Russian Language Blog

Russian Days of the Week Posted by on Nov 9, 2010 in Culture, language, Russian for beginners


«Как прошли выходные?» [How was your weekend?]. Mine was not so hot. And it’s not just the «прохладная погода» [cool weather] that’s to blame, but a nasty case of a 24-hour flu. Well, at least it was supposed to last only «сутки» [24 hours], but as of Monday I was still «в кровати» [in bed], feeling quite «скверно» [miserably].

So I thought about doing something easy. How about «дни недели» [days of the week]? Sounds basic enough, doesn’t it? Well, turns out that Josefina already got Russian days of the week covered back in 2009.

But as we say in Russia, «повторение – мать учения» [repetition is the mother of learning]. Besides, maybe I’ll be able to «спеть старую песню на новый лад» [sing the old song differently].

«Понедельник» [Monday]

«Выходной» [the weekend] is over and «рабочая неделя» [work week] begins. Russians say that «понедельник – день тяжёлый» [Monday is a tough day]. Even V. Putin once said that «у него все дни – понедельники» [all his days are Mondays], meaning that he worked under constant strain.

The adverb «понедельно» sounds very much like the noun «понедельник», but it means “weekly”. For example, you can «арендовать» [rent] an apartment «понедельно», meaning that the payments will be due weekly. You can «арендовать квартиру понедельно, начиная с понедельника» [to rent an apartment weekly, starting on Monday] or any other day of the week, of course.

Other useful words that are similarly constructed по» + time period), include

  • «почасовой» [hourly] as in «почасовая оплата труда» [hourly wage]
  • «посуточный» [over a 24-hour period] as in «посуточная аренда особняка» [24-hour rental of a private residence]
  • «помесячный» [monthly] as in «помесячный календарь развития ребёнка» [monthly calendar of child’s development]
  • «погодичный» [yearly] as in «погодичная оплата хостинга» [yearly hosting fee]

«Вторник» [Tuesday]

Just a «второй» [second] day of the week, following Monday. The most famous or rather «печально известный» [infamous] Russian «вторник» was «Чёрный вторник» [Black Tuesday] on October 11, 1994 when Russian ruble took a nose-dive against the US dollar.

By the way, the verb «вторить» means to chime in, to echo or to sing the second part.

«Среда» [Wednesday]

Hooray, it’s the middle of the week. Middle in Russian is «середина» as in «золотая середина» [the golden mean or the happy medium]. The one in the middle is «средний»: «в семье было трое детей и Иван был средним» [there were three children in the family and Ivan was the middle one].

«Средний» also means mathematically average – «средний вес» [average weight], «средний доход» [average income], «средняя урожайность» [average crop yield], etc. And someone who’s just so-so, average, indistinguishable from others in skills, intelligence, ingenuity, way of thinking, etc is called «посредственность».

«Четверг» [Thursday]

From the word «четыре» [four], this is the fourth day of the week. If someone says to you that something will happen «после дождичка в четверг» then don’t hold your breath for it.

I remember as a child reading an article with fish recipes titled «Четверг – рыбный день» [Thursday is Fish Day]. Somehow it made sense then although the only fish we could buy was freezer-burned «хек» [whiting]. But I knew that the cafeterias at Mom’s and Dad’s work places as well as the one on the first floor of our apartment building featured fish soup and fried fish on Thursdays. Turns out, «рыбный день» [fish day] was centrally mandated by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1976. So that on Thursdays in the USSR all government-run eateries were supposed to serve fish.

«Пятница» [Friday]

This is «пятый» [the fifth] day of the week. By the way, «с четверга на пятницу сны сбываются» [Thursday night to Friday morning dreams come true]. So this Thursday keep a notepad and a pen by your bed and take down some notes as soon as you wake up on Friday. Who knows, maybe you’ll finally «сорвать куш» [make a killing] in the stock market.

Someone who can’t stick to a plan and changes decisions too often is said to have «семь пятниц на неделе» [seven Fridays in a week]. Why? Well, back in the days Fridays were market days. Fridays were deal-making days when contractual terms were agreed upon. Those who didn’t abide by the agreed-upon terms were said to have «семь пятниц на неделе», as if they considered every day to be a negotiation day.

«Суббота» [Saturday]

The word sounds very much like “Sabbath” and for a good reason – it shares the same origin. This is a day of rest when no work was to be done. Except if there’s a «субботник» [voluntary Saturday work] to attend. In early years of the Soviet Union workers would enthusiastically volunteer to spend their Saturdays at work, unpaid, building the bright future. Later on, as the enthusiasm wore off, «субботник» became more of a «обязаловка» [informal: an obligation that can’t be skipped]. It also degenerated into clean-ups, litter pick-up and basic landscaping.

