Category: Adverbs of time
Today my second-year Russian students encountered the word надолго, which means ‘for a long time.’ Despite knowing what the word meant, the students had a difficult time translating it well in actual sentences. It turns out not only human beings have trouble with these sentences. I typed the question «Таня надолго пришла в библиотеку?» into a couple of online translation apps, and this is what they came up with:
babelfish.yahoo.com: Tanya is for a long time alien into the library?
translate.google.com: Tanya came in for a long time library?
When I finally stopped laughing, I understood it was time discuss approaches to translating it. Let's start by glossing the sentence word for word:
The context of the sentence is that Tanya is now at the library and someone else at the library is asking a third party a question. The sentence means “Has Tanya come to the library for [the purpose of spending] a long time [here]?” There are a couple ways to put this in English that more or less corresponds to the Russian original, and they are:
B. Has Tanya come to the library for a long time?
Sentences A and B probably sound normal to some speakers of English. They sound slightly awkward to me, and they also have the potential of being misinterpreted as meaning “How long has Tanya been coming to the library?” But the main problem with them is this: when we want to ask in English how much time someone intends to spend in the place they have just arrived at or just departed for, we most commonly phrase the question quite differently. The most normal way to ask these questions is not to use a motion verb at all, but instead use a plain verb "be" or the verb "stay":
D. Will Tanya be at the library for long?
E. Will Tanya be at the library for a long time?
Let's say you are a translator. These sentences will put you in a bit of a pickle, and to resolve it, you will have to consider your target audience. If your target audience for the translation consists of people who have the regrettable desire of getting translations that maximally reflect the wording of the original, then you want to choose translations modeled on A or B. But remember this: the purpose of a professional translation is to accurately reflect the communicative goals of the original text/speech, and a professional one should always flow decently in the target language. The best professional translation will choose C, D or E. Sad to say, there are times when a really professional translation is rejected by an unsophisticated purchaser, and to get paid we translators have to dumb it down to a more awkward translation. Such is life. Not much you can do about it.
Let's take a look at five more sentences from our textbook. First we will give a word for word gloss and then a good translation.
|Will Lena be at her friend's place for long?|
|Кевин и Оля||надолго||уехали||в||Звенигород||?|
|Kevin & Olya||for-long||have-departed||for||Zvenigorod||?|
|Will Kevin and Olya be in Zvenigorod long?|
|Will Olya be on her business trip for long?|
|Will Kevin be in Moscow for a long time?|
|Will Dasha be in America long?|
We previously discussed the word ещё, which by itself usually means still. When you combine it with кто or что, it ends up meaning “else”:
|Что ещё ты хочешь?||What else do you want?|
|Кто ещё там был?||Who else was there?|
|— Мы поговорили о музыке и еде.
— И о чём ещё?
— Ну, и о спорте.
|“We talked about music and food.”
“And what else?”
“Well, about sports as well.”
|— Я рассказала твой секрет Лене и Маше и…
— Нет! Ради Бога, нет! И кому ещё?
— И Ксюше!
— Нет-нет-нет! Не может быть! Это выше моих сил!
|“I told your secret to Lena and Masha and…”
“No! Please, God, no! Who else did you tell?”
“I told Ksenia as well!”
“No, no, no! It can't be true! I can't take it!”
This use of ещё is also possible after other question words as well:
|— Мы жили и во Франции, и в Германии.
— И где ещё?
— И ещё в Испании.
|“We lived both in France and in Germany.”
“And where else?”
“And also in Spain.”
|- Где мы только не были летом: и во Франции, и в Германии, и...
- Где ещё?
- Ещё в Испании были.
|“Last summer we went everywhere, both to France and to Germany and…”
“And where else?”
“And also to Spain.”
|— Каждую неделю мы будем встречаться три раза: в понедельник, во вторник и…
— И когда ещё? В среду?
— Нет, в четверг.
|“Every week we will meet three times, both on Monday and on Tuesday…”
“And when else? On Wednesday?”
“No, on Thursday.”
The word потом can be translated several ways, the first of which is with the word then:
|Я пошёл в аптеку и потом в продовольственный магазин.||I went to the pharmacy and then to the grocery store.|
|Мой брат приготовил ужин, и потом убрал квартиру.||My brother made dinner, and then he straightened up the apartment.|
|Путин сначала выдвинул Медведева, а потом его поддержал. (source)||Putin first nominated Medvedev and then supported him.|
The phrase «а потом?» means “and after that?” or “and then?” It sometimes triggers a rhyming response «суп с котом» “cat soup.” It's a response without a specific meaning. It doesn't mean anything bad will happen. It doesn't mean anything good will happen. It is just thrown in when the speaker is having a cuteness seizure. Or when the speaker doesn't want to be more specific because he is irritated or is being coy or wants to tease the listener.
|— Какой у меня будет день! Сначала я пойду в ОВИР за новой визой, потом в ЗАГС, чтобы подать документы на свадьбу, потом надо извиниться перед родителями невесты за грубые слова.
