Fear not, it’s only Participles! Or: Ryan’s Guest Post Posted by josefina on Sep 21, 2010 in language, Russian for beginners
It is truly an honor for me – your ‘wonderful hostess’ (I do love compliments like that!) – to introduce this month’s guest blogger: Ryan Perkins! Ryan is a student starting his third year of college level Russian at University of Oregon. He got into Russian in high school when his choir was practicing the hymn «Хвалите Господа с Небес» [“Praise the Lord from the Heavens”] for a state choir championship at the same time as he was learning about the Russian revolution and USSR under Stalin in history courses. He has yet to travel to Russia, having lived out all but a few weeks of his life in the state of Oregon. When Ryan’s not studying Russian, he likes to hang out with friends, or sleep – although he’s been known to forgo sleep for the joy of Russian homework… Being as he is that devoted, it is no big surprise that he’s the one to debut the fascinating topic «о причастьях в русском языке» [about participles in Russian language] here on the blog!
Our wonderful hostess «Джозефина» [Josefina] has graced us with numerous and wonderful posts about Russian grammar, including a wonderful sequence «о шести падежей русского языка» [about the six cases of the Russian language], a post «о русской грамматике по-русски» [about Russian grammar, in Russian], and most recently, a post «о ненастоящих друзьях» [about false friends]. I hope to continue today in her fine tradition of grammatical exposition, and I turn my sights on something many Russian language learners I know are unnecessarily frightened of: «причастия» [participles]!
So, what exactly are participles? They answer the question «какой?» [what kind?/which one?], and decline just like adjectives, but they are not just any kind of adjectives. Participles are adjectives formed from verbs, and there are two major differences between a participle and a “normal” verb (besides how you form them). The first difference: a participle can have a “subject” not in the nominative case. Indeed, the subject of a participle can be in any case. The trick is that the participle, as an adjective, has to match its subject in gender, number, and case. The second difference: A participle cannot be the only verb in the sentence.
We’ll be starting our tour through participles with one of those two participles Russian shares with English, the present active participle.
So what are these used for? Well, for one, you can describe actions by things that might not be the subject of your sentence. Participles allow us (among a host of other things) in Russian language to take the clumsy two-sentence statement “I saw people at the beach. They were swimming and talking,” and make it into something like “I saw people at the beach swimming and talking.” This is just one of the many uses of participles in Russian, but we’ll use it to explain the general idea.
First, we have to first find an imperfective verb. Just like perfective verbs don’t have present meanings when conjugated normally, they can’t have present participles. So, let’s take the verbs плавать and говорить to start with, and use our English sentences from above. The best way to make a present active participle is to start with the 3rd person plural form of a verb, the ending with «-ут»/«-ют» for 2nd conjugation verbs, or «-ат»/«-ят» for 1st conjugation verbs.
Using a verb of each type, we can make a statement like «Я вижу людей на пляже. Они плавают и говорят» [I see people on the beach. They are swimming and talking]. Now, we take off the final «–т», leaving us with the stems «плаваю-» и «говоря-». Next, add «–щ» and to those, and attach the ending you need for the participle to agree in case, number, and gender with its subject. In this case, the subject of the participle is «людей» so we need accusative plural endings: «Я видел людей плавающих и говорящих на пляже» [I saw people swimming and talking at the beach].
And even though the name of the participle has the word “present” in it, it’s crucial to understand that it is not necessarily describing a present action. Here they describe action contemporary with the verb «видел» [saw]. The people were swimming and talking when you saw them, and while they might still be swimming and talking at the present moment, you’re just saying what they were doing when you saw them. Since participles don’t have a tense independent of the sentence’s main verb, you need a verb to have a participle.
Let’s look at «примеры из русской литературы» [examples from Russian literature]
«Из «Мастера и Маргариты» Булгакова» [From Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”]:
«…а молодой спутник его – поэт Иван Николаевич Понырев, пишущий под псевдонимом Бездомный» [And his young companion was the poet Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev, writing under the pseudonym Homeless].
Participle: «пишущий», from «писать», the third person plural form of which is «пишут».
Here we have the participle «пишущий», in the nominative masculine singular, to agree with the poet, whom it describes. Note also that participles can have more than just a subject associated with them. Ivan Nikolaevich is not just writing, but he is writing «под псевдонимом». Adverbs like this work just like they would if the phrase were «Иван Николаевич пишет под псевдонимом» [Ivan Nikolaevich writes under a pseudonym].
«Тут приключилась вторая странность, касающаяся одного Берлиоза» [Here was the second oddity, which touched only Berlioz].
Participles: «касающаяся», from «касаться», the third person plural form of which is «касаются».
Here we see a reflexive participle. It’s nominative feminine singular, agreeing with «странность». Russian participles are often better translated into English with a relative clause using which or that. Again, the participle can more than just an adjective; here it takes a direct object.
«Он остановил свой взор на верхних этажах, ослепительно отражающих в стёклах изломанное и навсегда уходящее от Михаила Александровича солнце. . .» [He let his gaze rest on the upper floors, where the glass was dazzlingly reflecting the broken sun forever setting on Mikhail Aleksandrovich…].
Participles: «отражающих», from «отражать», the third person plural form of which is «отражают», and «уходящее», from «уходить», the third person plural form of which is «уходят».
This sentence has two participles, with two subjects. The first, «отражающих», is in prepositional neuter plural, agreeing with «стёклах». The second, «уходящее», agrees with «солнце». This second participle does something bizarre to native English speakers. It comes before the noun it modifies, which is perfectly normal, but it also has an extra phrase stuck in there: “the setting-on-Mikhail-Aleksandrovich sun.”
«На пристани было много гуляющих. . .» [There were many people strolling on the pier…]
Participle: «гуляющих», from «гулять», the third person plural form of which is «гуляют».
Here we see the participle without a noun. “An adjective without it’s noun?! Preposterous!” you might say. But Russian does it all the time, «Он – русский» [He’s Russian] being a very common example.
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