The “Secret” Life of под- Posted by ryan on Nov 19, 2021 in Grammar, language, Vocabulary
You have probably seen под in some way or another in your studies of Russian. It is a common preposition that usually means “under.” As a prefix attached to verbs and nouns it also has a literal meaning of “under.” Подписа́ться means “to subscribe.” Подчеркну́ть means “to underline.” Perhaps you have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s «Запи́ски из подпо́лья» Notes from the Underground. And even a подво́дная ло́дка, which is the Russian for “submarine.”
But aside from the physical meaning, под- has a much darker side that is worth exploring. Attach it to usual verbs and we get the shady or secretive equivalent to that verb. Let’s take a dive into the secret world of под- as a prefix with a few examples. Please note that the examples below do not represent the only meaning of these verbs, as in many cases they also have totally innocuous meanings.
The root, води́ть/вести́ is a motion verb that means to lead or run something. But with под– we get a new verb that also means lead or run someone…right into the ground. Yes, this verb means to let someone down or to fail them. Я так и зна́л, что он нас подведёт! I knew that he would let us down!
Гляде́ть means to look at or gaze upon something. It’s a pretty innocent verb. But with под– attached to it, it transforms to “to peek, to spy.” If someone is playing пря́тки hide-and-seek, you can shout to the person who is “it”: Не подгля́дывай! No peeking!
Here we have the verb слу́шать to listen, but when we have под- we get the shady version of to listen: to eavesdrop! This verb would take a direct object, unlike in English: Она́ подслу́шивает их разгово́р. She is listening in on their conversation. What is your favorite way to listen in on conversations за стено́й on the other side of the wall? С по́мощью стака́на with a glass? С по́мощью стетоско́па with a stethoscope?
Here we have the shady prefix под– with the root де́лать to do, to make, from which we can extract the meaning of “to falsify, to forge.” Подде́лывать паспорта́ means to make fake passports. Подде́лывать по́дпись is to forge a signature. Something that is falsified or forged is called a подде́лка counterfeit.
Меня́ть means to change, but with our shady под– prefix we get “to substitute secretly.” This verb is used in this phrase: Тебя́ как бу́дто подмени́ли You’re not acting like yourself (lit. It’s as if they secretly changed you for someone else).
Подбра́сывать/подбро́сить and подки́дывать/подки́нуть
Both of these verbs have a literal meaning, which is “to throw something up in the air.” They also mean “to give someone a lift.” But aside from them, they also have a secret, dark side. Броса́ть and кида́ть have the simple meaning of “to throw,” but with our dark and shady под– we get “to plant.” Полице́йские подбро́сили ему́ нарко́тики. The police planted drugs on him.
We can also see this verb in the word подки́дыш foundling, a child that was secretly left on someone’s doorstep.
These are just a few interesting examples of this dark side of meaning for this prefix. Of course, под- has many other meanings, which we will explore in the future.
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