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Learn the Correct Russian Sentence Structure

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Have you ever had difficulties with combining Russian words? We’re sure you know what we’re talking about. Russian word order is important because it makes sentences make sense. Without understanding the main principles of combining words, you won’t be able to communicate with native speakers while, let’s say, vacationing in Russia over the holidays or chatting on social media.Russian sentence structure is one of the most significant parts of learning the grammar rules of this language. If you learn how to make sentences word by word now, you probably won’t have problems with more difficult themes in the future. So let’s start studying!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Russian Table of Contents
  1. Overview of Word Order in Russian
  2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object
  3. Word Order with Prepositional Phrases
  4. Word Order with Modifiers
  5. How to Change Your Sentence into a Yes-or-No Question
  6. Translation Exercises
  7. Conclusion

1. Overview of Word Order in Russian

The Russian language word order is SVO, but the existing grammar rules allow us to change it. So, sometimes, the typical SVO Russian word order can become VSO. That’s why we can say that word order in Russian sentences is quite flexible.

So, does word order matter in Russian? When comparing word order in English and Russian, we can notice one big difference. Russian word order doesn’t matter grammatically as much as English word order does.

Before having Russian sentence structure practice, you should definitely learn the most popular Russian phrases and words. It’s impossible to make sentences without knowing them by heart.

An Open Book with Glasses Resting on Top

If you’re an advanced speaker, you may read Russian books and learn new words from them.

2. Basic Word Order with Subject, Verb, and Object

According to the basic Russian word order, you must start your sentence with the subject. Then comes the verb, followed by the object. If you use this word order in Russian sentences, you’ll never make a mistake. For example:

  • Я читаю книгу. (Ya chitayu knigu.) — “I read a book.”

There are also some cases when you can use VSO instead of SVO. It’s appropriate if the sentence contains two verbs, and you want to emphasize the first one. It sounds good if you’re telling a story. For example:

  • Читаю я книгу и вдруг… (Chitayu ya knigu i vdrug…) — “I’m reading a book, and suddenly…”

Be careful with VSO in Russian, though. It may sound really weird if you use it while making an order in a restaurant, talking to a stewardess during your flight to Russia, in an emergency, or in other formal situations.

3. Word Order with Prepositional Phrases

Improve Listening

Prepositional phrases answer the following questions:

  • Where?
  • When?
  • In what way?

Prepositional phrases that answer the question “Where?” are typically used at the end of the sentence, after the object:

  • Я читаю книгу дома. (Ya chitayu knigu doma.) — “I read a book at home.”

In Russian sentence structure, prepositional phrases that answer the question “When?” are put either at the very beginning or at the end of a sentence. The meaning of the phrase will change a bit, though. For example:

  • Сегодня я читаю книгу. (Segodnya ya chitayu knigu.) — “Today, I read a book.” 
    • In this case, this sentence answers the question “What did I do today?”
  • Я читаю книгу сегодня. (Ya chitayu knigu segodnya.) — “I read a book today.” 
    • This one answers the question “When did I read a book?”

Prepositional phrases that answer the question “In what way?” can be used right after the noun or at the end, after the verb. Both variants are grammatically correct, but the first one sounds more natural:

  • Я увлеченно читаю книгу. (Ya uvlechyonno chitayu knigu.) — “I enthusiastically read a book.”
  • Я читаю книгу увлеченно. (Ya chitayu knigu uvlechyonno.) — “I read a book enthusiastically.”

When there are two (or even more) prepositional phrases, you should use them in the following order:

  • Put the prepositional phrase of time in the first place, before the noun.
  • Add the prepositional phrase that answers the question In what way? after the noun.
  • Use the prepositional phrase of place after the object, at the end.

Here’s an example:

  • Сегодня я увлеченно читаю книгу дома. (Segodnya ya uvlechyonno chitayu knigu doma.) — “Today, I enthusiastically read a book at home.”

If you don’t want to learn all these rules about building sentences in Russian, you may always put the prepositional phrase at the end of the sentence. Of course, doing so is appropriate only for beginners. Advanced students must know and use more complex rules regarding sentence structure in Russian.

4. Word Order with Modifiers

In most cases, the modifier is an adjective which describes something. In Russian word order, adjectives are always used before nouns:

  • Я читаю интересную книгу. (Ya chitayu interesnuyu knigu.) — “I read an interesting book.”

