Russian Language Blog

Particle -ка and How to Use It Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners

As you’ve realized by now, my previous post about the letter Ё being removed from the alphabet was just первоапрельская утка (April Fool’s spoof). What шутки (jokes) did you play on your friends this year? What kind of розыгрыши (pranks) did they try to pull on you?

This year, one of the spoofs prepared by Russian средства массовой информации or СМИ (media) was about исчезновение кота Дорофея, хозяином которого является не кто иной, как Президент РФ Дмитрий Медведев (disappearance of Dorofey the cat, whose owner is none other, but the President of the Russian Federation Dmitri Medvedev).

After reading that this розыгрыш was so successful it even trended on Twitter for a while, I said to myself: дай-ка посмотрю, когда впервые российская газета напечатала первоапрельскую шутку (let me see when was the first time a Russian newspaper printed an April Fool’s joke).

Turns out, it was way back in 1988, so it wasn’t so much a Russian newspaper as советская газета (Soviet newspaper). The paper Известия (Izvestiya) printed an article about Moscow soccer team Спартак (Spartak) signing a $6-million contract with an Argentinian soccer super-star Диего Марадона (Diego Maradona). Apparently, even Associated Press believed this fake news.

But now that April Fool’s is over, I say давайте-ка вернёмся к серьёзному, к грамматике русского языка (Let’s get back to the serious stuff, to the Russian grammar).

While I’m pouring myself yet another cup of горячий чай (hot tea), нука, возьмите-ка ручки, бумагу и приготовьтесь-ка записывать (now then, take out pens, paper and get ready to write things down). Ok, just kidding. Still, читайте-ка этот пост повнимательней (read this post attentively).

About частица -ка (particle -ка)

What’s do words дай-ка, давайте-ка, возьмите-ка, приготовьтесь-ка, and читайте-ка have in common?

  1. They all have the particle ка appended to them
  2. They are all verbs
  3. They all translate the same into English with or without кадавай and давай-ка mean “let’s”, возьмите and возьмите-ка mean “take”, etc.

Let me give you some more examples of verbs with this particle:

Вася, принесика папе пульт управления (Vasya, bring Dad the remote control)

Слушай-ка, Петрович, а не выпить ли нам за прекрасных дам (Listen, Petrovich, let’s drink to the beautiful ladies).

Эй, маэстро, сыграй-ка Цыганочку! (Hey, maestro, play Tsiganochka!)

As you’ve noticed, all the verbs are in повелительное наклонение (imperative). And that’s really the mystery of it: ка is appended to the verbs in imperative. But then why use this particle at all?

Without this particle, the повелительное (imperative) sounds a bit too повелевающее (commanding). By adding the particle, you soften the request. At the same time, it adds a sense of urgency to your request as in сходи-ка в магазин, а то в доме ни яиц, ни молока нет (Go to a store because there are neither eggs nor milk in the house).

The only exception to the verbs is the preposition ну. When ка is added to it, нука becomes even more dependent on context than the ну:

А ну-ка, давай-ка, плясать выходи! (Now then, let’s do it, come dance!)

Нука, выключи стерео и утихомирься (Now then, turn of the stereo and calm down)

Ну-ка, поглядим, что с Вашей машиной (Let’s see now what’s with your car)

Ну-ка, поднажмём, ребята и вытащим этот чёртов рояль! (Now lads, let’s step on it and get this damn grand piano out of here!)

Are there any rules regarding when to append and when not to append? Not really. If you want to sound a bit softer, make it a bit more informal, and such then use it. However, if you abuse it, then you will sound too запанибратски (too chummy, with undue familiarity).

And that’s about all there’s to say about the particle ка. Except one thing – particle ка is not to be confused with the suffix ка- that helps to form some intransitive verbs, such as тыкать (to poke), стукать (to knock), мяукать (to mew), каркать (to croak, prophesy ill) and such.

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  1. Gabriel Wyner:

    Hi Yelena! I recently found your Russian language blog (Nice website, btw!). I just finished a Russian resources section of my language learning website, and thought your readers might be interested in the learning methods I talk about. I’m also blogging about my Russian learning experience. If you like them, I’d love to spread them to a wider audience (on other blogs, etc)!

