Russian Language Blog

Should I use один or раз? Posted by on Nov 13, 2020 in Grammar, language, Russian for beginners

Ever wondered why some Russians count “one, two, three” as оди́н, два́, три́… while others say ра́з, два́, три́…? Why would there be two Russian words to say “one”?

Here’s how to differentiate between the two if you’re a beginner Russian learner.

Ра́з, два́, три́ is really only used when counting orally, like when a ballroom dance instructor is counting the rhythm of the waltz or when a parent is playing hide-and-seek (пря́тки) with their kid and says ра́з, два́, три́… Кто не спря́тался, я не винова́т! (“One, two, three…Ready or not, here I come!”)

“Оди́н, два́, три is the main way to count “one, two, three” both orally and in written form. Some people might say that counting “ра́з, два́, три” is not grammatically correct, but the phrase is so common and familiar that it’s no use crying over that spilled milk.


Image by Hồ Huy Hoàng from Pixabay

Now, let’s look beyond the basics of differentiating “раз” and “оди́н”. Plus, I still want you to understand why some think that “раз, два, три” is technically incorrect.

“Ра́з” is actually not a numeral (числи́тельное) but can either be a noun (существи́тельное) that means “time” (as in “one time”) or a subordinate conjunction (подчини́тельный сою́з) that’s close in meaning to “if”, “since”, and “now”. Compare the following examples:

“Я сда́л тест на вожде́ние со второ́го ра́за” (I passed my driving exam on the second try).

“Мой кот боле́л три ра́за в э́том го́ду” (My cat was sick three times this year).

“Сде́лайте вы́пады на ка́ждую но́гу по 20 ра́з.” (Do lunges 20 times on each leg/ Do 20 lunges on each leg).


“Я наве́рное пойду́ домо́й, раз вы уже верну́лись” (I’ll probably go home now that you are back).

“Раз уж ты идёшь гуля́ть, то вы́неси му́сор” (If you are going out then take the trash out as well).

“Раз ты так гру́бо себя́ ведёшь, я не бу́ду тебе́ помога́ть!” (Since you are acting so rude, I won’t help you!)


Image by Projekt_Kaffeebart from Pixabay

Let’s go back to counting for a second. Remember how I said that “ра́з, два́, три́” is a common way to count orally? Just make sure you don’t count that way when counting objects or people because “ра́з” is not a numeral. Otherwise, it would sound as silly as “times pencil, two pencils, three pencils” if you were counting the number of pencils on your desks, for example.

Use “оди́н каранда́ш, два́ карандаша́, три́ карандаша́” and so on and so forth.


Image by wgbieber from Pixabay

The only acceptable exception to this is from a childhood cartoon Трям! Здравствуйте! (turn on the English subs if needed) released in 1980, in which one of the most adorable hedgehogs of Russian cinematography is counting daisies as “раз рома́шка! два рома́шка! три рома́шка!”. The Hedgehog from “Tryam! Hello!” is just as adorable as the Hedgehog from “Hedgehog in the Fog” (Ёжик в Тума́не) and therefore they can both be forgiven all grammatical mistakes.


Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

The noun “раз” is part of many common phrases when talking about time, frequency, and occurances.

ка́к-то раз = once

ни ра́зу = not a single time

не раз = many times;

за раз = in one time

ско́лько раз = how many times

че́рез раз = every other time

в про́шлый раз = last time

в э́тот раз = this time

в сле́дующий раз = next time

Another fun phrase with the word “раз” is “раз-другой” meaning “sometimes” or “a few times” when talking about a small amount.

“Раз-друго́й пересекли́сь они́ в э́том кафе́, но так и обменя́лись телефнами”. (They ran into each other a few times at this café but didn’t end up getting each other’s numbers).

What are some other Russian quirks about numbers? Let me know in the comments and I would love to talk to you about them!

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