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Talking about your immediate family – “родные” Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Culture, language

Родной is an interesting word in Russian. Literally, it means “native,” as in родная земля (native land) or родные просторы (literally, “native wide-open spaces” — incidentally, also the name of a popular chocolate). This word shares its root with such words as народ (a nation/people), родиться (to be born), Родина (homeland), день рождения (birthday), Рождество (Christmas), родители (parents), and родственники (relatives). You may sense a common thread in all these words – a common theme of birth, family, and blood relations.

Motherland is Calling monument in Volgograd

Родина-мать зовёт monument in Volgograd
by Martha de Jong-Lantink on flickr.com

However, some of the uses of this word are unique to the Russian language. For example, it is often used with words denoting your immediate family, for example

родная сестра – (blood/biological) sister

родной брат – (blood/biological) brother

родной отец – (blood/biological) father

родная мать – (blood/biological) mother

A blood brother or father, you may think, as opposed to what? Well, naturally, there may be adopted/half-relatives, such as приёмный отец/приёмная мать (adoptive/step father; adoptive/step mother), сводный брат/сводная сестра (stepbrother; stepsister). However, in the case of siblings, also consider the way to say cousin in Russian: двоюродный брат/двоюродная сестра. Basically, both your siblings and cousins may be referred to as братья or сёстры. So, using родной in front of брат/сестра can help the speaker establish that they are talking about a sibling as opposed to a cousin.

Родная can also be used as a term of endearment. Search youtube for songs with this word in their title, and you will find plenty of examples of its use.

Ironically, the phrase “Не забуду мать родную” (I won’t forget my mother) is often associated with former and current inmates. Some even get it tattooed as a sign of their allegiance to their jail mates. This line comes from an old song about a first-time offender.

Here are a few more examples of usage of родной from the Russian National Corpus (all translations mine):

Гнетущее впечатление произвёл на маму родной сын. [Виктор Астафьев. Пролетный гусь (2000)]
Her (own) son made the mother feel uneasy. [Viktor Astafyev, The Goose of Passage]

Он всё ещё слышал родной голос Любы, и это путало и сбивало. [Василий Шукшин. Калина красная (1973)]
He could still heat Lyuba’s (familiar) voice, and it confused and distracted him. [Vasily Shukshin, The Red Snowball Tree]

В этих словах он узнавал отзвуки и отражения родной ему русской речи. [Василий Гроссман. Жизнь и судьба, ч. 1 (1960)]
He could recognize the echoes and reflections of his native Russian tongue in these words. [Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate]

Для этого всегда один человек пожирает другого. Вот, например, мой родной дядя… Он раньше был пиратом, сэр! [Виталий Губарев. Трое на острове (1950-1960)]
One person always devours another for this. For instance, my own uncle… He used to be a pirate, sir! [Vitaly Gubarev, Three on an Island]

Мне снился родной город, снег, зима, гражданская война [М. А. Булгаков. Театральный роман (1936-1937)]
I dreamed of my home town, snow, winter, the civil war… [Mikhail Bulgakov, Theatrical Novel]

Спасибо, родной. Я привыкла к кофе. [А. П. Чехов. Вишневый сад (1904)]
Thank you, darling. I’m used to coffee. [Anton Chekhov, Cherry Orchard]

I hope you can grasp the sense of this word a little better now. Are there any other family-related topics you would like to get a clarification on? The one I always struggle with, despite being a native speaker, is the in-laws, but that’s a topic for a whole separate post!

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About the Author:Maria

Maria is a trained Russian translator. Originally hailing from Russia, she now lives in Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. When she's not at her computer, she is dancing, out taking photographs or practicing German or Spanish at local language meetups. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


  1. Robin Long:

    One word…so many shades of meaning! what a great lesson.

    • Maria:

      @Robin Long Thanks, Robin! This is a good word to know to not be thrown off by someone saying it about their family members.

  2. Lena:

    Подскажите пожалуйста, как на английском языке сказать “родная душа”?

    • Maria:

      @Lena Лена, я бы сказала a kindred spirit или soulmate, но это, наверно, не 100-процентные синонимы.

  3. Daniel:

    How about род meaning lineage?

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