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Cyrillic alphabet

The russian cyrillic alphabet contains 33 letters, including 20 consonants, 10 vowels, one semi-vowels (й), a harg sign (ъ) and a soft sign (ь).

Cyrillic alphabet is used in various languages among Eurasia and is one of the most used script in the world, it is worth to learn as all cyrillic alphabets are very close to the russian one, so even if Bielorussia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, have their own cyrillic alphabets, you will understand them by knowing the russian one.

In russian, letters can be pronounced in various ways according to the position in the word, the stress, and some exceptions.

Stress :

 

In russian, a stress on one syllable is used for every word ; it can change the prononciation of the vowel and of the word ; there is no rules to know where the stress has to be put, except that : the stress is obviously present when the word contain only one syllable ; when ё is present the stress has to be put on it.

Here stress will be indicate with underline, as in Спасибо ("thanks") that you can know that it is pronounced [spasiba].

 

Vowels :

 

  • А, а : stressed : pronounced as a in "hat"  ;  transcription : a
    unstressed : pronounced as somewhere between o and a ; the sound being closer to a we will write it a in the transcriptions.

  • Э, э : stressed : pronounced as e in "ten"  ;  transcription : e
    unstressed : no big difference  ;  same transcription.

  • Ы, ы : stressed : this sound doesn't exist in english, it is hard to explain but it is kind of situated between the french u ( or german ü ) and the i in "bit"  ;  transcription : y
    unstressed : no big difference  ;  same transcription.

  • О, о : stressed : pronounced as o in "boy"  ;  transcription : o
    unstressed : pronounced as somewhere between o and a ; the sound being closer to a we will write it a in the transcriptions.

  • У, у : stressed : pronounced as oo in "book" but shorter ;  transcription : u
    unstressed : no big difference  ;  same transcription.

  • Я, я : stressed : "iotated" variant of a, pronounced a bit like the german word for "yes" : "Ja"  ;  transcription : ja
    unstressed : no big difference, but closer to e  ;  same transcription.

  • Е, е : stressed : "iotated" variant of э, pronounced a bit like the word "yes"  ;  transcription : je
    unstressed : no big difference, but closer to я  ;  same transcription.

  • И, и : stressed : pronounced as ea in "cheap"  ;  transcription : i
    unstressed : no big difference  ;  same transcription.

  • Ё, ё : stressed : "iotated" variant of о, pronounced a bit like "yo"  ;  transcription : jo
    unstressed : Never appear unstressed.

  • Ю, ю : stressed : "iotated" variant of y, pronounced a bit like the word "you"  ;  transcription : ju
    unstressed : no big difference  ;  same transcription.

 

Consonants :

  • Б, б : pronounced as b in "bet".  ; transliteration : b

  • В, в : pronounced as v in "volt".  ; transliteration : v

  • Г, г : pronounced as g in "grey".  ( But pronounced v in possessive/genitive endings like его ); transliteration : g

  • Д, д : pronounced as d in "diamond".  ; transliteration : d

  • Ж ,ж : pronounced as s in "pleasure" ; always hard.  ; transliteration : zh

  • З, з : pronounced as z in _"zero_".  ; transliteration : z

  • Й, й : semi-vowel pronounced as y in _"yes_".  ; transliteration : j

  • К, к : pronounced as k in "kit".  ; transliteration : k

  • Л, л : pronounced as l in "luck".  ; transliteration : l

  • М, м : pronounced as m in "mother". ; transliteration : m

  • Н, н : pronounced as n in "none".  ; transliteration : n

  • П, п : pronounced as p in "place".  ; transliteration : p

  • Р, р : pronounced as the spanish r but less rolled ; transliteration : r

  • С, с : pronounced as s in "set".  ; transliteration : s

  • Т, т : pronounced as t in "turtle".  ; transliteration : t

  • Ф, ф : pronounced as f in "farm".  ; transliteration : f

  • Х, х : pronounced as the scottish ch in "Loch", or the german ch in "Bach" ; transliteration : kh

  • Ц, ц : pronounced as ts in "pits" ; always hard ; transliteration : ts

  • Ч, ч : pronounced as ch in "church" always soft ; transliteration : ch

  • Ш, ш : pronounced as sh in "shirt" always hard ; transliteration : sh

  • Щ, щ : pronounced as ш and ч following each other.  ; transliteration : shch

  • ъ : hard sign ( твёрдый знак )

