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Three Easily Confused Russian Verbs Posted by on May 24, 2021 in language, Vocabulary

In Russian, there are three verbs that have the same English translation – “to try.” Despite this, they have a slightly different meaning.

These verbs are “про́бовать“, “пыта́ться,” and “стара́ться.” It is very easy to confuse them. If you want to sound more Russian, read below about their differences.

Пробовать

Meaning: “to try to do something,” “to try something out.”

Pronunciation: [PRO-ba-vat’].

This word is the most generic of the three. In general, it means to have an experience of trying out something new.

On the one hand, when tasting/sampling something, like a new dish, we always use the verb “про́бовать.” (At the same time, you cannot say “пробо́вать оде́жду”. For this, there is a separate verb “мерить: Я хочу примерить это платье – I want to try on this dress.) Simultaneously, it means that a person does not make great efforts to achieve a result. Simply saying, you can “про́бовать” to perform an action, test your ability to do something, or just try the food for the first time.

Trying food

Photo by Sam Lion from Pexels

Пытаться

Meaning: “to try,” “to attempt,” but more emphasizes endeavoring, striving.

Pronunciation: [pi-TAH-tsuh].

Initially, this word comes from “пы́тка” (torture). It means “putting someone through trials.” However, “пыта́ться” is used when you are making attempts to achieve the result. But at the same time, you do not make much effort and can potentially face some obstacles.

stretching

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

Стараться

Meaning: to try, to attempt, but more with an emphasis of to endeavor, to strive.

Pronunciation: [stah-RAH-tsuh].

Finally, if you do your best attempting to succeed, use the word “стара́ться.” It means that you perform some actions with an earnest effort to obtain a positive result. Most likely, you even have a plan for how to succeed.

goal

Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

Perfective Aspect Of Пробовать, Пытаться, Стараться

Also, to make these words in perfective aspect (read about Perfective And Imperfective Aspects In Russian), we use the prefix “по.” Add it when you are talking about an action that happened only once.

Compare the following sentences:

Попро́буй угада́ть, о чём я сейча́с думаю. – Try to guess what I’m thinking about right now.
Он мно́го раз про́бовал нарисова́ть соба́ку, но получа́лся како́й-то диноза́вр. – He tried many times to draw a dog, but it turned out to be some kind of dinosaur.

Мой муж попыта́лся пове́сить лю́стру сам, но пришло́сь вы́звать эле́ктрика. – My husband tried to hang the chandelier himself, but had to call an electrician.
Ма́льчик пыта́ется пра́вильно произнести́ бу́кву “ж” в тече́ние це́лого ча́са. – The boy spent an hour trying to pronounce the letter “ж” correctly.

Я о́чень постара́юсь сдать экза́мен хорошо́. – I will do my best to pass the exam.
Адвока́т стара́ется вы́играть де́ло в суде́. – The lawyer tries to win the case in court.

Conclusion

Thus, the difference between these three synonyms looks like this:

про́бовать – take the minimum steps towards the goal without making any special efforts;
пыта́ться – take some action to succeed;
стара́ться – to give all your best and clearly plan the ways to implement the intention.

If I gave a percentage of the effort invested, then “пробовать” would be 50%, “пытаться” – 70%, “стараться” – 90%.

Do you know any other verbs in Russian that are easy to confuse?

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Comments:

  1. David:

    Very interesting! For anglophones, an easy way to remember the basic meaning of the first one, про́бовать, and also where the stress comes, is to think of it as a cognate of the English “probe” with a similar meaning.

    • Nadya:

      @David Excellent addition! Thank you for your comment, David!

  2. David:

    Cognates (or pseudo cognates) for the other two:
    Пытаться – PIT your wits against someone (eg in a quiz)
    Стараться – strive (i.e. do your utmost)

    • Nadya:

      @David Thank you for sharing these useful examples!


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