Seven-year old Mariana walked into the living room where her father, Alyosha, and I were sitting. She placed an ashtray in front of us and said «Нате». I looked at the two of them in confusion and Alyosha said:
|Она думала, что вы тоже будете курить.||She thought that you were going to smoke, too.|
Alyosha had totally misunderstood the source of my confusion. He thought I was surprised that she thought I would smoke, but really I was confused because I didn't have the foggiest idea of what «нате» meant. It was my first trip to Russia, having had five years of college Russian. It would not have surprised me for someone to say, “Oh, you don't know the difference between ОВИР and УВИР is? The latter is the department where you process the special form that gives foreigners the right to use a public toilet, and the former is the office where that toilet is located. Be sure to bring some small gift to УВИР or they won't put the right stamp on the form, and when you go to ОВИР, be sure to put the seat down when you are done or the babushka who monitors the sinks will yell at you.” That wouldn't have surprised me at all. But to have a little nine-year old Russian girl flummox me with two syllables was downright demoralizing.
It turns out that «на» and «нате» mean “Here you go.” It's used when you are handing something to someone. «На» is used when you are talking with someone in ты form, and «нате» is used when speaking to someone in вы form. That's right. The Russkis have added -те to something that's not a verb. Makes me want to study an easier language, like Pashto or Thai...
«На» and «нате» are very informal words. You will hear them used in homes and among friends. Don't use them in formal circumstances. I once flashed my hotel pass to a doorman in Russia and said «на». He had annoyed me, and my use of «на» really ticked him off. He caused me continual grief for the rest of my stay at that hotel. (It really was rude of me, and I should not have done it. Just because someone is a jerk to you does not mean you should be a jerk to him.)
And here are a couple examples of how it can be used:
|— Мам, передай соль.
|“Mom, pass the salt.”
“Here you go.”
|Ребята, у меня для вас сюрприз. Я принесла конфеты. Нате, ешьте на здоровье!||Kids, I have a surprise for you. I brought some candy. Here you go. Enjoy!|