  • ь : soft sign ( мягкий знак )

Numbers

Here is a table to remember for numbers in Russian :

... ... 10 + .. ...0 ...00 ..000 ..000 000 ..000 000 000
0 ноль [nolj] десять [desjatj] tens hundreds thousands millions billions
1 один [adin] одиннадцать [adin-na-dsatj] десять [desjatj] сто [sto] один тысяча [adin tysjacha] один миллион [adin milion] один миллиард [adin miliard]
2 два [dva] двенадцать [dvje-na-dsatj] двадцать [dva-dsatj] двести [dvjesti] две тысячи [dvje tysjachi] две миллион [dvje milion] две миллиард [dvje miliard]
3 три [tri] тринадцать [tri-na-dsatj] тридцать [tri-dsatj] триста [trista] три тысячи [tri tysjachi] три миллион [tri milion] три миллиард [tri miliard]
4 четыре [chityrje] четырнадцать [chityr-na-dsatj] сорок [sorok] четырехсот [chjetyrekhsat] ... ... ...
5 пять [pjatj] пятнадцать [pjat-na-dsatj] пятьдесят [pjatj-desjat] пятисот [pjatisat]
6 шесть [shjestj] шестнадцать [shjest-na-dsatj] шестьдесят [shjestj-desjat] ...
7 семь [sjemj] семнадцать [sjem-na-dsatj] семьдесят [sjemj-desjat]
8 восемь [vosjemj] восемнадцать [vosjem-na-dsatj] восемьдесят [vosjemj-desjat]
9 девять [divjatj] девятнадцать [devjat-na-dsatj] девяносто [devja-nasto]

  Then you just have to add numbers one after another, example : 2.748.169.513 : две миллиард, семьсот сорок восемь, сто шестьдесят девять, пятисот тринадцать [ dvje miliard, sjemjsat sorok vosjemj, sto shjestjdjesjatj, pjatisat trinadtsatj]

As you can see, from 11 to 19, number are formed with numbers from 1 to 9 adding -надцать at the end.

Ordinals are very similar to adjectives and possess the same form, they also decline in gender, to form an ordinal ( in masculine ), just add -ый [yj] or -ий [ij] at the end of the number, there are some exceptions but the main are first-> первый [pjervyj], second -> второй [vtoroj] and third -> третий [trjetij].

Example : это мой первый раз в Росся [eta moj pjervyj raz v Moskva] -> It is my first time in Moscow

For halfs, you can use половина [palavina] after the number to express the superior half : один с половина [adin s palavina] -> one and half ;

Grammar, general rules

Sentence structure :

There are two kind of sentences in Russian : the verbal sentences that express an action with a verb, and the nominal sentences that express statement or quality ( like the use of the verb "to be" in English )

  • The verbal sentences in russian don't follow a specific pattern. The order in the sentence is quite free, you'll highlight the part of the speech while putting it first ; by instance in russian you can say "I live in Moscow", or "in Moscow I live", but in the first case you'll insist that you speak about yourself, in the second you'll insist that it is in Moscow that you live.
  • The nominal sentences have a simple structure Subject-Object and are the way to express to be in Russian ( to say for instance I am student, you would say "I student" )

Genders :

There are three grammatical genders in russian : masculine, feminine and neutral, each noun has one of those three genders and adjectives and pronouns are declined according to those genders ;

For most of the noun, you can predict which gender it belongs according to the endings, but there are exceptions.

 

Articles :

There are no articles in russian, a dog or the dog are expressed the same way.

 

Negation :

The negation in russian is simply expressed with не [nje] in front of a verb, or with нет [njet] to answer to a question.

говорите по-русски ? [gavaritje pa-ruski ?] : do you speak russian ?

нет, я не говорю по-русски [njet, ja nje gavarju pa-ruski] : No, I don't speak russian

 

 

Declination :

As in German or in many slavic languages, there are different cases in Russian, according to which the nouns and adjectives will be inflected.

To give an exemple, it it like if in english by saying I go to my car, my car is red, or I go with my car, you would put in each case a different ending to the word car. Then the preceding examples would respectively be : я иду к моей машине [ja idu k majej mashinje], моя машина красная [maja mashina krasnaja], and я еду с моей машиной [ja jedu s majej mashinoj].

There are 6 cases in Russian : nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental and prepositional. Nominative is the basic form and that's the form you will learn in dictionnaries.