If there are two or more adjectives in the sentence, you should:

  • Firstly, use the one which expresses your own opinion about the subject or marks something about the subject that’s not very stable.
  • Use the adjective which denotes a very stable aspect as close to the noun as possible.

For example:

  • Я читаю интересную научную книгу. (Ya chitayu interesnuyu nauchnuyu knigu.) — “I read an interesting scientific book.”

Note that Russian sentence structure with adjectives is more or less flexible. There are no actual Russian word order rules that say you must use one type of adjective before another (e.g. shape before color). Try not to think too hard about how to order words in Russian when it comes to adjectives.

Other modifiers include the determiner, the numeral, and the possessive. According to the most typical word order in Russian, all modifiers like these come before the noun:

  • Я читаю эту книгу. (Ya chitayu etu knigu.) — “I read this book.”
  • Я читаю одну книгу. (Ya chitayu odnu knigu.) — “I read one book.”
  • Я читаю его книгу. (Ya chitayu yego knigu.) — “I read his book.”

5. How to Change Your Sentence into a Yes-or-No Question

Typical Russian sentence structure makes it really easy to change affirmative constructions into yes-or-no-questions. If you want your Russian question word order to be correct, follow our instructions:

  • Put the verb at the beginning.
  • Add the conjunction ли (li) after the verb.
  • Then use the noun and the object.

Here’s an example:

  • Читаю ли я книгу? (Chitayu li ya knigu?) — “Do I read a book?”

6. Translation Exercises

We hope that you’ve read the information above thoroughly and understand the basic Russian sentence structures. Now we need to practice a bit with new sentences. We’ll use the most common Russian word order: SVO.

Man Scratching His Head in Confusion

Please, stop comparing Russian sentence structure to that of English. They are both easy and comprehendible, believe us.

First of all, try to translate this phrase using your knowledge about how Russian sentences are structured:

  • “I watched a movie.”

You may use the Russian dictionary if you don’t know the translations of some words. 

If it’s difficult for you, think about Russian sentence structure compared to that in English. What do you know about them? They’re both SVOs! That’s why you can translate the simplest sentence word by word without the fear of making mistakes.

The correct Russian translation of the sentence above is:

  • Я посмотрел фильм. (Ya posmotrel fil’m.)

Now let’s translate a slightly more difficult variant of this sentence:

  • “I watched a good movie.”

If you’re struggling, look at our Russian sentence structure examples. There you’ll see that the adjective always comes before the noun:

  • Я посмотрел хороший фильм. (Ya posmotrel khoroshiy fil’m.)

Now it’s time to make our English sentence more difficult. Translate this one:

  • “I watched a good movie yesterday.”

Don’t panic! There are two ways to make this sentence:

  • Вчера я посмотрел хороший фильм. (Vchera ya posmotrel khoroshiy fil’m.)
  • Я посмотрел хороший фильм вчера. (Ya posmotrel khoroshiy fil’m vchera.)

Now try to translate the question:

  • Did I watch a good movie yesterday?

There are two correct ways to translate it:

  • Посмотрел ли я вчера хороший фильм? (Posmotrel li ya vchera khoroshiy fil’m?)
  • Посмотрел ли я хороший фильм вчера? (Posmotrel li ya khoroshiy fil’m vchera?)
Two Women Talking about a Project at Work

Sometimes there’s more than one appropriate way to express your thoughts in Russian.

7. Conclusion 

Improve Pronunciation

You’ve learned a lot about Russian sentence structure and word order. We gave you not only the basic rules, but also some advanced techniques to build complex Russian sentences. Of course, it may seem too difficult right now. But don’t forget that Russian people don’t even think about how to combine words while speaking or writing. You only need some practice to do the same.

No one can fully cover the theme of sentence structure in Russian in one article, because this language is too rich. We’re sure you still have some questions: how to structure a sentence in Russian if there are two subjects and two verbs, how to form complex questions, how Russian sentence structure works in sentences with relative clauses, etc.

If you want to know more about this theme and find the answers to the above-mentioned questions, explore RussianPod101.com. Here you’ll find lots of free materials regarding vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. You’ll be able to download some useful information about Russian sentence structure.Do you want to try personal coaching? You can check our Premium PLUS service MyTeacher and take the assessment test to get started.

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