Russian Language Blog

Time for a little spring cleaning (Emphasis on “a little”) Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in language, Russian for beginners

Here in the Washington DC area, весна немного опоздала в этом году (spring was a little late this year) — I mean, we were still having a steady spell of ненастье (chilly wet weather) right through the end of March, followed by several unpleasantly знойныe ночи (sultry hot) nights in April. А теперь на дворе совсем приятно (“but now it’s quite pleasant outdoors”) — везде деревья расцветали, пчёлы жужжают, (“everywhere trees have blossomed and honeybees are buzzing”), and in general nature has begun its annual бл*доход (a very rude word for “spring fever” deriving from the so-called “fourth whale of Russian obscenity”, but one that I can’t help quoting because it delightfully puns on ледоход, “the spring break-up of ice on frozen rivers.”)


Anyway, the arrival of spring traditionally means, of course: пора проводить тщательную уборку в комнате (“time to do some thorough cleaning inside”).

Here’s my simple guide to make it much easier, but first let’s look at a few key verbs related to housecleaning:

The verb убирать/убрать, at the most basic level, means “to take away,” but when followed by a noun such as комната (“room”) or помещение (“premises, living quarters”) it can be translated as “tidy up, clean up”. The corresponding noun for the “act of tidying” is уборка. The perfective verb, by the way, conjugates just like the root verb брать, “to take” — thus, я уберу, ты уберёшь…

While убирать/убрать means “to clean” in the sense of приводить/привести в порядок (“to put in order; make neat and tidy’), if the emphasis is on the removal of dirt/soil/filth, then the verb you need is отчищать/отчистить. The perfective is one of those countless «и»-conjugation verbs that has a consonant mutation only in the first person singular — so it’s я отчищу, but ты отчистишь, and so forth. And, incidentally, since the perfective is stem-stressed, you might assume that the imperative forms are «отчисть, отчистьте», but instead, it’s «отчисти, отчистите»do you know why? Another thing about this verb: one doesn’t clean the dirt from the item; one cleans the item from the dirt! Thus:

Она очищает стену от варенья
“She’s cleaning the jam off the wall.”

The verbs стирать/стереть and вытирать/вытереть can both mean “to wipe away, wipe off (dirt from a surface)”, although стирать also has the important meaning “to launder clothes.” (Hence стиральная машина, “clothes-washing machine”.)

The perfective conjugations are slightly weird, and don’t quite match each other. So here are both perfective verbs summarized in one table:

стереть, вытереть
Past стёр, стёрла, -о, -и
вытер, вытерла, -о, -и
sing. pl.
1st сотру
2nd сотрёшь
3rd сотрёт
Imperative сотри(те)!

And here’s just one more verb for now: мести/подмести, “to sweep”. Again, the conjugation is a little tricky, though at least the imperfective and perfective behave the same way:

Past (под)мёл, (под)мела, –о, –и
sing. pl.
1st (под)мету (под)метём
2nd (под)метёшь (под)метёте
3rd (под)метёт (под)метут
Imperative (под)мети(те)!

The thing one sweeps with is a метла, “broom”, and you can either мести пол (“sweep the floor”) or мести сор/пыль/грязь с пола (“sweep the rubbish/dust/dirt from the floor”).

So, with those verbs in mind, let’s do some spring cleaning!

Everyone knows: Сначала вытереть пыль с мебели, полки, и т.п., потом пылесосить пол (“first dust the furniture, shelves, etc.; then vacuum the floor”). So the first step:

(1) Get a bunch of old тряпки, “rags”, along with a mild раствор нашатырного спирта в воде (“solution of ammonia in water”).

(2) Realize that before dusting, you should probably убрать выстиранную одежду (“clear away the laundered clothing”), которая уже три дня лежат кучей (“which for three days already has been lying in a heap”) on the half of the bed you don’t sleep on. Notice that your питомец-крыса выгрызла “декоративные” отверстия (“your pet rat has gnawed some decorative holes”) in the sleeve of your favorite old тенниска (“polo shirt”). Отложите рубашку (“set the shirt aside”) to be mended later, or never, and положить в комод (“place in a bureau/dresser”) or повесьте в шкаф (“hang in a closet”) the rest of the clothes.

(3) NOW it’s time to dust. Вставайте на стул (“stand on a chair”) and влажной тряпкой вытирайте пыль с окон и жалюзи (“with a damp rag, wipe the dust from the windows and blinds”). And don’t forget the паутину на потолке (“spiderwebs on the ceiling”) that have accumulated since LAST spring! Пока вы стоите на цыпочках (“While you are standing on tiptoes”) trying to reach a cobweb in the corner, almost lose your balance and accidentally столкните с подоконника горшок с кактусом (“knock a potted cactus off the windowsill”). Fortunately, neither the flowerpot nor the cactus is damaged, и вы можете не волноваться о земле на ковре (“you don’t have to worry about the soil on the carpet”) — remember, the plan is to vacuum AFTER you dust.

(4) This seems like a good time to take a break and perhaps сходить в магазин за пивом, “make a quick run to the store for beer,” as a little награда (“reward”) to yourself for this Herculean effort. Of course, since you’re all dusty, probably you should first принять душ (“take a shower”) before you leave the apartment. As you’re headed to the bathroom, notice the Post-It note you put on the bedroom door last night: «Не забудь помыть крысиную клетку завтра!!!» (“Don’t forget to wash the rat’s cage tomorrow!!!”) You might as well kill two or three birds with one stone, because when you убирать старую подстилку (“remove the old bedding/litter”) from the cage, inevitably some помёт (“droppings”) and шелуха от семечек (“sunflower-seed husks”) end up on the carpet, and you’re planning to vacuum later anyway. Plus, you can scrub the cage with bleach while you’re showering.