But this part won't be approach in the basic grammar, if it is an important feature of Russian and also part of what makes it difficult to learn, you won't need if you just want to be understood.

Pronouns and particles

Personals pronouns and possessives pronouns:

Here is a table for personal pronouns ( I, you, he, she, etc... ), as well the accusative/genitive pronouns (me, you, him, us) :

nom Acc/gen
Singular 1st я [ja] меня [minja]
2nd ты [ty] тебя [tibja]
3rd Masc. он [on] его [jevo]
Fem. она [ana] её [jejo]
Neu. оно [ano] его [jevo]
Plural 1st. мы [my] нас [nas]
2nd* вы [my] вас [vas]
3rd они [ani] их [ikh]

 

And here are the possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, etc...), possessive pronouns are declined according to the object.

person Masc. Fem. Neu. plural
Sing. 1st мой [moj] моя [maja] моё [majo] мои [maji]
2nd твой [tvoj] твоя [tvaja] твоё [tvajo] твои [tvaji]
3rd(m,n) его [jevo]
3rd(f) её [jejo]
Plu. 1st наш [nash] наша [nasha] наше [nashje] наши [nashi]
2nd ваш [vash] ваша [vasha] ваше [vashje] ваши [vashi]
3rd их [ikh]

By example : - её стол [jejo stol] ( "её" because the owner is woman ) means her table

твоя сестра [tvaja sjestra] ( "твоя" because сестра is feminine ) means your sister

 

Demonstratives pronouns:

The equivalents of this and that are respectively это [eta] and то [to]. As there is no verb to be, in Russian, it can be also be translated as this is / it is.

Example : это мой брат [eta moj brat] -> it is my brother ; эта мая машина [eta maja mashina] -> this is my car

But when the demonstrative is followed by a noun, like in "I want this apple", then the demonstrative is declined according to gender and plurality, here is a table for the different demonstratives :

Masc. Fem. Neu. Plu.
это этот [etat] эта [eta] это [eto] эти [eti]
то тот [tot] та [ta] то [to] те [tje]

Examples :

  • я люблю эта женщина [ja ljublju eta zhjenshchina] : I love this woman
  • я знаю те мальчики [ja znaju tje maljchiki] : I know those boys

 

Interrogative pronouns :

One of the most important things to learn in any language are the interrogative pronouns, how to say who, what, where, etc... :

  • что [chto] ? : what ?
  • как [kak] ? : how ?
  • сколько [ckolka] ? : how much ? / how many ?
  • где [gdje] ? : where ?
  • куда [kuda] ? : to where ?
  • откуда [otkuda] ? : from where ?
  • когда [kagda] ? : when ?
  • почему  [pachjemu]? : why ?
  • кто [kto] ? : who ?
  • какой(m)/какая(f)/какие(n) [kak(oj/aja/ije)] ? : which ?

 

Conjonctions :

These are the main conjonctions in russian, there are used in the same way than in english, but can be slightly different :

  • или [ili] : or
  • и [i] : and
  • а [a] : and, but ( contrasting )
  • но [no] : but
  • если [jesli] : if
  • потому что [patamu chto] : because

Prepositions :

These are the main prepositions in french, there are used in the same way than in english :

  • на [na] : to, at, on
  • у : near, by
  • в, во [v, vo] : in, inside, to
  • из [iz] : out of, from
  • от [ot] : from
  • о, об [o, ob] : about
  • по [po] : along
  • к [k] : towards
  • за [za] : for, to ( goal )
  • для [dlja] : for ( in benefit of )
  • с [s] : with
  • без [bjez] : without

 

Есть :

Есть [jestj] is an important word in Russian, literally it means "there is", and it is also used to express "to have" ; It's contrary is нет.

Its future form is будет [budjet] and the past form is было [bylo], these are actually present, future and past form of быть [bytj] that is the equivalent of to be in Russian.

Example of use :

  • есть ялоко [jestj jabloko] ? : Is there apple ?
  • нет, но завтра будет [njet, no zavtra budjet] : there is not, but there will be tomorrow

Nouns and adjectives

Genders and plurals of nouns :

Let see the differents endings of the differents genders, how to recognize them and how to form plural :

Masculine :

  • all words ending with a consonant are masculine ( й is a consonant )
  • some words ending with -ь are masculine.
  • There are exceptions of words ending with a that are masculine, it is easy to predict are they are "masculine" in meaning : па́па [dad], дя́дя[uncle], де́душка[grand-father], мужчи́на[man]

 

Feminine :

  • words ending with а or я are generally feminine
  • some words ending with -ь are feminine.

