Category: "Kak"

Как (часть вторая)

December 29th, 2010 — posted 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.