Russian Language Blog

Patience à la russe Posted by on Jul 27, 2021 in Culture, Idioms, language, Russian life, Vocabulary

Patience is a virtue and also a fascinating word in Russian: терпе́ние. Let’s look at how to use that word and its derivatives in a sentence. Towards the end we will talk about translating the imperative “потерпи́” and a few idiomatic expressions with “терпе́ние”.

balloon bursting

Image by sipa from Pixabay

Терпе́ние — patience

It means «выноси́ть страда́ние» (endure suffering) but used to mean «застыва́ть» или «столбене́ть» (to freeze or petrify).

Most dictionaries agree that it’s the ability to willingly endure something tragic, difficult or unpleasant without complaining or resisting. This is one of the reasons I called this word ‘fascinating’ earlier: you are suffering through something without using the word ‘suffer’. I understand it as choosing not to focus or question the thing that’s causing you discomfort but rely on some unspoken but agreed upon inner virtue from within. I honestly can’t decide if it is the most metal or the most disturbing linguistic trick ever.

Related Verb Phrases

Терпе́ть is the simplest verb form but also the one that has the most range in meaning. Depending on the context, it can mean “to endure”, “to bear”, or “to tolerate”.

Как ты те́рпишь его́? How do you put up with him?

Име́ть терпе́ние — to have patience

Терпе́ние ло́пается (mostly used in past tense) – literally, patience is about to burst or bursting. It’s usually something you exclaim when you’ve completely lost your patience as in Моё терпе́ние ло́пнулоя ухожу́! I’m done — I’m leaving!

Набра́ться терпе́ния или запасти́сь терпе́нием — literally, to stock up on patience.

Похо́же, что о́чередь совсе́м не дви́гается: придётся нам запасти́сь терпе́нием. It seems that the line is not moving at all. We’ll have to be very patient.

The reason the first phrase has the word терпе́ния with “я” is because it’s in роди́тельском падеже́ [Genitive case], as in набра́ться [чего?] терпе́ния. The other phrase has the word терпе́нием in твори́тельном падеже́ [Instrumental case], as in запасти́сь [чем?] терпе́нием.

Потеря́ть терпе́ние (lit. to lose patience) и́ли вы́йти из терпе́ния (lit. to walk out of patience) — both mean to lose patience.

a dog in a protective collar

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Other words

To lose — Терпе́ть пораже́ние или потерпе́ть неуда́чу

To suffer in silence — Терпе́ть мо́лча

To take losses — Терпе́ть убы́ток

Patient as a personality trait — Терпели́вый (терпели́вость — patience in the same context)

Impatient — Нетерпели́вый

Bearable — Терпи́мый

Patiently — Терпели́во

Idiomatic Expressions

Терпе́ние и тру́д – всё перетру́т means patience and hard work will overcome everything.

На хоте́нье е́сть терпе́ние is something a parent might say to their child when the latter demands a treat, a present or even just an immediate answer to a rather trivial question. (Literally, “there is patience for every want”)

a kid getting a band aid

Photo by CDC from Pexels

The imperative “потерпи́

Speaking of parenting. Imagine this: you are six years old, and you scrape your knee pretty badly (a rite of passage to 6-year-old-hood if there ever were one). As soon as you get home, your mom scavenges the cupboards for the half-empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide (пе́рекись водоро́да). You both know this is not going to be pleasant. You know that because a kid at your kindergarten had to do that and you heard him cry from the nurse’s office. And your mom knows, because, well — she is a mom and to a six-year-old it still seems that your mom knows everything. But right before the dreaded liquid makes contact with the wound and the resulting foam runs over the edges of the scraped skin your mom says: потерпи́, сейча́с бу́дет немно́жко щипе́ть.

The imperative “потерпи́” is something every native Russian speaker has heard at one point growing up, whether because of a playground injury, getting your ears pierced, or even just at the doctor’s office before getting a приви́вку (a shot). It’s also widely popular while standing in long queues at an amusement park (па́рк аттракцио́нов).

When talking with a student of mine about the word потерпи́, we speculated that in English no one would say it as “be patient, it’s going to sting a little”. Instead, “потерпи́” might be omitted altogether or substituted with an encouraging “hang in there” or the soothing “it’s gonna be alright, [kid’s name]. Although, depending on the tone of voice, it may be a very stern “you’ll get over it”.

Now I wonder if, by using the word “терпе́ние” in the context of enduring pain, Russian-speaking parents are sending a slightly different message about one’s relations to suffering than English speaking parents? Do you agree/disagree and how do other languages talk about enduring pain and being patient?

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