Neutral :

  • all words ending with о or е are neutral.
  • some neutral words end with я like и́мя, вре́м**я or зна́мя**.

Plural :

  • If the word ends with a vowel or with ь and й, the plural ending replace the last vowel ( книга -> книги ), orelse you just add it after the last consonant.
  • The plural ending is и for words ending with ь, й, я, and the following consonants : г, к, х, ч, ш, щ, ж
  • The plural ending is ы for words ending with a and the consonants that are not : г, к, х, ч, ш, щ, ж
  • The plural ending is a for words ending with o ( neutral nouns ).
  • The plural ending is я for words ending with e ( neutral nouns ).
  • There are exceptions of nouns changing their stem and ending with ья in some masculine and neutral nouns as друг -> друзья

 

Adjectives :

Adjectives are declined according to the gender and number of the noun. The dictionnaries forms are usually the masculine form, then you have to decline them.

The masculine endings are -ый, -ой, -ий

The feminine ending is -ая

The neutral ending is -oe ( and sometimes -ee )

The plural ending is -ие after г, к, х, ч, ш, щ, ж and -ые after other consonants.

Adverbs :

Adverbs are used after a verb, to express the quality of an action and not of someone or something, by example :

  • You work good -> adverb
  • You're a good worker -> adjective

adverbs are formed from adjective by replacing the ending with -o, let's translate the two examples above :

  • ты работаешь хорошо [ty rabotajeshj kharasho]
  • ты хороший работник [ty kharashij rabotnik]

Comparative :

To form comparative in Russian, you generally take the stem of the adjective and add -ee :

красивый [krasivyj] ( beautiful ) -> красивее [krasiveye] ( more beautiful )

But there are exceptions and all of the comparatives are not formed that way.

One notable is хороший [kharashij] ( good ) -> лучше [luchshje] ( better )

To make things easier, you can use the following words :

  • более [boleje] : more
  • менее [meneje] : less
  • как [kak] : as, like
  • чем [chjem] : than

So by example : Санкт-Петербург более красивый, чем Москва [Sankt-Pjeterburg boleje krasivyj chjem Moskva] : St-Petersbourg is more beautiful than Moscow

The word больше [boljshje] is the comparative form of big ( bigger ) and it is also used to express more when you speak about quantities, when you want to say by example, I want more water. ( я хочу больше вода* [ja khachu boljshje vada] )

*(here вода should be воды because it is genitive, but we will ignore it for now )

 

Superlative :

Superlative is form with the adjective самый ( the most ) that you will decline as an adjective :

самая красивая женщина [samaja krasivaja zhjenshchina] : the most beautiful women

Verbs

To be :

As we saw earlier, the used of "to be" in Russian is very different than in English ; in most of sentences, to be is simply express by the absence of verb, the object is directly following the subject : я устал [ja ustal] -> I am tired ( lit: "I tired")

But still there is a verb to be that is used for other purposed : бить [bytj, it is mainly used in his past form был and his present form that will be used to form the future : будет, let's see how to conjugate them :

Present
я буду
ты будешь
он, она, они будет
мы будем
вы будете
они будут
Past
masculine был
feminine была
neutral было
plural были

 

To have :

To have is also very different in Russian, it is not a proper verb ; you use the form y + genitive + есть (or нет for negative) ( subject or pronoun ), you need to refer to the table with the genetive pronoun above. Here are some example :

  • у меня есть дом : I have a house
  • у нас нет собака : we don't have dog

By replacing есть by his past ( был ) or future ( будет ) form, you can express to have in past or future tense.

  • у тебя никогда будет жена : you will never have a wife

 

Imperfective/Perfective :

Here is a notion that is hard to get for non-slavic speakers ; each verb in Russian possess two forms, a perfective and imperfective form.

