Russian Language Blog

Russian phrases with numerals Posted by on Nov 24, 2020 in Culture, Idioms, language, Vocabulary

Since we’ve covered the difference between один and раз, it’s only apt to enrich our vocabulary with a few numeral-heavy Russian expressions and idioms. I will give both the literal translation (sometimes for the sake of curious imagery and other times for even more curious etymological reasons), as well as the actual idiomatic meaning and usage of each expression below.

В оди́н го́лос (lit. in one voice) meaning “in unison”. This is mostly employed to talk about people who unequivocally agree on something and sometimes to stress that a group of people is saying something at the same time and very agreeably.

«ДА!» —в оди́н го́лос закрича́ли де́ти, когда́ ма́ма предложи́ла заказа́ть пиццу на ужин.

The kids all screamed “YES!” when their mom offered to order pizza for dinner.

“Оди́н, как перст” (lit. alone as a thumb) or “оди́н, как сыч” (lit. alone as a horned owl). Both phrases describe someone who is either perpetually lonely or is alone at the moment, possibly because their opinion on a certain matter isolated them from the rest of the group.


Image by 272447 from Pixabay

Пе́рвый встре́чный (lit. the next first person you meet) is a collocation often used when warning someone about “danger-stranger” type of situations, or when criticizing someone’s willingness to trust anyone and everyone. The Russian equivalent of “every Tom, Dick, and Harry”.

Пе́рвый сорт (lit. number one variety) – used to signify the best quality of something.

Пе́рвый па́рень на дере́вне (lit. the first lad in the village). This one is far from a compliment and has a similar air as “the big fish in a small pond”.

Пе́рвый блин комом (lit. the first pancake comes out lumpy) Here’s a widely well-known Russian expression meaning one’s first attempt at something is likely to fail. People use this phrase to genuinely encourage another person to try again and, from my experience, real-life pancakes do actually come out kind of lumpy at first.

Одна́ нога́ зде́сь, друга́я та́м (lit. One leg is here, the other is over there.) A promise or an order to return quickly or deal with another task as soon as possible.

The next 4 expressions are similar to the English “birds of a feather” or “to be cast in the same mold”. They all meant to describe people similar in character.

  • Одни́м ми́ром ма́заны anointed with the same chrism. “Ми́ром” here is in an Instrumental case but not of the word “мир” that means “peace” or “world” but of the word “ми́ро” that’s a holy anointing oil used in Orthodox and other churches as part of administering ceremonies.
    Сде́ланы из одного́ те́ста
    – made from the same dough
    Одного́ поля я́годы
    – berries of the same field
    На оди́н покро́й (сши́ты)
    – tailored in the same fashion

Image by Mali Aroesti from Pixabay

Note: два сапога́ па́ра (lit. two boots of the same pair) is similar in meaning but the numeral here is “два”, and not “оди́н” so it only gets an honorable mention.

Клейми́ть одни́м клеймо́м – to brand with the same brand iron/ brand mark. This one means somebody is ascribing a group of people one characteristic or giving the same judgment to multiple people.

Раз плю́нуть – lit. to spit once; meaning the task at hand is easy-peasy.

Раз-два и обчёлся – lit. one-two and that’s it. This means “low in quantity” or “hardly any”. Обчёлся comes from обче́сться (or обсчита́ться) meaning to miscount or make an error in your calculations as well as your judgment.

These Russian phrases have very close (and sometimes identical) phrases in English:

Оди́н на оди́н – one on one

Одни́м сло́вом – in one word

Одни́м ма́хом – in one go (lit. in one swing)

Оди́н-одинёшенек – means “all alone”. While not word for word, this expression is a great example of using Russian diminutives and repetition to emphasize the point.


Image by Harut Movsisyan from Pixabay

На пе́рвый взгляд is equal in meaning to the English “at first glance” just as любо́вь с пе́рвого взгля́да is similar to “love at first sight”.

Lastly, a triumphant and victorious quote from a beloved movie D’Artagnan and Three Musketeers (“д’Артаньян и три мушкетёра”) that came out in 1978:

Оди́н за всех, все за одного́ – One for all and all for one. This movie reference is commonly quoted when someone wants to raise the spirit of camaraderie and unity on their team.

I’ll have another blog with more numerals in Russian idiomatic and popular expressions soon. For now, stay safe and healthy!

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