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Hi everyone and welcome to Ask a Teacher.
I’m Lena. And I am here to answer the most common questions you send us about the Russian language.
The question for today is What are the differences between Russian and English sentence structures?
The most obvious difference between Russian and English sentence structure is word order.
English has a fixed word order of subject, verb and object.
Russian is a lot more flexible.
In Russian you can place an object both before and after the verb.
Take the sentence “I don’t know him”.
Я не знаю его. (ya ne znayu yevo.)
Here “Его” (him) is an object.
It can be placed after the verb.
Я не знаю его. (ya ne znayu yevo.)
Before the verb
Я его не знаю. (ya yevo ne znayu.)
And even in the very beginning of the sentence.
Его я не знаю. (yevo ya ne znayu.)
All these sentences would be perfectly grammatically correct and would mean the same thing.
At first it might seem simple and even convenient to be able to switch the words around.
However the reason Russian sentences make sense – no matter how you shuffle the words – is that the words themselves carry a lot of grammar nuances.
If you need to convey a grammar nuance, you make a change to the word – not the whole structure –
And this change can be made with the help of prefixes, suffixes and endings.
Almost all Russian words can be changed.
Let’s see how Russian nouns can be changed.
Russian nouns decline depending on six grammar cases. You decline a noun when you need to change it from nominative or initial form to some other form.
For example, the word палочки (palachki), “chopsticks,” is an initial form. To say that you eat sushi “with chopsticks” you change палочки (palachki) into палочками (palachkami). That’s an instrumental case of the word палочки (palachki).
Often case changes mean adding preposition in front of the noun.
Nouns can also change according to gender – masculine, feminine or neuter.
And according to number – singular or plural.
Adjectives and some pronouns may undergo the same changes as nouns.
But don’t you be scared. In some ways Russian is easier than English.
There are no articles in Russian as opposed to some other languages like French or Spanish.
Then, there are only three verb tenses in Russian. A lot fewer than English has.
In the present tense, in English, you’d say “I play basketball every day” if that’s an action that happens regularly
Or “I am playing basketball” for an action that is happening right this moment.
In Russian instead of these two English constructions you only need to use one:
Я играю в баскетбол. (Ya igrayu v basketbol)
And then you can specify:
Я играю в баскетбол каждый день. (Ya igrayu v basketbol kazhdyy den) “I am playing basketball everyday.”
Я играю в баскетбол сейчас. (Ya igrayu v basketbol sechas) “I am playing basketball now.”
Another thing that makes learning Russian just a bit easier is that there are no auxiliary verb in Russian. Words like “be”, “do”, “have”. Of course, we do have all these words in Russian. It’s just they don’t act like auxiliaries in the sentences.
In English, if you want to make a negative out of a statement, you need to be carefully choose the right form of the auxiliary verb “do” and change the whole structure to form a negative.
“He liked ice cream.” in its negative form becomes “He didn’t like ice cream.”
“We like ice cream.” becomes “We don’t like ice cream.”
“The baby likes ice cream.” becomes “The baby doesn’t like ice cream.” and so on.
In Russian, no matter what the tense is, you always need one and the same word не (ne), which is translated as “not” and can be placed in front of any part of speech.
Он любил мороженое. (On lyubil marozhenaye.) “He liked ice cream.”
Он не любил мороженое. (On ne lyubil marozhenaye.) “He didn’t like ice cream.”
Мы любим мороженое. (My lyubim marozhenaye.) “We like ice cream.”
Мы не любим мороженое. (My ne lyubim marozhenaye.) “We don’t like ice cream.”
Ребенок любит мороженое. (Rebyonak lyubit marozhenaye.) “The baby likes icecream.”
Ребенок не любит мороженое. (Rebyonak ne lyubit marozhenaye.) “The baby doesn’t like ice cream.”
Lastly, as I have briefly mentioned, to turn a statement into a question and vice versa, you change the entire structure of an English sentence.
So, “You’re going to work tomorrow.” becomes “Are you going to work tomorrow?”
In Russian you don’t have to move the words around. All you need to do is change your intonation and that’s how a statement becomes a question.
Like this:
Ты идешь завтра на работу. (Ty idyosh zaftra na rabotu.) “You’re going to work tomorrow.”
Ты идешь завтра на работу? (Ty idyosh zaftra na rabotu?) “Are you going to work tomorrow?”
So how was it? Pretty interesting, right.
Do send me more questions about the Russian language usage and I’ll be happy to answer them.
До встречи! See you soon!