Russian Words That Don't Exist in English
Comparing English and Russian is like comparing apples to oranges.
English is a Germanic language and Russian belongs to the Slavic language family. This means the languages have completely different grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. The latter is particularly tricky, because it is important to learn new words not separately but in context, pay attention to their shades of meaning and sometimes memorize phrases.
As a Russian learner you will come across some words that are hard to translate. Perhaps there isn’t an equivalent word or the translation requires a couple of words in English. Here is a list of nine Russian words that do not have an English equivalent.
Russian Words that Don’t Have English Equivalent
Сутки [sutki] (noun, plural)
This word is used to talk of a timeframe equal to 24 hours.
An example of usage: Я работаю сутки через двое. [ya rabotayu sutki cheriz dvoye] – I work for 24 hours and then have 48 hours off.
Кипяток [kipitok] (noun, masculine)
This word means boiling water, as in Залейте чашку с чаем кипятком [zaleyte chashku s chaem kipyatkom ] – Pour boiling water into the cup with tea.
Почемучка [pochimuchka] (noun, masculine or feminine, depending on gender)
This word is used to describe a person who asks a lot ‘почему?’[pochimu] – why? Most often it refers to young children who are curious and ask a lot of questions.
Успевать [uspivat’] (verb)
It means ‘to make something on time’, ‘have time to do something’. Я успела на работу несмотря на пробки.[ ya uspela na rabotu nesmotrya na probki] – I managed to reach my office on time despite the traffic jam.
Беспредел [bespridel](noun, masculine)
Mayhem would be the closest English equivalent, however, it does not describe the depth of this Russian word, which also means lawlessness, complete disorder and actions that go beyond any laws and moral principles:
В стране полный беспредел [v strane polnyy bespridel] – There’s a complete mess in the country.
Тоска [taska](noun, feminine)
This word has many aspects and means melancholy, craving, nostalgia for something that has happened and will not repeat or missing someone you love dearly. In other words, there is more to this word than sadness:
Находясь за границей, я испытываю огромную тоску по дому, семье и друзьям. [nahadyas’ za granitsey, ya ispytyvayu ogromnuyu tasku pa domu, sim’ye i druz’yam.] – Staying abroad I miss greatly my home, family and friends.
When it comes to love and relationships, there are separate words in Russian for ‘fall in love with’ and ‘fall out of love’:
Как можно разлюбить дорогого человека? [kak mozhna razlyubit’ daragova cheloveka]- How can you fall out of love with a dear person?
Сушняк [sushniak](noun, masculine)
This word stems from the word ‘сухой’ which means dry and is used to talk about extreme thirst that appears as a result of drinking:
После вчерашней вечеринки у него такой сушняк. [posle vcherashney vecherinki u nivo takoy sushnyak] – After yesterday’s party he’s got the dry horrors.
Пошлый [poshlyj] (adjective)
This word encompasses such English equivalents as vulgar, promiscuous, trivial and tasteless:
Я нахожу её поведение пошлым. [ya nahozhu yeyo pavideniye poshlym] I find her behavior vulgar.
Now let’s take a look at some English words that you won’t find a direct translation for in Russian.
English Words that Don’t Exist in Russian
Believe it or not, there is no word for ‘sibling’ in Russian. You can only say ‘брат/братья’ [brat/bratia] for ‘brother/brothers’ or ‘сестра/сёстры’ [sistra/siostry] for ‘sister/sisters’.
Just like with the word ‘siblings’, in Russian you can only say ‘дедушка’ [dedushka] for grandfather and ‘бабушка’ [babushka] for grandmother.
Although this word is translated into Russian as ‘жаждущий’ [zhazhdushchiy], you will never hear this Russian word in everyday life. Instead of asking ‘Are you thirsty?’, native Russian speakers ask ‘Do you want to drink?’: ‘Ты хочешь пить?’ [ty hochesh’ pit’] or ‘Вы хотите пить?’ [vy hotite pit’] if addressing a few people/using the polite form.
In Russian, you would have to say ‘две недели’ [dve nideli] – two weeks or ‘четырнадцать дней’ [chityrnadtsat’ dney] – fourteen days.
[the buildings, equipment, and services provided for a particular purpose as defined by Cambridge dictionary]. There is no Russian word that would contain all the shades of meaning of the word ‘facilities’. You can either translate it as ‘equipment’ – ‘оборудование’ [oborudovaniye], conveniences –‘удобства’[udobstva] or construction – ‘сооружение’[sooruzheniye] depending on the context.
This very simple English word does not have an equivalent in Russian and would need to be translated as ‘a person who lives in the suburb and regularly travels to work in the city’: ‘житель пригорода, ежедневно ездящий на работу в город’[zhitel’ prigarada, yezhidnevno yezdyashchiy na rabotu v gorad]
[on the road] is translated into Russian as ‘перекрёсток с круговым движением’ [perikriostok s krugovym dvizheniyem]
This word is translated into Russian as the ‘big finger’: ‘большой палец’ [bal’shoy palets].
In Russian, there’s no difference between the words ‘finger’ and ‘toe’, both are translated as ‘палец’[palets], and if you would like to specify which ‘палец’ you mean, you can add ‘палец на ноге’ which literally means ‘finger on my foot’.
To describe this adjective in Russian you would have to use a combination of words ‘трудный’[trudnyj] – ‘difficult’ and ‘интересный’ [intiresnyj] – ‘interesting’
Such words as ‘earworm’, ‘jetlag’ , ‘tailgate(r)’ do not exist in Russian, and you would have to describe what each of them means if you wanted to talk about them in Russian.
Words ‘click’ and ‘branch’ have been borrowed from English and are basically the same: ‘клик’ and ‘бранч’, only spelt in Cyrillic.
As you can see, both Russian and English have words that require either translation with help of a few words, or lose their full meaning once translated due to the cultural differences. Hopefully you find this blog post useful and it helps you get a better grasp of the Russian language.
Ievgeniia Logvinenko is passionate about languages and holds a Master’s degree in English philology. In addition to English, she speaks Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German and basic French.
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