Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. When learning the Russian language, it’s important to know that, generally speaking, Russian sentence structure is similar to English sentence structure. Word order is commonly: Subject – Verb – Direct Object:
I eat apples. – Яемяблоки.
As a general exception, adjectives in Russian precede the nouns they describe:
red apples – красные яблоки
Additionally, similar to English, Russian word order is quite flexible. For example, in English, it is perfectly acceptable to say:
Tomorrow, I’m going to work. – Завтра я собираюсь работать.
I’mgoingtoworktomorrow. – Ясобираюсьработатьзавтра.
As in Russian, word order is a function of what information is more important and bears additional stress. However, owing to Russian’s grammatical case system, word order is even more flexible than in the English language. This is because Russian makes use of a system of declensions whereby special endings are added to words to indicate what role those words play in a sentence. (In case you’re wondering, this “system of declensions” is just a fancy way of saying that Russian words get modified based on which grammatical case is being used. We’ll get into this more in later sections.)
In addition to this increased flexibility of word order, Russian sentences can also be simpler than English sentences for the following reasons:
1) Russian has no definite or indefinite articles
2) It is quite common (and proper) to drop pronouns when the context is clear
3) In the present tense, the verb “to be” (быть) is almost always absent
Because Russian has no definite or indefinite articles, sentences become shorter. Take the following sentence for example: Он хочет купить новый компьютер. This could be translated as either of the following:
He wants to buy a new computer. (He doesn’t know which computer he wants to buy yet, just that he wants to replace his existing computer with a new one.)
He wants to buy the new computer. (There is a very specific computer that he is intending to buy.)
In most instances, the context surrounding the sentence will make it clear what is actually taking place.
Because it is common (and proper) to drop pronouns when the context is clear, again Russian sentences are often shorter and simpler than their English translations. Take the following sentence for example:
I want to eat. -Яхочуесть.
While the Russian sentence is acceptable, it is equally acceptable to drop the personal pronoun “I” (Я), and simply say: Хочуесть.
Because the verb “to be” is absent in the present tense, again, sentences are typically shorter and simpler than their English counterparts. Take the following sentence for example:
Падение – моелюбимоевремягода. – Fall is my favorite time of year.
You’ll notice that the word “to be” (conjugated as “is” in the English translation) is nowhere to be found in the Russian example. Instead, the Russian verb “to be” (быть) is replaced by a dash that immediately follows the subject noun. Take the following examples:
My brother (is) a teacher. My sister (is) a lawyer.
Note: Dashes are generally omitted when the subject of the sentence is a pronoun. For example:
He (is) a teacher. She (is) a lawyer.
Now at this point, you may be wondering how one might say, “there is” or “there are” in Russian if the Russian verb “to be” (быть) is not used in the present tense. Naturally, there is an answer to this seeming dilemma!
In English, “there is” and “there are” generally mean one of two things:
To express the first idea, where something in plain site is pointed out, Russian makes use of the word “вот”, which can mean any of the following:
Here is your money. – Вот ваши деньги.
There is my book. – Вотмоякнига.
Here are your apples. – Вотвашияблоки.
There are your parents. – Воттвоиродители.
To express the second idea, that something exists, Russian makes use of the words “есть” in positive circumstances, and “нет” in negative circumstances. Again, context is important, so imagine the following example:
Is there a phone here? – Здесь есть телефон?
Yes, thereis. – Да, есть.
No, there is no phone here. – Нет, здесь нет телефона.
For the most part, question formation in Russian is similar to that of English, and there are three primary means of doing so:
1) Use of question words
2) Use of inflection
3) Switching subject and verb order
As is the case in English, in Russian, it is possible to form a question by using a question (or interrogative) word. Take the following examples:
When will you arrive? – Когдатыприедешь?
Where did you go? – Кудатыушел?
Why are you here? – Почему ты здесь?
Some of the more commonly used Russian question words include the following:
for what purpose – зачем
how – как
what – что
what kind – какой
when – когда
where (at what place) – где
where (from what place) – откуда
where (to what place) – куда
who – кто
why – почему
In the absence of question words, it is also possible to form questions by simply changing the inflection of a sentence. As is the case in English, word order for the question is the same as the statement; it is only inflection that changes. Take the following examples:
Your friend is smart. – Ваш друг умный.
Your friend is smart? – Ваш друг умный?
As is the case in English, the question form of the sentence above is formed by inflecting the word at the end of the question.
The third way of forming questions in Russian is achieved by swapping the order of the subject and verb from the statement form of the sentence and inserting the word “ли” (whether, if) after the verb. For example:
He is coming. – Онпридёт.
Is he coming? – Придётлион?
Note: In Russian, when using this method to form a question, Russian speakers will often also insert the word “не” (not) in order to make the question more polite. The resulting is a question that sounds like, “won’t you”, or “couldn’t you” in English. For example:
Will you help me? – Won’t you help me? – Ты не поможешь мне.
Canyouhelpus? – Couldn’tyouhelpus? – Не можете ли вы нам помочь?
The Russian word for “no” is “нет”, and as in English, this word can be used to provide a quick, netative response, or to signify that something is not present. For example:
Are you thirsty? No. – Ты хочешь пить? Нет.
Do you have water? I have no water. – У вас есть вода? У меня нет воды.
In order to negate a verb, Russian makes use of the word “не”, which corresponds to “not” in English. Take the following examples:
I do not want food. – Я не хочу еды.
I did not walk far. – Я далеко не прошел.
Unlike English, where use of double negatives is considered improper, proper Russian requires the use of double negatives. This is the case even when using special negative words like:
In no way did I mean to upset you.
innoway – никак – Я никоим образом не хотел вас расстроить.
I never saw her before.
never – никогда – Я никогда ее не видел.
No one lives there.
noone – никто – Тамниктонеживет.
nothing – ничего – Вы ничегоне знаете.