    Russian resources:
    Language learning methods:

    Best regards,
    -Gabe Wyner

  2. Jeannie:

    Замечательный блог! Очень понятен. Спасибо Вам!

  3. Ashley:

    I did not know that this was an April fool joke. You sent it to me after 4 in the afternoon, and April fool pranks MUST BE BEFORE MIDDAY!!!

    • yelena:

      @Ashley Hi Ashley. What time zone are you in? When I pushed the “publish” button on that particular post it was 12:10am EST on April 1st. I know it was already early morning for our readers in Europe, but figured most where still asleep. Hmm, next year I’ll have to take that into account and make sure that the post publishes way earlier than 00:01 EST on April 1st.

  4. Ceridwen:

    Thank you, that was very useful. I had never heard about that particle before. Maybe you should do ‘Particle of the Week’ (or month)!

  5. Ashley:

    I am in the UK. It is GMT +1 (British Summertime. My hotmail is pushed to my phone, and on the phone and on the computer, the blog was time-stamped 16:11(((
    Love your blog though! Been following it for years. My Russian is still bad though 😉

  6. David Roberts:

    Excellent! An your throwaway line at the end about the “other ка”- that helps to form some intransitive verbs, such as тыкать (to poke), was fascinating. I’ve never thought about it in that way before, but if you consider -ть as the “normal” ending of an infinitive, then it makes sense to see the -ка- in such verbs as a suffix. I’m now thinking of seeing how many -кать verbs we can find and looking to see if there’s a pattern – what sort of verbs are formed with -ка-?

    Lena, like Ashley I am UK based as you know – I eventually worked out that it was still morning for you when the ё post appeared. Funny, when I first started learning Russian we were told that ё was only used in childrens’ books, but nowadays you come across it in newspapers too.

  7. Minority:

    That’s funny about the rule that April fool pranks should be before midday… ’cause we’ve got a pharse in Russia – “весь апрель никому не верь”, so pranks can still happen no matter that it’s not the 1st of April already xD

    • yelena:

      @Minority Minority, you’re so right. I do remember that. Usually everyone got tired of it by April 2 or 3 🙂

  8. Вячеслав:

    David, “ка” could be used in imperative mood when, as mentioned above, you’re trying to induce someone. This suffix are used in spoken language only.

    • yelena:

      @Вячеслав Спасибо, Вячеслав. You are right, ка is not something used in official documents or news reporting.

  9. Rob McGee:

    исчезновение кота Дорофея

    Агаа, мне интересно что Дорофей — имя мужского рода! (Just like Тимофей [“Timothy”], but unlike the exclusively feminine “Dorothy”.)

    This wiki article says that Дорофей honors a 4th-century Christian martyr known in English as “Dorotheus of Tyre” — but nowadays it’s quite obscure and mainly used as an adopted religious/monastic name (and for cats, I guess!).

    And I guess this possibly explains why “Dorothy” had to be renamed Элли in Волшебник Изумрудного города (“The Wizard of the Emerald City“) — although the 1939 Soviet translation was relatively faithful to L. Frank Baum’s original. (For example, Элли remains an American farmgirl from Kansas, so it’s nothing at all like Harry Potter getting a sex-change and Russian citizenship as Таня Гроттер!)

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee Rob, some time in the early 90s (if I remember correctly), I got a Russian translation of Волшебник страны Оз (as opposed to widely available and usually read Волшебник Изумрудного города). In it the names were kept, but Dorothy in Russian is pronounced Дороти. Have you read Волшебник Изумрудного города? It is quite different from the original, but not nearly as bad as its sequel Урфин Джюс и его деревянные солдаты. Personally, I prefer Frank Baum’s original story 🙂

  10. Rob McGee:

    Yelena — when I was still very new to Russian many years ago, I got my hands on a copy of one of the Soviet-published “Russian Oz” books, but it was too difficult for me to read. I think it might have been Урфин Джюс because the “wooden soldiers” part rings a bell.

    So, I was going by online plot-summaries when I said that Волшебник Изумрудного города was relatively faithful. At least, it had a Kansas farmgirl transported by a hurricane; plus a scarecrow, an (“iron lumberjack”, and a lion; plus a lot of witches!