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Wordbuilding Tetris Posted by on Apr 13, 2011 in language, Russian for beginners

Every Russian knows that Russian language is «великий и могучий» [great and powerful]. Nowhere is the “mighty” part as evident as in «словообразование» [word-building], the process of creating multiple derivatives of any given word.


Take any Russian «слово» [a word] and play with it like a child would play with his building blocks:

«нести» – to carry

«носить» – to wear

«снести» – to tear down

«носилки» – a stretcher

«ноша» – a burden

«переносить» – to carry over, to endure

«отношение» – attitude

«поднос» – a tray

«сносный» – passable

«поношенный» – shabby

«носильщик» – a porter

and many more, but I think you get the idea.

So what are these building blocks or components of Russian words?

«Корень» [Root]

When Russians want you to get to the root of the matter, they say «смотри в корень». Indeed, the root is an essential part of the word that it shares with a group of «однокоренные, родственные» [cognate] words.

In the example above, the root of all those words is «нес-» (although it takes the form of «нос-» and «нош-» as well).

For example, the root of the word «великий» [great] is «вел-». Its cognates are «великан» [giant], «величие» [grandeur], «повеление» [command], «повелитель» [sovereign] and «воля» [freedom].

The root of the word «могучий» [powerful] is «мог-» as in «помощь» [help], «можно» [it is permissible], and «изнемогать» [to be exhausted].

«Суффикс» [Suffix]

Suffixes are placed at the end of the roots and alter their functions. Suffixes are magic wands that turn nouns into adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.

Some Russian words have just one suffix. Others have two or even three. Yet others have none.

Take the root «свет-» for example. Without a suffix, «свет» is a noun that means “light” or “world”. Let’s add different suffixes to it and see what happens:

«л» – «светлый» – this is an adjectival suffix that helps transform the noun “light” into the adjective “light”.

«иц» – «светлица» – a bright room (the «л» suffix is used here as well)

«ск» – «светский» – another adjective is formed, this time it means “wordly”

«а» – «светать» – this is a verb suffix that transforms the noun “light” into “to dawn” as in «стало светать и Валя погасила свет» [it was growing light so Valya turned off the lights].

«л», «яч», «ок» – «светлячок» [firefly] – all those suffixes indicate that it’s a small (diminutive «ок») something/someone (noun suffix «ач» transformed into «яч») that is light (adjectival «л»).

«Приставка» [Prefix]

Prefixes are placed in front of the root and alter its meaning. For example, the word «дать» [to give] with the root «да» will change its meanings as follows:

«раздать» – to distribute

«подать» – to present

«задать» – to define

«издать» – to publish

«обдать» – to drench

«отдать» – to return

«поддать» – to punch or to booze

«передать» – to pass along

«предать» – to betray

«продать» – to sell

«воздать» – to render

«выдать» – to give away

«Окончание» [Inflection]

Inflections are the endings that indicate gender, number, case and person:

«Русский, русская, русское, русские» – all mean “Russian” but the first three are singular masculine, feminine and neuter and the last one is plural.

«Язык, языка, языку, язык, языком, языке» – all mean “language”, but the endings indicate particular cases.

«Писать, пишу, пишет, пишут» – to write, I write, he/she/it writes, they write – the endings indicate the person who’s doing the writing.

Needless to say, all these parts can be combined in so many different ways. Some of the combinations will require deletion or insertion of vowels and consonants as in

«глядел» – «глянул» [he looked, imperfective – he looked, perfective]

«друг» – «дружеский» [friend – friendly]

«запирать» – «запор» [to lock, to bolt – a bolt]

Is it any wonder «Тетрис» [Tetris] was invented by a Russian programmer?!

P.S. I’ve left out one word part. Can you name it? Also, can you come up with a word with the most number of suffixes? Prefixes? A combination of both?

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