(5) Having showered and put nice fresh bedding in the sparkly clean cage, spend half an hour trying to catch the rat, которая бегает туда и сюда со всех ног (“who’s running hither and thither at full speed”). Прежде чем надеть носки, обязательно отчистить свои ноги от крысиного помёта (“before putting on your socks, be sure to clean the rat-poop off your feet”).

(6) Once you’re back from the store with the beer, садитесь на десять-пятнадцать минут и осматривайтесь по своей комнате с постепенно увеличивающимся чувством уныния (“sit down for 10 or 15 minutes and look around your room with a gradually increasing sense of angst”). Пылесосьте примерно квадратный метр ковра (“vacuum about one square meter of carpet”) immediately around the rat’s house and where the cactus spilled; then put the пылесос (“vacuum cleaner”) away and go cook dinner.

(7) Resolve to finish your “весенняя уборка” another day — до двадцать первого июня (“before June 21st”) is a good deadline to shoot for, in my view, because that’s when spring ends…

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  1. Fizmat:

    I hope I haven’t driven you up the wall with my nitpicking yet Rob, especially since most of my corrections are not for errors, but signs of foreign “accent”.

    >стёртую одежду
    Стиранную (imperfective, rarely used), выстиранную (perfective). Стёртую means “erased”, as in with an eraser, also as in “erased memory” = “стёртая память”. Стёр рисунок = erased a drawing. Постирал футболку = washed a t-shirt. Стирал футболку = was washing a t-shirt. Cтирал рисунок = was erasing a drawing.

    >которые уже три дня лежат кучой
    Которая (since одежду is grammatically singular)
    кучей (just a spelling error)

    >Откладывайте рубашку, положить в комод, повесить в шкаф…
    Writing dual-language sentences is not intuitive, but I assume the whole post works as an instruction of sorts, so the whole thing should probably be written in perfective plural imperative. Отложите рубашку, положите в комод, повесьте в шкаф.

    >Поднимайтесь на стул
    Here it is again, imperfective imperative. I don’t know the rule for that, but it just feels like a in-the-moment advise, direct speech, and not a step in a written down instruction (or parody of one).
    “Петр Петрович, поднимайтесь на стул, зачем же Вы закручиваете лампочку, повиснув на люстре?” vs. “Для того, чтобы поменять лампочку, выберите ровную твердую площадку, поставьте на неё стул, поднимитесь на стул, возьмите одной рукой корпус… ”
    Also, на стул обычно становятся или встают, хотя в редких случаях можно употребить “поднимаются”. Чаще поднимаются на этаж, на гору, на вершину, etc.
    жалюзи. Borrowed word, hard to spell.

    Паутину. I’ve never seen паутины plural. Is it uncountable? I’m not sure. I’m certain “паутинки” can be plural, but it usually means “web strands”, not “small webs”.

    >сваливайте с подоконника горшок с кактусом
    Столкните с подоконника/ уроните / опрокиньте would work here.

    Сваливать/свалить в кучу = to drop in a heap, hence “свалка” = “garbage dump”. Also “сваливать” can be slang for “leave”, or can sometimes used in relation to the process of “валяние войлока” (making felt), but it does not mean “drop accidentally”.

    >”Почва” means “soil” when referring to the whole layer of Earth, usually when its ability to grow plants is relevant. For example the science of почвоведение. “Почва в нашей деревне очень плодородная”. Even then, one can as easily say “земля” instead. When talking about a small amount in a pot, especially when its fertility is not as important as its dirtiness, it’s most certainly “земля”. When it was still in the pot it was probably земля, once on the carpet it is definitely земля.

    >Не забывай помыть крысину клетку завтра!!!
    “Не забудь”, since you need to remember to wash the cage once, not every day. And even for everyday activities, since it’s a sign, it’s there to remind you to do it _now_, as you read it. So “не забывай чистить зубы каждое утро” works in a children’s book, but on a bathroom wall it seems too indifferent. “Не забудь почистить зубы, балбес!” is much more immediately encouraging.

    This is an interesting problem. It would work, if the rat’s name was “Крыся”. Then its cage would be “Крысина” (note the capitalisation). As it is though, it’s ether “клетка крысы” (rat’s cage) or “крысиная клетка” (a cage for a rat or rats).

    >оболочки из семечек
    шелуха от семечек
    “из” (“out of”) would imply the шелуха is inside the seeds

    >кто бежит туда и сюда со всех ног
    которая бегает туда и сюда со всех ног
    Кто can be used grammatically, but it’s rather formal for a pet rat.

    >постепенно увеличивающим чувством уныния
    увеличивающимся. After all, the angst isn’t growing anything else but itself.

    >Пылесосом, отчищайте примерно квадратный метр ковра
    The verb for cleaning with the vacuum cleaner is almost universally “пылесосить”, and the noun is therefore always always dropped to avoid redundancy. So “Пропылесосьте примерно квадратный метр ковра”.

  2. Fizmat:

    >and the noun is therefore always always dropped
    *almost always
    (sorry, typo)

  3. Rob:

    Fitzmat — I always appreciate your corrections and don’t find them “nitpicky” at all! (I was especially glad for the clarification about the different perfective forms of стирать depending on whether it means “erase” or “launder” — I’ve added a pop-up note about this as well as making the other corrections.)

  4. Kappi:

    Thank you so much for your website, Rob.
    Your work is priceless!