Russian Language Blog

We must cultivate our garden! (or, more about tools) Posted by on Sep 26, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners

In Monday’s post, I talked about some of the basic ручные инструменты (“hand tools”) that might be employed by a плотник (“carpenter”) or a сантехник (“plumber”) — as well as some of the verbs that go along with these tools. Today, we’ll take that theme out into to the огород (“backyard vegetable patch”), with some tools that you need for садовство (“gardening”).

But first, there’s one very important “tool” that I forgot in the last post. Скажем, что вы изготовляаете табуретку из дерева (“Let’s say that you’re fashioning a small stool out of wood”), и вы уже распилили доски на части (“and you have already sawed some boards into pieces”). Obviously, a roughly-sawn piece of wood full of splinters wouldn’t be nice to sit on, so how do you make it smooth?

That, of course, is where you need some наждачная бумага (“sandpaper”), whose name comes from наждак (“emery” or “corundum”), the mineral that typically composes the “sand” on the paper. And one of the verbs that can mean “to sand something” is (от)шифловать, literally “to polish”:

Столяр шифлует доску.
(“The cabinetmaker is sanding/polishing the board.”)

If you’re using rather coarse sandpaper and aren’t really at the “polishing” stage yet, an alternative verb could be натирать/натереть, “to rub”, with the word for “sandpaper” in the instrumental:

Столяр натрёр доску наждачной бумагой.
(“The cabinetmaker has rubbed the board with sandpaper.”)

Note, by the way, that the -е- drops out of the -тер- syllable when the perfective натереть is conjugated:

я натру
ты натрёшь
они натрут

past: он натрёр, она натрёрла
imperative: натри(те)!

And this pattern generally holds true for other perfective verbs from the root -тер- “to rub”: that -е- is there in the infinitive, but disappears in the conjugation. (But there are some derivatives where this doesn’t happen: the “grater” that you use when shredding Cheddar for an omelet is a тёрка, for instance.)

And now, пошли в огород! (“let’s go out to the garden”).

Садовые инструменты (“Garden tools”)

If you’ve ever had to prepare a patch of dirt that has never been worked before, you know that there can be a LOT of work involved. For starters, there may be a lot of корни (“plant roots”) that have to be cut back and removed, and here a топорик (“hatchet; small axe”) or even a топор (“axe”, gen. топора) comes in handy. And the basic verb you’d use here is рубить (“to cut, chop”), which conjugates я рублю, ты рубишь, etc. There are various prefixed forms, such as вырубать/вырубить, which can imply “to completely destroy and remove by chopping”:

Садовник взял топорик, потому что ему пришлось вырубить заболевший куст.
(“The garderner took up his hatchet, because he had to get rid off a diseased shrub.”)

Another basic verb that means “to chop” is сечь:

я секу
ты сечёшь
они секут

past: он сек, она секла
imperative: cеки(те)!

Again, there are prefixed forms, like отсекать/отсечь (“to chop off”):

Нельзя отсекать ветку, на которой сидишь!
(“You shouldn’t chop off the branch that you’re sitting on!”)

Once the troublesome roots are out of the way, there may still be some large rocks that have to be removed — so you’ll need a лопата (“shovel; spade”). And for the actual process of digging, there are two more or less synonymous verbs. Копать (perf. выкопать) is easy to conjugate: я копаю, ты копаешь, and so forth. The verb рыть (perf. вырыть) is used just as commonly, but the conjugation is slightly more tricky, since the non-past forms have an -о- that pops in out of nowhere, just like with мыть, “to wash someone”:

я рою
ты роешь
они роют

past: он рыл, она рыла
imperative: рой(те)!


Whichever verb you use, they both mean “dig” in different senses, and thus can be followed by various direct objects in the accusative. For example:

Она роет землю/почву.
(“She’s digging the earth/soil” — i.e., to loosen it up)

Мы копаем яму, для ловли тигра.
(“We are digging a pit/trap for catching a tiger.”)

Cвинья понюхал трюфель и его вырыла.
(“The pig sniffed the truffle and dug it up” — i.e., it removed the truffle from the ground after digging the soil around it)

When the dirt is finally clear of roots and stones, it might be necessary to add a bit of песок (“sand”) for drainage если земля очень глинистая (“if the dirt has a lot of clay”). And it’s definitely a good idea to add some удобрение — “fertilizer”. To get the dirt, sand, помёт (“manure”) and other additives all properly mixed together, you’ll need a грабли (“a rake”, always pl., gen. грабель or граблей).

From the looks of it, you might think that грабли is somehow related to грабить (“to rob, to loot”), but it’s not. In fact, the word for “a rake” derives from the verb грести — which means, among other things, “to rake,” and conjugates like this:

я гребу
ты гребёшь
они гребут

past: он грёб, она гребла
imperative: греби(те)!

Outside of your garden, грести can also mean “to row; to paddle a boat” — using, of course, a гребок (“paddle”). And from this same verb derives гребёнка (“a hair-comb”), and oddly enough a (морской) гребешок (“a scallop,” as in the edible mollusc — presumably because the ridged shell looks as though it’s been combed).

And before we take leave of the garden shed, the word грабли figures into a particularly delightful expression: (дважды) наступать/наступить на те же грабли, “to step on the same rake twice,” meaning to repeat a stupid mistake without having learned from the unpleasant consequences, or to be “once bitten, but not twice shy.”

In real life, of course, stepping on a rake will probably leave you with puncture wounds on your foot. But the expression refers to what happens in cartoons: the рукоятка, “handle,” flies up, accompanied by a loud whack and chirping little birdies. (Which is better than a tetanus shot, I suppose.)

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  1. David Roberts:

    Great post – also the previous one. These are the sort of words that everyone knows in their own language but sometimes don’t use for long stretches of time, so they’re easy to forget in another language. When you wrote лопата (“shovel; spade”), does this mean that Russians don’t distinguish between a shovel (useless for digging with) and a spade (useless for feeding a furnace with coal or a concrete mixer with gravel)? I did find совок for shovel, but I think that refers to a small hand shovel used in the home.

  2. Olga Tarn:

    Сад и огород. Соответственно, садоводство (нет такого слова “садовство”)= “заниматься садом” и огородничество = “заниматься огородом”