Racing through prefixes Posted by ryan on Jan 31, 2022 in Grammar, language
One of my favorite ways to learn verbs in Russian has always been to sit down, choose a verb, and run through all its possible prefixes, choosing example sentences to really cement the meaning in my mind. I have found this exercise especially useful with verbs of motion, which can have a broad range of meanings.
So, without further ado, погна́ли!
Well, there it is. The verb I wanted to explore today. Гнать, гоня́ть is a verb of motion that has several meanings. In the example above, погнали! means something similar to пошли/поехали let’s go. Aside from that, its main meaning is “to drive something” or “to make something move.” Гнать мяч в воро́та to drive the ball into the goal, гнать ста́до to herd a flock.
Гнать can also mean a rude and forceful way to say “to give,” – ба́бки гони́ cough up (the money), or “to chase someone away”: Мы то́лько что пришли́, а нас уже́ го́нят! We just got here and they’re already kicking us out!
It can also mean “to brew,” which we can see in гнать спирт, hence the word самого́н moonshine, which, if we create a calque in English for the purposes of demonstrating the word’s meaning, would translate to “self-brew.”
Let’s run through a few of the prefixes, shall we? I will explain a typical meaning of a prefix and then give its example with гнать/гоня́ть
This verb is prominently featured in driving vocabulary, as you will see below.
До– typically means “up to a certain point, to the end,” which we can see in words like дочита́ть [до конца́] to read to the end; договори́ть to finish speaking; дойти́ to make it, to reach a certain point.
This means “to catch up.” Khrushchev is known for his slogan Догна́ть и перегна́ть Catching up and exceeding, meaning the Soviets would catch up to and exceed the US.
Пере– means to “do something over” (here “over” meaning both “too much” and “again”).
Об– means “around.” Обойти́ means to walk around something.
After you catch up with someone, what do you do? You pass them! This motion is physically different from перегна́ть because, while you are still technically “exceeding” the other person, the об– prefix suggests you are physically going around someone who is driving slower than you.
Раз– can have several meanings, including “spreading out” the action; рассказа́ть to tell [to “say” something to a lot of people], растяну́ть to stretch out, разобра́ть to unpack (something); but here we will address the meaning that suggests intensity of an action, which is present in verbs like разогре́ть to heat up, рассерди́ться to get angry, разоткрове́нничаться to share too much information about oneself.
Разогна́ть маши́ну means “to speed up” or “to race” your car. За ско́лько секу́нд вы мо́жете разогна́ть маши́ну до 100 км/ч (до ста киломе́тров в час)? How many seconds does it take you to get the car from 0-100km/h? In fact, разго́н до 100км/ч is a popular selling point for fast cars.
Разогна́ть also means to disperse a crowd. Разогна́ть ми́тинг to break up a protest.
У– in motion verbs means “away,” and usually “far away, for a long time.” Уйти́ means “to leave,” уе́хать means “to leave (town),” улете́ть means “to fly away.” So what does угна́ть mean?
To carjack. Well, that depends on what the vehicle being stolen is. Угна́ть мо́жно маши́ну, самолёт, кора́бль, танк или да́же моби́льный пункт вакцина́ции. You can steal a car, a plane, a ship, a tank, or even a mobile vaccination point.
As always with posts like these, examples given are not the only meanings of these verbs. I encourage you to expand your knowledge of these verbs by looking at examples of their usage, either by using Witkionary or by consulting their usage on Kartaslov.ru. What other interesting uses of this verb have you found?
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