Russian Language Blog

“Sit down, stand up, lie, lay, lain!” (Verbs of Position) Posted by on Oct 3, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners

[Note: My original post made a few errors with prepositions and noun cases that have now been fixed!]

I think I’ve mentioned that my first-year college Russian textbook illuminated the verb лежать included the grimly Dostoyevskian example sentence:

Труп лежит на полу.
The corpse is lying on the floor.


Well, that’s one verb I’ll never forget — which is a good thing, because Russian “positional verbs” can be pretty tricky.

For example, here’s a little quiz (with the answer at the end of the post). The sentence The boy got in line for movie tickets (i.e., “he went over and stood at the back of the queue”) should be translated:

1. Мальчик стоял в очередь за билетами в кино.
2. Мальчик поставил в очередь за билетами в кино.
3. Мальчик стал в очередь за билетами в кино.
4. Мальчик вставал в очередь за билетами в кино.

In fact, all four of the verbs in red can potentially translate the English past-tense “stood,” but not all in the same sense — and in this particular context, only one of the choices is correct.

Unlike the 14 “Verbs of Motion”, which have their own special oddities of grammar to drive foreigners crazy, the 10 basic “Verbs of Position” we’ll be looking at are normal and well-behaved from a grammatical perspective. What makes these verbs a challenge for beginners, though, is that some of them look maddeningly similar to each other, and some of them have odd conjugations.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the basic verbs, as organized below. For this post, we won’t be going into detail about the conjugations, but you can click on each verb to see a conjugational table at Викисловарь (main address:

“flat on one’s back”
“on one’s butt”
“on one’s feet”
1 being in a position
лежать сидеть стоять
2 getting into a position
(moving oneself)
ложиться /
садиться /
вставать /
встать ⇑ ⇑

становиться /
стать ⇒ ⇒
3 putting into a position
(moving someone/
something else)
класть /
сажать /
ставить /


Although this is a 3×3 grid, you’ll notice that there are TEN verbs/verb-pairs listed, rather than nine. That’s because Russian has two distinct verbs that mean “to get oneself into a standing position” — the pair вставать/встать means specifically “to arise from a lying/sitting posture” (vertical arrows) while становиться / стать implies “to go and stand somewhere else” (horizontal arrows).

Understanding the Table: Vertical Columns

Going across the table, the verbs in Column A all describe horizontal positions; those in Column C refer to vertical positions, and in between them, the verbs in Column B relate to… well, the on-your-butt position. In other words, at least if you’re talking about human beings, they correspond with “lie/lay” “stand,” and “sit.” However, with non-humans, things can get trickier:

Understanding the Table: Horizontal Rows

Going down the table, the verbs in Row 1 are intransitive and describe static positions instead of motion — hence they can serve to answer the question Где находится? (“Where is someone/something located?”), and the reply will quite often include a noun in either the prepositional or the instrumental case: в постели (“in bed”), на полке (“on a shelf”), за столом (“[sitting] at the table”; lit., “behind the table”), под диваном (“underneath the sofa”). No perfectives are given in the table because these verbs signify a continuous state of being in a position, and the perfectives that can be formed from these imperfective infinitives aren’t “neutral” — they have shades of meaning not found in the imperfective.

The verbs in Row 2 all have the general meaning “to get oneself into a position”. Like the verbs in row 1, these are also intransitive. But unlike those verbs, the verbs in row 2 describe movement — they logically answer the question куда? (“TO where?”), and consequently, they are often followed by prepositional phrases using the accusative: в постель (“into bed”), на полку (“onto the self”), за стол (“[to sit down] at the table”), под диван (“[getting] underneath the sofa”).

Finally, the verbs in Row 3 are transitive, with a direct object in the accusative, and they signify “to put someone/something into a position”. For example, one of various meanings for ставить/поставить would be “to assign someone to stand somewhere”. And as with the verbs in Row 2, the position being moved into is specified with prepositions followed by the accusative: на стул (“into/onto a chair”), за стол (“down at the table”), на стол (“onto the tabletop”), на пол (“onto the floor” — note the stress-shift!), and so forth.