Imperfective is used :

  • past tense : to express an action that was going on
  • present tense : to express an action that is going on or a regular action
  • future tense : to express an action that will be happening

Perfective is used :

  • past tense : to express an action that has been completed
  • future tense ( present conjugation ) : to express an action that's going to be done and completed

Let's take an example with the Imperfective/perfective couple : писать/написать

imperfective :

  • past tense : вчера я писал книга -> yesterday I was writing a book ( and I didn't finished )
  • present tense : я писаю книга -> I'm writing a book ( it is in process )
  • future tense : завтра я буду писать книга -> tomorrow I will write a book ( I won't finish )

Perfective :

  • past tense : вчера я написал книга -> yesterday I wrote a book ( and it is finished )
  • future tense : завтра я написаю книга -> tomorrow I will write a book ( and I will finish )

 

Perfective are usually formed from Imperfective verbs by :

  • adding a prefix : писать/написать
  • adding a suffix or changing the end of the verb : Изучать/Изучить ; Рассказывать/Рассказaть
  • shorten the verb : Покупать/Купить
  • completely different form : Говорить/Сказать

We'll always write from know the couple of verbs following the order imperfective/perfective.

 

Present tense :

The present tense is used to express a processing action or an usual action for imperfective verbs, for perfective verb it express a future action that will be completed. Verbs are divided in two groups according which you will conjugate it. Verbs ending with -ать are from the first group, others are from the second :

1st group
... ending example работать [rabotatj] ( to work )
я -аю [aju] работаю
ты -аешь [ajeshj] работаешь
он,она,оно -ает [ajet] работает
мы -аем [ajem] работаем
вы -аете [ajetje] работаете
они -ают [ajut] работают

2nd group

... ending example смотреть [smatrjetj] ( to watch )
я -ю [ju]* смотрю
ты -ишь [ajeshj] смотришь
он,она,оно -ит [ajet] смотрит
мы -им [ajem] смотрим
вы -ите [ajetje] смотрите
они -ят [ajut]* смотрят

* ю and я respectively become у and а after the following : г, к, х, ч, ш, щ, ж

 

Past tense :

The past tense in Russian is used to express a action that was in process for imperfective verbs, with perfective verbs it express an action that was completed. It is quite easy to form, you just have to remove the ending from the infinitive and add endings that are just related to the gender of the subject :

gender ending example знать [znatj] (to know)
masculine знал
feminine -ла знала
neutral -ло знало
plural -ли знали
  • я не знала [ja nje znala] : I didn't know ( woman speaking )
  • мы думали что у теба есть машина [my dumali chto u tibja jestj mashina] : we thought you had a car ( lit:"we thought that you have a car")

Future tense :

Only used with imperfective verbs, it is used to express an action that will be keeping in process, or something that has no end. It is easy formed by using the present tense of быть ( to be ) followed by the infinitive of the verb :

  • ты будишь учить руский язык [ty budishj uchitj ruskij jazyk] : you will learn russian language
  • я буду жить в Россия [ja budu zhitj v Rusija] : I will live in Russia

 

Verbs of motion :

Verbs of motion are a bit different from others in Russian : they go by pair unidirectional/multidirectional, while the first is used to express a punctual action, going somewhere in one direction, the second is used to express a repeated or regular action. By example the couple идти/ходить [idti/khoditj] ( to go by foot )

  •  Сейчас я иду на работу [sejchas ja idu na rabotu] : today I'm going to work
  • Я каждый день хожу на работу [ja kazhdyj djenj khozhu na raboty] : I go every day to work

Here the conjugaison of some of the main verbs of motion :

english : to go ( by walk ) to go ( by wheel transportation )
... unidirectional multidirectional unidirectional multidirectional
Russian : идти [idti] ходить [khoditj] ехать [jekhatj] ездить [jezditj]
Present
я иду [idu] хожу [khozhu] еду [jedu] езжу [jezzhu]
ты идёшь [idjoshj] ходишь [khodishj] едешь [jedjeshj] ездишь [jezdishj]
он/она/оно идёт [idjot] ходит [khodit] едет [jedjet] ездит [jezdit]
мы идём [idjom] ходим [khodim] едем [jedjem] ездим [jezdim]
вы идёте [idjotje] ходите [khoditje] едете [jedetje] ездите [jezditje]
они идут [idut] ходят [khodjat] едут [jedut] ездят [jezdjat]
Past
masculine шёл [shjol] ходил [khodil] ехал [jekhal] ездил [jezdil]
feminine шла [shla] ходила [khodila] ехала [jekhala] ездила [jezdila]
neutral шло [shlo] ходило [khodilo] ехало [jekhalo] ездило [jezdilo]
plural шли [shli] ходили [khodili] ехали [jekhali] ездили [jezdili]