Categories: "Conjunctions"

Чтобы (часть первая)

by Don  

One of the uses of the word чтобы is to indicate the purpose for which an object or action is designated. It is often translated into English as “to” or “so that”:

Я купил словарь, чтобы лучше делать домашнюю работу. I bought a dictionary to do better on my homework.
Она позвонила брату, чтобы узнать, когда он придёт. She called her brother to find out when he would arrive.

Notice that in those sentences чтобы was followed by an infinitive phrase. That's not always the case:

Я купил словарь, чтобы моя дочка лучше делала домашнюю работу. I bought a dictionary so that my daughter could do bettter on her homework.
Она позвонила брату, чтобы он принёс сметану. She called her brother so that he would bring some sour cream.

So what's the difference? The difference is who the “doer” is in the чтобы portion of the sentence. If the doer implied by the чтобы portion is the same as the doer in the main clause, then it is followed by an infinitive. If the doer is different, then you use чтобы to introduce a clause with a past tense verb. Note, however, that even though the form of the verb is past tense, the meaning is not necessarily past tense. It's just indicating the purpose of the action. Here are a couple more examples.

Антон Павлович дал взятку директору школы, чтобы получить там работу. Anton Pavlovich gave a bribe to the director of the school so that he could get a job there.
Антон Павлович дал взятку директору школы, чтобы он принял его сына. Anton Pavlovich gave a bribe to the director of the school so that they would accept his sone.
Машенька взяла иголку, чтобы пришить пуговицу. Mary got a needle to sew the button on.
Машенька взяла иголку, чтобы мама пришила пуговицу. Mary got a need so that her mother could sew the button on.


by Don  

The word но means but. In grammatical terms it is a conjunction which usually introduces a clause that is contrary to previously established expectiations. For instance:

Большинство американцев говорят только на одном языке, но Кетлин хорошо говорит на трёх языках. The majority of Americans speak only one language, but Kathleen speaks three languages well.

The word но rarely produces confusion for English speakers. Bummer. That means I have to think of some clever example sentences.

Ваня не хотел писать сочинение, но его мама заставила его. Vanya didn't want to do his composition, but his mother forced him.
Я всегда голосовал за республиканских президентов, но в 2007-ом году я голосовал за Обаму. I have always voted for Republican Presidents, but in 2007 I voted for Obama.
Покупать пирожки на улице Вишневского дешевле, но я всегда хожу в киоск на улицу Калинина. It's cheaper to buy pirozhki on Vishnevsky Street, but I always go to a stand on Kalinin Street.
Вера не хотела идти к зубному врачу, но зуб так болел, что она пошла. Vera didn't want to go to the dentist, but her tooth hurt so much that she went.

Crud. I guess my sentences weren't so clever after all.

Ли (часть третья)

by Don  

Previously we discussed the particle ли in its function of making yes-no questions. It has another function as the equivalent of the English word ‘whether.’ In English ‘whether’ always occurs as the first word in its subordinate clause; ли must always be the second item in its clause:

Я не знаю, должен ли я купить новый мобильник. I don't know whether I should buy a new cell phone.

If the subordinate clause contains words like должен, надо or нужно, they usually come before ли. The next most likely word to come before ли is a conjugated verb:

Она спросила, хочу ли я чая. She asked whether I wanted tea.
Она хочет знать, говорит ли Борис по-английски. She wants to know whether Boris speaks English.

Any other word/phrase can occur before ли if it bears the focus of the question:

Мой брат спросил, мама ли купила продукты. My brother asked whether it was mother who had bought the groceries or dad.
Профессор спросил, в Париже ли находится музей «Museo del Prado». The professor asked whether it was in Paris that the “Museo del Prado” could be found.

Clever students will have noticed that this use of ли is a part of what we call “indirect speech.” Indirect speech in Russian and English behave somewhat differently. In English, when changing from direct speech to indirect speech, the tense of the subordinate clause undergoes fairly complex changes. For instance, considering the following sentences.

Zhanna asked John, “Do you want some tea?”
Zhanna is asking John, “Do you want some tea?”
Zhanna will ask John, “Do you want some tea?”

Note the tense of the verbs in the subordinate clause in the corresponding indirect speech sentences:

Zhanna asked John whether he wanted some tea.
Zhanna is asking John whether he wants some tea.
Zhanna will ask John whether he wants some tea.”

