Your Guide to Russian Sentence Structure

By OptiLingo • 7 minutes read

How to Write Sentences in Russian

Understanding Russian grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. Now, it’s not essential to memorize grammar. That’ll only slow you down. Rather, look at these rules as a guide to better familiarize yourself with Russian. To help you reach fluency in Russian, here’s your guide to its sentence structure. Look it over, and keep in mind during your later lessons.

Russian Sentence Structure

In Russian, the sentence structure is similar to English. As a result, the common word order is 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, the Russian word order is quite flexible (similar to English). For example, in English, it is perfectly acceptable to say:

 Tomorrow, I’m going to work.
 Завтра я собираюсь работать.
 I’m going to work tomorrow.
 Ясобираюсьработатьзавтра.

Russian Word Order

russians

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 you add special endings words, indicating 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. But, we’ll get into this more in later sections.

Are Russian Sentences Complex?

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. You could translate this as either of the following:

  • He wants to buy a new computer. Meaning: He doesn’t know which computer he wants to buy yet, only 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.)

Pronouns in Russian Sentences

russian dolls

In most instances, the context surrounding the sentence will make it clear what actually takes place. Because it is common (and proper) to drop pronouns when the context is clear. But again, Russian sentences are often shorter and simpler than their English translations.

Take the following Russian 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.

Conjugating “to be” in Russian Sentences

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:

 Мойбрат – учитель. Моясестра – адвокат.
 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:

 Онучитель. Онаадвокат.
 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:

  • Something is in plain sight and needs to be pointed out, or;
  • Something exists (even if it is not in plain sight).

To express the first idea, where you point out something in plain sight, Russian makes use of the word “вот”, which can mean any of the following:

  • there (is / are)
  • here (is / are)

Here are some examples of this:

 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, there is.
 Да, есть.
 No, there is no phone here.
 Нет, здесь нет телефона.

Forming Questions in Russian

forming questions in russian

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

Use of Question Pronouns in Russian

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?

Commonly Used Russian Question Words:

 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

Use of Russian Inflection

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, you create the question form of the sentence above by inflecting the word at the end of the question.

Switching Subject and Verb Order in Russian

russia

The third way to form questions in Russian is to swap the order of the subject and verb from the statement form of the sentence and insert 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.
 Can you help us?
 Couldn’t you help us?
 Не можете ли вы нам помочь?

Russian Negation

The Russian word for “no” is “нет”. And as in English, this word can be used to provide a quick, negative 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 using double negatives is 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.

 in no way  никак
 Я никоим образом не   хотел вас расстроить.

I never saw her before.

 never  никогда  Я никогда ее не видел.

No one lives there.

 no one  никто  Тамниктонеживет

You know nothing.

 nothing  ничего  Вы ничегоне знаете.

The Importance of Russian Sentence Structure

russian cat

Learning Russian can be an incredible journey, but also a challenging one. As it is one of the harder languages for native English speakers to learn, it’s natural to feel frustrated at times. However, as you learn more about the Russian language, you’ll grow more comfortable with these differences. Keep working hard and staying consistent, and in time, you’ll start speaking Russian fluently.

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