterated. This word is often used for marketing purposes to describe cosmetics or foods without additives. Oftentimes, натура́льная is the opposite of иску́сственная (artificial).

  • натура́льные проду́кты — natural foods
  • натура́льный же́мчуг — natural pearls
  • в натура́льную величину́ — life-size (used as a modifier)
  • натура́льная ко́жа — genuine leather

Test Yourself!

Now that you’ve read about the usage of these three adjectives, see if you can pick which ones go with each of the following nouns. Remember, sometimes there is more than one correct answer!

  • газ (gas)
  • красота́ (beauty)
  • причи́ны (causes)
  • свет (light)
  • цвет (colo{u}r)
  • проце́сс (process)
  • явле́ние (phenomenon)
  • спосо́бность (ability)
  • материа́л (material)
  • смерть (death)

See below for a table showing how many times each adjective + noun combination appeared in the Russian National Corpus.

See answers here

 естественный/ая/ое/ыеприродные/ая/ое/ыенатуральный/ая/ое/ые
газ (gas)68309
красота (beauty)2960 3
причины (causes)16073
свет (light)8853
цвет (colo{u}r)472371
процесс (process)1861295
явление (phenomenon)713365
способность (ability)181003
материал (material)208872
смерть (death)39907

How did you do? Does this distinction make sense?

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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. Doug:

    Another great article – I love the vocabulary analysis. And the test at the end was a nice touch – it shows the value of referencing the Russian National Corpus when you’re unsure about the appropriate word in a particular context.

    • Maria:

      @Doug Thank you, Doug. Right, for some of these, I would not be sure which adjective is the best because, sometimes, several sound good. So I figured backing it up with some usage figures would be helpful.


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