This change is called “sequence of tenses” by linguists. Russian does not have a sequence of tenses rule like that. Whatever the tense of a verb is in the original direct speech is the same tense that occurs in the indirect speech. In other words, in direct speech we will have:

Жанна спросила Ивана, хочет ли он чая.
Жанна спрашивает Ивана, хочет ли он чая.
Жанна спросит Ивана, хочет ли он чая.

Rule of thumb: when switching from direct speech to indirect speech in Russian, keep the tense of the original verb.

Как (часть вторая)

by Don  

Every Russian 101 student knows that the word как can mean ‘how.’ There are other contexts, though, where как is best left untranslated. This is particularly true after the verbs видеть ‘to see’, заметить ‘to notice’, наблюдать ‘to observe’, следить ‘to observe’, слушать ‘to listen’, слышать ‘to hear’ and смотреть ‘to watch’.

Мы слушали, как пели птицы. We listened to the birds singing.

In this kind of sentence the word как has no ‘how’ meaning at all; it simply marks the beginning of a new clause. In other words, this sentence does NOT mean “We listened to how the birds were singing.” The sentence means we listened to the event itself, not that we were trying to discern the manner in which they sang. Here are some other simple examples:

Ты слышал, как соседка ругала сына? Did you hear our neighboring scolding her son?
Мама смотрела, как Наташка каталась по двору на скейтборде? Mom watched Natalya ride around the courtyard on the skateboard.

You will notice that all three of the previous sample sentences had an imperfective past tense verb in the subordinate clause. If the action of the subordinate clause takes place at the same time as the action of the main clause, then you can have a present tense verb in the subordinate clause without changing the meaning, e.g.:

Мы слушали, как поют птицы. We listened to the birds singing.
Ты слышал, как соседка ругает сына? Did you hear our neighboring scolding her son?
Мама смотрела, как Наташка катается по двору на скейтборде? Mom watched Natalya ride around the courtyard on the skateboard.

Here are some more complex sentences that use the construction:

Державин слушал, как молодой Пушкин читал свои стихи. Derzhavin listened to the young Pushkin reciting his poetry.
Дети видели, как разбился самолет. (source) The children saw the plane break into pieces.
Все думали, что аэропорт закроют, но было слышно, как садятся самолеты. (same source) Everyone thought that they would close the airport, but one could hear the planes landing.
Вера тихо лежала в постели и слушала, как пели птицы. Vera quietly lay in bed and listened to the birds singing.
Милиционеры наблюдали, как подозреваемый вошёл в банк. The policemen observed the suspect enter the bank.


by Don  

Back in the seventies American television had a little spasm in which it thought that blurbs between TV shows on Saturday mornings should be educational. There was “Bicentennial Rock” as 1976 approached, and there was “Multiplication Rock” and even “Grammar Rock.” Grammar Rock rocked! And of all the songs none was better than “Conjunction Junction”:

♪ Conjunction Junction, what's your function? ♫
♫ “Hookin' up words and phrases and clauses.” ♪

Of course, that was before “hooking up” acquired a different meaning... If you haven't ever watched the video, do it immediately or end up a grammatical imbecile.

In Russian there are three conjunctions that give us Americans fits, and they are но, а and и. The reason they give us fits is that in American English we mostly use two conjunctions in their stead, ‘and’ and ‘but,’ but they don't line up quite the way we Americans might expect. Today we will talk about «а». The conjuction «а» can be translated as ‘but,’ ‘and’ or ‘whereas.’ Probably the first rule of thumb for us AmE-speаkers is that if you are contrasting subjects in a sentence, you want to use «а» not «и»:

Мама пошла на рынок, а папа пошёл в аптеку. Mom went to the market, and Dad went to the pharmacy.
Мой брат работает в больнице, а моя сестра работает в бизнесе. My brother works at a hospital, and my sister works in a business.
Саша любит сладкое, а Дима любит острое. Sasha likes sweet food, and Dima likes spicy food.
В отпуск Люба летала на Гавайи, а Ира ездила в Норильск. Lyuba flew to Hawaii for vacation, and Ira went to Norilsk.

I don't mean to say that the only time you use «а» is when subjects are contrasted, but this is a good idea to start with.

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