Russian Language Blog

Russian Verb of the Week: портить/испортить Posted by on Jun 22, 2012 in language


«Доброе утро, дорогие читатели!» [Good morning, dear readers!] «Это я, Наташа» [It’s me, Natasha (my name is Natalie, but you can call me Natalie or Natalia or Natasha – I’ll answer to just about any form of my name).] «Я вернулась» [I have returned] and I am starting a new series of posts in which I examine a random Russian verb in order to build vocabulary. The first in the series: «портить/испортить», which means to spoil or to ruin. 

The imperfective aspect conjugates as follows:




буду портить
будешь портить
будет портить
будем портить
будете портить
будут портить


Now for the perfective:




And now for the fun part: some sentences so you can learn how this verb is used.

«Его нервозность испортила впечатление от его выступления.» [His nervousness ruined the effect of his speech.] I saw this sentence on the internet and liked it.

«Паршивая овца всё стадо портит.» [One bad sheep ruins the flock.] This is a proverb – perhaps its equivalent in English would be “one bad apple spoils the bunch” and as soon as I read it, I knew I had an excellent excuse for randomly putting a photo of sheep at the top of this post! 🙂

«Грязная посуда испортила мне аппетит.» [The dirty dishes ruined my appetite.]

Any questions? Let me know in the comments!

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About the Author: Natalie

I'm Natalie and I love the Russian language and sharing my knowledge with others. I graduated from university with a dual degree in Russian language & literature and history.


  1. samonen:

    Wow, the word you chose – although a relatively simple one – really showcases the difficulty of Russian verbs which, in my opinion, are the hardest part of the language. I can read Russian prose at a journalistic, or, say, a popular scientific level, and speak it quite fluently, yet very often I cannot recall the verbs (the most common ones aside) that go with a given noun and can’t use them actively at the level my overall competence would suggest – which I find extremely frustrating! I have many books dedicated specifically to the verbs of Russian, verbs of motion, 500 most common verbs, verbal government, you name it..So please keep hammering verbs into our heads!

    The stress is weirdly uniform in this verb – something you learn not to expect. And then there is the dative in: Грязная посуда испортила мне аппетит. Very, very Russian.

  2. Rob:

    Excellent post, Наташа!

    Паршивая овца всё стадо портит.

    The noun парш’а’ literally means the contagious skin disease “mange” (caused by parasitic mites) which is why you’d want to keep a паршивая овца away from the others! According to ru.wikipedia, парша can also refer to a type of fungal disease (likewise contagious) that affects fruit crops. But colloquially and figuratively, паршивый can simply mean “rotten, lousy, low-quality”.

    (Though паршивый is a word I would not advise applying to a human person — even someone who truly is a lousy good-for-nothing! — because historically it was sometimes used as a racist insult for certain minorities, and you might cause much stronger offense than intended.)

  3. Rob:

    Two other comments about портить/испортить:

    (1) It’s a transitive verb (i.e., it takes an accusative direct object), but you can make it intransitive (i.e., meaning “to go bad”) by adding -ся/-сь.

    (2) The past-passive-participle исп’о’рченный (lit., “having been spoiled”) can be used as a regular adjective meaning “spoiled, rotten, ruined, corrupted,” etc.

  4. Jeannie:

    Thank you, Natasha! A great blog … and a series on verbs would be incredibly helpful. Thank you, as well, Rob. A very helpful addition! Is this sentence a correct use of the intransitive? Я боюсь, что картошки испортятся, потому что подвал у нас – влажный. Испорченные картошки – ужасные.

  5. Augis:

    And I will add the idiomatic expression “навести порчу” – meaning “to put an evil eye on smb.” or “to cause a bad spell” (?) .

    In regards to Rob’s mention of the word “паршивый” as an racist insult – he possibly refers to the antisemitic slur “пархатый”…

  6. Rob:

    It looks okay to me, Jeannie!

    Though possibly the impersonal construction (у нас) влажно в подвале — “it’s humid in the basement (at our house)” — would be more common in speech than подвал — влажный (after all, it’s technically the воздух, “air,” that is humid, not the basement itself).

    Also, remember that Russian has a tendency to treat many types of fruits and veggies as singular “mass nouns” rather than pluralizing “count nouns” as in English; thus, I would probably say картошка испортится, which can be correctly translated as “the potatoes will spoil” even though the noun and verb are singular in Russian. (If you want to emphasize that you have JUST ONE potato, then you can use the diminutive картошенка.)

    But as always, get a second opinion from Yelena!

  7. Rob:

    In regards to Rob’s mention of the word “паршивый” as an racist insult – he possibly refers to the antisemitic slur “пархатый”

    D’oh! (Facepalm)

    Yes, that’s the one I was thinking of, sorry. From what I’ve just found by a quick Google search, it seems that both паршивый and пархатый originally meant больной паршой (“sick with mange”), but over time their meanings diverged, so nowadays пархатый is seldom or never used in a literal sense for the skin disease, and is nearly always a slur. But паршивый is still used literally in reference to mange.

    Incidentally, I’m happy to say that I can’t recall ever hearing anyone use пархатый seriously as a hateful word for Jews or any other group; it’s a term I encountered from seeing it used ironically by Russian Jewish authors (i.e., they were writing in an “anti-antisemitism” context, and quoting the use of the word by other people).

  8. Rob:

    And I will add the idiomatic expression “навести порчу” – meaning “to put an evil eye on smb.” or “to cause a bad spell” (?)

    Cool to know!

    The English translation could be:
    “to cast an evil spell at/over/on somebody” or
    “to put a hex/curse on somebody” or
    “to hex somebody” or
    “to put the evil eye on smb.”

    Magic spells can be good or evil, but hexes are always bad (actually, there are “lucky hexes” in the sense of Pennsylvania folk art, in other contexts “hex” is a synonym for “wicked spell” or “curse”). And I don’t think “evil eye” is ever used with the indefinite article — it’s always “the evil eye” or even “the Evil Eye,” capitalized.

    Anyway, from Google, I find that навести порчу is followed by на кого/что: Колдунья навела порчу на скота, “The witch put a hex on the livestock.” And if you don’t know who is responsible for the curse, apparently you can use a reflexive verb with порча as the nominative subject: На меня навелась порча, “The Evil Eye was cast at me; I have been hexed/cursed/jinxed.”

  9. Natalie:

    Hi all, thanks for the great comments! 🙂

    Rob, regarding your comment about potatoes: I’m pretty sure you can also use картофелина to mean specifically one potato. I think it’s the diminutive of картофель…

  10. Stas:

    Another translation for навести порчу is to jinx.