— А потом?
— А потом… суп с котом!
|“What a day I'm going have! First I'm going to OVIR for a new visa, and then to ZAGS to fill out the paperwork to get married, and then I have to apologize to my fiancée's parents for offending them.”
“And then… a big blue hen.”
For our foreign readers I should say “a big blue hen” is not a standard English phrase. I simply made up something to rhyme with “and then” to catch the rhyming quality of the Russian phrase.
The word долго means “for a long time,” but it's not the same as давно. Now here is a subtle bit. If an activity has been going on for a long time, but you don't really think of it in terms of starting “a long time ago,” then you use долго instead of давно:
|Мы с братом долго говорили о его новой квартире.||My brother and I talked about his new apartment for a long time.|
|Мы будем долго работать в Архангельске.||We are going to be working in Arkhangelsk for a long time.|
|Приходится сегодня вечером долго учиться. Завтра будет экзамен, и я абсолютно ничего не знаю.||I'll have to study for a long time this evening. Tomorrow is the exam, and I know absolutely nothing.|
Some people will sloppily translate a sentence like «Мы долго ехали из Москвы во Владивосток» word for word as “We were riding from Moscow to Vladivostok for a long time,” but it's better to paraphrase the sentence thus: “It took a long time to go from Moscow to Vladivostok.” Other examples:
|Мы долго строили дом.||It took us a long time to build the house.|
|Мы долго будем разбираться в этой ситуации.||It will take us a long time to figure out this situation.|
It's possible to find долго and давно in similar-looking past tense sentences, but their meanings are quite distinct:
|Мы давно жили в Москве.||We lived in Moscow a long time ago.|
|Мы долго жили в Москве.||We lived in Moscow for a long time.|
|Витя давно служил на подводной лодке.||Victor served on a submarine a long time ago.|
|Витя долго служил на подводной лодке.||Victor served on a submarine for a long time.|
Russian-speaking Americans often confuse the words давно and долго. Today we will deal with the former. The first meaning of давно is something like “a long time ago.” In this sense it sometimes becomes давным-давно, meaning “a very long time ago”:
|Давным-давно люди жили в пещерах.||A very long time ago people lived in caves.|
|Я раньше жил в Туле, но это было уже давно.||I used to live in Tula, but that was a long time ago.|
|Я давно купил эту книгу.||I bought this book a long time ago.|
|— Твой брат холостой?
— Нет, он давно женился.
|“Is your brother single?”
“No, he got married a long time ago.”
Давно is sometimes also translated as “for a long time” in certain senses, but there is a quirk in translating verb tenses between English and Russian with that sense. If you are talking about an activity that still goes on, and that activity began a long time ago, then in English you will often use the present perfect progressive tense, and the equivalent Russian sentence is put in the present tense and uses the phrase давно:
|Я давно живу в Москве.||I have been living in Moscow for a long time.|
|— Ты играешь на рояле?
— Да, на рояле я играю уже давно.
|“Do you play the piano?”
“Yes, I have been playing the piano for a long time.”
For some verbs you will see the present perfect (see note) instead of present perfect progressive:
|— Ты давно знаешь Борю?
— Да, я его знаю уже двадцать пять лет.
|“Have you known Boris for long?”
“Yes, I have known him for twenty-five years now.”
|— Твоя мама давно говорит по-испански?
— Нет, по-испански она говорит всего два года.
|“Has your mother spoken Spanish for a long time?”
“No, she has only spoken Spanish for two years.”
|Я уже давно хочу пойти на концерт Земфиры.||I have wanted to go to a Zemfira concert for some time.|
If you are talking about something you have NOT done for a long time, then the English sentence is only in the present perfect, and the equivalent Russian sentence shows up in the past tense:
|Я не видел его уже давно.||I haven't seen him for a long time.|
|Мой отец уже давно не сидел.||My father hasn't been in prison for a long time.|
|Они давно не ездили за границу.||They haven't gone abroad for a long time.|
|Мы с женой давно не ссорились. Живём дружно.||My wife and I haven't fought for a long time. We get along well.|
|Я давно не играл в хороший теннис.||I haven't played good tennis for some time.|
Note: which verbs require present perfect progressive and which verbs require present perfect in English contexts is a complex issue. Stative verbs and dynamic verbs behave differently. The difference between the two is the stuff of which doctorates are made.
Second note: American English is losing the distinction between the past tense and the present perfect. Similarly there is not always a clear distinction between present perfect and present perfect progressive. This is one of the reasons that English is so frustrating to learn. That, and when to use “the,” “a” or no article.