«Воскресенье» [Sunday]

Ah, the last day of the week! Well, the name itself is derived from the word «воскресение» [resurrection] and refers to Jesus’ resurrection. It used to be called «неделя» or the day when no work was to be done (hmm, which made it a third day of no work in addition to «пятница» and «суббота» – not bad at all). As a matter of fact, in all other Slavic languages Sunday is still called just that – niedziela (Polish), неділя (Ukrainian), нядзеля (Belorussian), neděle (Czech).

Honestly, I ran out of steam thinking up some examples for Sunday that would be more cheerful than  «воскресный папа» [lit: Sunday dad].  Any ideas are welcome either in the comments to the post or on our Facebook page.

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  1. S:

    Спасибо для этого столба. Очень хорошо. Я хочу повторение!

  2. Eduardo:

    Very Interesting Post Yelena……..Now i know the origin of the weekdays!!=)

  3. Minority:

    To tell the truth, I can’t remember something except “вербное воскресенье”.. Oh, of course – “воскресная школа” [Sunday school] – it’s school which kids attend on Sundays. It’s not necessary to be church school. When I was 13 I attended mathematical sunday school at one of our city gymnasias (well, actually, it means nothing special… most of schools want to be gymnasia or lyceum ’cause it sounds cool). After one year there I passed the exams and started to study at that gymnasia every day (Monday – Saturday for usual classes, Sunday for extra lessons [не знаю как написать, что я ходила на занятия для подготовки к различным олимпиадам =)]).

    btw, there’re also “чистый четверг” [tidy thursday] – a thursday before Easter. People used to clean everything during this day to prepare house for holidays.

    • yelena:

      @Minority Minority, the only one that comes to mind is “воскресный синдром” [Sunday Night Syndrome], but again, it’s not anything cheerful. It’s really cool that you even went to classes on Sunday to study for the academic competitions. You can say “I studied to participate in Math Olympics” or “Physics Olympics” or “Chemistry Olympics”, whatever the case might be (there are competitions like that in the US as well). Also, if you participated in math Olympics or other math competitions, you can say that you were a mathlete. So which Olympics did you participate in? I participated in math and physics ones a couple of times in middle school, but because I got volunteered for those, not because it was something I wanted to do. And at the time they didn’t have the equivalents for history or literature.

  4. Edward:

    Thanks Yelena. A beautifully enlightening post on a seemingly simple subject. Although I was aware that words like “неделя” were used in other Slavic languages to mean “Sunday”, it had never occurred to me that the word means, or at least seems to mean, “nothing doing”.

    That makes sense for Sunday, a day of rest. But I wonder how неделя came to be used to refer to the complete set of seven days that make up a week, too. Surely you can’t be “doing nothing” every day!

    Any idea how that came to be?

    • yelena:

      @Edward Edward, I like Natasha’s explanation 🙂 Well, the old word for “week” was “седьмица” meaning 7 days. So it was 7 days with the last one devoted to “doing nothing” – “неделя”. I’m still in the dark on why “седьмица” got replaced with the word “неделя” though.

  5. Natasha:

    Wishful thinking on a national scale? :DDD

  6. Minority:

    Yelena, well, I participated in Math, Physics and Programming Olymics =)) I hadn’t a lot of success, but it was fun. First of all, I learnt a lot of interesting things, met a lot of people.. Kind of intellectual partying 😀

  7. yelena:

    I hated math (or rather my “математичку”) all through high school. You must’ve went to school well after I graduated ’cause we hadn’t even heard of programmable calculators, let alone computers 🙂 Вот и выросла я не физиком, а лириком 🙂

  8. Minority:

    Yelena, yes, I guess.. I finished my studies at university this year.
    Math was my favorite subject at school… Later, at uni my love faded away… well, I think it’s because Math at uni is not very interesting, and much harder to understand.

  9. darya:

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! forever

  10. yasree es:

    ti ochen krasiva.
    ja snaju…
    ti toche ne chewo.. :))
    xarasho fso budut xarasho!!!
    wsö budet horoscho ja eto snaju
    eta znayu

    Need your help please!!!!
    can anyone translate this for me.
    Thanks a lot

    • yelena:

      @yasree es Yasree, this translates to “you’re very beautiful. I know… You’re not bad yourself.. 🙂 Allright, everything is going to be allright!!! Everything is going to be allright I know this. I know this.

      Actually, you can probably get a better translation (and definitely a much faster response) if you ask for translation on our Facebook fan page –

  11. yasree es:

    thx so much Yelena!
    It was actually very hard to get a translation of it on google!!
    You’ve been of great help.
    Thx again

  12. Elena:

    I really like this post. It si so true:)

    • yelena:

      @Elena Thank you, Lena!

  13. Marko:

    Thanks Elena foe explantions of the days of the week.I would stress again the meaning of ”nedjelja”It comes from the prefix ”ne” no,not, and ”delat”,stroit,rabotat.Privet iz Belgrada

    • yelena:

      @Marko Privet Marko! As a child I was always puzzled over the phrase “рабочая неделя” [work week]. It seemed so nonsensical 🙂