Now that we’ve summarized the ten verbs, several of them require special attention:

• стоять (“to be standing”)

This verb is potentially easy to confuse with стоить (“to cost, to be worth”), since some of their conjugated forms are identical in spelling and differ only by stress:

Фарфоровая фигурка плачущего единорога, которая стоит там на полке, стоит пятьдесят баксов.
(The porcelain figurine of a crying unicorn, which is standing on the shelf over there, costs fifty bucks.)

But there’s a simple way to remember them: if you mean “to cost” or “to be worth,” the Russian verb is always stressed on the -о- (e.g., фигурка стоила, “the figurine cost…”). If you mean “to stand,” the stress is fixed on the syllable AFTER the -о- (e.g., фигурка стояла, “the figurine stood…”)

• садиться/сесть (“to sit oneself down”)

Pay close attention to the pronunciation and spelling of сесть in order to avoid confusing it with the perfective съесть (“to eat up completely”), since the infinitives and past forms are so similar. (The future-perfect forms are easier to tell apart, though: мы сядем is “we shall sit down,” but мы съедим is “we shall eat”.)

There is, by the way, a filthy (but classic!) nonsense-rhyme that plays on this confusion, and roughly equals “to have one’s cake and eat it too.” Here’s a very cleaned up, safe-for-TV version:

И крендель съесть и в кресло сесть.
To eat a pretzel-shaped sweet bun and to sit down in an upholstered armchair.

• становиться/стать (“to go and stand somewhere”)

Not only does this verb have to be distinguished from вставать / встать (“to arise, get on one’s feet, stand up”), but it can also have a completely different meaning, “to become, to turn, to get”:

По осеням, листья клёна становятся красными.
In the autumns, the leaves of the maple turn red.

• сажать/посадить (“to put in a seat, to sit someone down”)

You can use this verb in the literal contexts of a waitress directing customers to their table, or a parent putting a baby in a car-seat. But when the direct object is some kind of растение (“a plant”), then this verb means “to place into the soil”:

Она сажает кактусы в горшок.
She is planting cactuses in the flowerpot.

And сажать/посадить also figures into a number of expressions that convey “punishment” or “deprivation of freedom” — most importantly сажать/посадить кого-нибудь в тюрьму, “to imprison somebody”:

Его посадили в тюрьму за “травку”.
They put him in jail for “weed.”

(Note that the criminal offense can be specified with за + [acc.], although in the above example, it’s not made clear whether the person was arrested for selling the marijuana, or conspiring to smuggle it over the border, or what…)

• положенный (“established; accepted”, but lit. “which has been laid down”)

All of the “position verbs” can form various participles, but the past passive participle положенный is particularly worth knowing because it has taken on an independent life of its own as an adjective. And the neuter short-form положено can be used with a dative subject to translate “one is supposed to do something” — especially when “supposed to” conveys “it is expected by tradition or good manners.” For instance:

Нам положено вставать, пока звучит национальный гимн.
We are supposed to stand up when the National Anthem is heard.

There’s a lot more that can be said about these position verbs, the various other verbs that derive from them, and their proper use. (For example, a кровать, “bedframe”, is more or less horizontal, yet it has legs — so does a bed “lie” in the bedroom, or “sit”? But давайте отложим это обсуждение на другой день, “let’s postpone that discussion for another day.” For now, if you’re new to these verbs, take some time to check out their conjugations at the Викисловарь links above, and begin to get familiar with them.

P.S. The answer to the quiz is #3 (стал) because the boy had moved himself into a (different) standing position while already standing. Howeer, you could put “boy” in the accusative to mean “they made him stand in line” (мальчика поставили в очередь), or you could put “line” in the prepositional to mean “he was standing motionless in the queue” (мальчик стоял в очереди).

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  1. Fizmat:

    Rob, sorry, but your Russian is sometimes rusty.

    “Мальчик стал в очередь за кинобилеты.”
    1) Кинобилеты sounds very strange. “Билеты в кино”
    2) Wrong case. За билетами в кино. Or, if we’re using your неологизм, “за кинобилетами” =).

