Читать (часть вторая)

July 3rd, 2012

Often when you learn a verb in Russian, it's helpful to learn the verb as a verb pair. One such pair is читать/почитать.

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive читать почитать
Past читал
Present читаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те) почитай(те)

When по- is prefixed to many imperfective verbs, it adds the meaning of ‘for a while,’ as it does with читать. So the verb pair читать/почитать is good for indicating how long one reads.

Моя мама раньше читала четыре часа каждый день. My mother used to read for four hours every day.
— Что ты завтра будешь делать?
— Я буду читать весь день.
“What are you going to do tomorrow?”
“I'm going to read all day long.”
— Не хочешь пойти со мной на дискотеку?
— Нет, я устала. Я просто почитаю и лягу спать.
“Do you want to go to the disco with me?”
“No, I'm tired. I'll just read for a while and go to bed.”

For the most part one can't use bare accusative duration phrases with perfective verbs, but one exception is perfective verbs when по- means ‘for a while.’ ¹

Я час почитал и лёг спать. I read for an hour and went to bed.
Я два часа почитаю и пойду на фильм. I will read for two hours and then go to a movie.

Читать/почитать can also take a direct object, usually the thing you are reading or the author you are reading.

Я читаю Библию каждое утро. I read the Bible every morning.
Я почитал журнал и потом пошёл на работу. I read a magazine for a bit and then went to work.
Мама читала детям Корнея Чуковского. Mother was reading Kornei Chukovski to the children.
В этом семестре будем читать Анну Ахматову. We will be reading Anna Akhmatova this semester.

¹ Another exception is verbs prefixed with про- when it means ‘through a specific period of time.’

Читать (часть первая)

July 2nd, 2012

I have just realized that I have never blogged before about the word читать. Hm. Seems pretty basic, eh? Still, we can probably come up with something. Let's start with the basic imperfective verb.

Infinitive читать
Past читал
Present читаю
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те)

The verb has several meanings, one of which is ‘to know how to read.’ In this sense it only has an imperfective, no perfective.

Ксюша такая умница! В пять лет она уже читала. Ksyusha is such a smart girl! At five years of age she could already read.
— Почему твой сын не читает?
— Потому что ему всего три года.
“Why can't your son read?”
“Because he's only three years old.”

If you want to specify the ability to read a language, then add the language in the по- adverbial form.

— Ты читаешь по-английски?
— Читаю.
“Can you read English?”
“I can.”
Я читаю по-английски, по-русски и чуточку по-татарски. I can read English, Russian, and a bit of Tatar.
— Ты читаешь по-китайски? Где ты научился?
— Нигде. Я маг третьего уровня. Читаю на всех языках.
“You know how to read Chinese? Where did you learn that?”
“Nowhere. I'm a third-level magician. I can read every language.”

Ah, that last little dialog is a cultural puzzle for the reader. In what well known series of novels can supernaturally gifted beings understand foreign languages without training? You may show off your knowledge in the comments.

Корова (часть вторая)

March 8th, 2012

The word for cow in Russian is корова. It declines like this:


Here are a few sentences...

Корова больше собаки. A cow is bigger than a dog.
—Сколько у вас коров на даче?
— У нас три коровы. Продаём их молоко.
“How many cows do you have at your dacha?”
“We have three cows. We sell their milk.”
Я не люблю коров. Они не слушаются, как собаки. I don't like cows. They aren't as obedient as dogs.
В Европе коров едят, а в Индии их почитают. In Europe they eat cows, and in India they revere them.*

* Okay, I admit to some plagiarism here. I was having a flashback to Herodotus, who wrote, “How crocodiles are worshipped by some, killed and eaten by by others.”

Ночь (часть третья)

March 7th, 2012

The Russian word for night is ночь, but it doesn't mean quite the same thing as English night. In English, once the sky is dark, you can say that it is night. In Russian night usually doesn't start until midnight. The word crossed my mind today because of a wonderful poem by Александр Блок, which goes like this:

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрёшь - начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь,
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Heaven knows why, but I found myself wanting to do a new translation. Whenever I do such a thing, I start off with a fairly word-for-word equivalent. Here's that version:

Night, a street, a street lamp, a drugstore,
A dull and meaningless light.
And if you live another quarter century,
Everything will be exactly the same. There is no escape.

You will die; you will start over from the beginning.
And everything will be repeated as before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The drugstore, the street and the streetlight.

Here's my fast and dirty new translation. I've spent only 30 minutes on it, so any criticism is probably justified.

Night, a street, a drugstore... a street lamp’s
Depressing and meaningless light.
And even if you live much longer,
You won't escape your worthless plight.

You’ll die; you’ll start back from the beginning,
And everything will be repeated just like before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The streetlight and the dull drugstore.

Разница (часть первая)

March 6th, 2012

The word for difference in Russian is разница. It declines like this:


The first joke I ever heard in Russia was in 1986, and it involved the word разница. It went like this.

Какая разница между коммунизмом и капитализмом? What's the difference between communism and capitalism?
При капитализме человек эксплуатирует человека, а при коммунизме — наоборот. Under capitalism man exploits man, and under communism it's the other way around.

It's not the most sophisticated joke, but being in Russia at the end of the Soviet period, it amused me quite a bit.

During the Soviet period the government did not permit much humor or mockery on public television because they were simply afraid of it, like most dictatorial regimes that lack the wisdom and strength to endure public criticism. Generally, on the individual human-to-human level, I think that mockery is a sign of a weak self-image on the part of the mocker, and I don't have much respect for it. But when it comes to dealing with governments and public institutions, we should always allow both criticism and mockery. When a government forbids either one, it is trying to prevent its citizens from inducing change. A healthy democracy will survive both criticism and mockery as the free market of ideas slowly brings humanity to better things.