    I was not consciously aware of the distinction встать/стать, and “встать в очередь” seemed correct to me. Maybe it’s just my mistake, or maybe nobody bothers to use the correct verb in colloquial speech, I’m not sure. Thank you for making me think!

    I don’t think anybody says “в стул” in Russian. You can “hammer a nail into a chair”/”забить гвоздь в стул”, but you most definitely “сидишь на стуле”. Just like “the bird is in a tree” but “птичка сидит на дереве”. I’m sure these preposition changes have been discussed somewhere in this blog’s long history, even if I’m unable to find the posts. If they haven’t, maybe it’s a good topic for the future? “Prepositions of position”

  2. Delia Valente:

    I agree with FIZMAT re the sentence “The boy got in line for movie tickets”. The translation you’re giving doesn’t work.

    3. Мальчик стал ЛЕТЧИКОМ (Cross out:в очередь за билетАМИ)- The boy has become a pilot. СТАТЬ is different from ВСТАТЬ and means to become.

    I think the right translation of The boy got in line for movie tickets is Мальчик ВСТАЛ в очередь за билетами (в кино)

  3. Stas:

    I think it is OK to say “…стал в очередь за билетами…” As in Мальчик опоздал на первый сеанс и стал в очередь за билетами

    And стать also means to stand as in стать по стойке смирно and not only to become.

  4. Rob:

    Thanks for the corrections, everyone!

    Yes, I often get confused about the correct preposition for стул — probably because one says (if I’m not mistaken):

    на табурете/табуретке (“on a stool,” as in a bar)
    на скамейке (“on a bench,” as in a park)
    в кресле (“in an armchair” — i.e., a deep, soft one)

    I guess you could argue that a стул is considered to be “more open,” like a barstool or a bench, while a кресло is “more enclosed.”

    Incidentally, if one Googles for в стуле, there are quite a large number of hits — but only in medical contexts such as кровь была в стуле, “there was blood in the stool,” meaning “feces”!! (Here, стул is a synonym for кал, i.e., “excrement”.)

    However, кровь была на стуле would mean “there was blood on the chair”.

  5. Rob:

    Regarding the choice between:

    Мальчик стал в очередь
    Мальчик встал в очередь

    …from Stas’s comment, I would guess that the correct answer would depend on what the boy was doing before he got in line, right?

    But I would assume that sentence #4 in the quiz would be excluded because it uses the imperfective вставал.

    So if Мальчик встал… is not one of the choices, then Мальчик стал… is “more correct,” in this context, than Мальчик вставал…?

  6. Rob:

    And regarding the correct case with билеты — aargh, this is another frequent point of confusion for me, since one says:

    Мальчик стоял в очереди за билетами.
    (“The boy was standing in line for tickets”)


    Мальчик заплатил 20 долларов за билеты.
    (“The boy paid $20 for the tickets”)

    I can easily see the logical difference between the two (in the first sentence, the tickets are the “goal” of standing in line, while in the second, there is a two-way exchange of money for tickets). But in my mind, I tend to think of the waiting and the paying as part of the same process, so I often suffer little “brain farts” and choose the wrong case in Russian.

  7. Rob:

    I’ve made the corrections in the post for the preposition and noun-case errors, but for now I’m leaving “Мальчик стал…” as one of the quiz options.

    Also, updated the table formatting slightly, hoping to make it more readable (I wasn’t crazy about having the blue links on a light-gray background, but didn’t like the table with an all-white background, either.)

  8. CBS:

    Hello Rob

    First : Thank You for all the post ,especially for the “samoR2D2”.

    Second : “съедим” is stressed on the second position,otherwise it could be confused with “едeм”.

    Third : ” вставать / встать” doesnt generally mean arise,but rather changing position,eg “Они заставили меня встать на колени”.

  9. Nata:

    Just adding my two cents: for me, “стал” in the meaning of “went and stood somewhere” sounds a bit old-fashioned, like something from Tolstoi. It is not wrong, but most Russians nowadays would say “встал”. “Стал” is mostly used in the meaning of “became”.