Category: "Impersonal constructions"

Нельзя

April 21st, 2011 — posted by Don

The word нельзя means “it is forbidden”. In this sense it is used with imperfective verbs:

Нельзя говорить по-французски на занятиях русского языка. You aren't allowed to speak French in Russian class.
В библиотеке нельзя говорить громко. Speaking loudly in the library isn't allowed.

If you mention the person who is not allowed to do something, that person goes in the dative case:

Сынок, сколько раз я говорил, что тебе нельзя материться? Son, how many times have I told you that you are not allowed to swear?
Женя, твоим друзьям нельзя курить в квартире. Скажи им, чтобы они вышли на балкон. Evgeni, your friends aren't allowed to smoke in the apartment. Tell them to go out on the balcony.

Нельзя can also mean “it is impossible”. In that sense it is used with perfective verbs:

Нельзя открыть окно. Оно прибито гвоздями. You can't open the window. It's nailed shut.
Жанне нельзя будет включить мотор. Я вынул аккумулятор. Zhanna won't be able to start the motor. I took out the battery.
Нельзя понять непонимаемое. You can't understand the incomprehensible.
Нельзя переварить картон... если только ты не хомяк. You can't digest cardboard... unless you're a hamster.

Мoжно

April 15th, 2011 — posted by Don

Можно is a great Russian word that means “it is allowed”. In that sense it is always complemented by an imperfective verb:

В ресторанах в Аризоне можно есть и пить, но нельзя курить. In Arizona one can eat or drink in restaurants, but one is not allowed to smoke.
— В купе можно есть?
— Конечно, можно и курить, если хочешь.
“Is eating allowed in the train compartment?”
“Of course, smoking is allowed as well, if you want.”

If you want to specify that a particular person is allowed to do something, then the person appears in the dative case:

Вере можно есть сладкое, а Анне нет. Vera is allowed to eat sweets, but Anna isn't.
В русских кинотеатрах зрителям можно пить спиртное. In Russian movie theaters spectators can drink alcohol.
Рабочим можно носить джинсы на работе? Are employees allowed to wear jeans at work?
В этом соборе туристам можно фотографировать. Tourists are allowed to take photos in this cathedral.

Холодно (часть вторая)

April 12th, 2011 — posted by Don

Yesterday we talked about the incredibly simple impersonal sentences in Russian. Of course that wasn't the whole story. If it were, Russian would be much too simple and not worth studying at all. What if we want to say that a person feels cold? Then we put that person's name in the dative case:

Жанне холодно. Zhanna is cold.
Zhanna feels cold.
Глебу было холодно, поэтому надел куртку. Gleb was cold so he put on a jacket.
Свитер — это такая одежда, которую надевает ребёнок, когда холодно его маме. A sweater is a garment that a child puts on when his mother is cold.

Of course you can use dative pronouns as well:

Если тебе станет холодно, надень свитер. If you get cold, put on a sweater.
Им было холодно, но нечего тёплого было надеть. They were cold, but there wasn't anything warm to put on.
Мне часто бывает холодно, поэтому всегда ношу с собой куртку. I get cold a lot so I always carry a jacket with me.

Холодно (часть первая)

April 11th, 2011 — posted by Don

The word холодный is an adjective; adjectives are used to directly modify nouns:

Я люблю холодный борщ. I love cold borscht.
Вампир ласкал Беллу холодной рукой. The vampire carressed Bella with a cold hand.

Many qualitive adjectives in Russian can be turned into adverbs by removing the adjectival ending and ending -о, thus the adjective холодный ‘cold’ becomes холодно ‘coldly’ (note the stress shift):

Она холодно смотрела на меня и сказал: «Это не твоё дело». She looked at me coldly and said, “That's none of your business.”
— Я с ними не общаюсь!— холодно ответил он. “I'm not on speaking terms with them!” he responded coldly.

But one of the most interesting uses of adverbs in Russian is in impersonal sentences. Do you remember back in high school that you learned a rule of English grammar that says, “A complete sentence must have a subject and a verb”? That's not true in Russian. Some sentences in Russian have neither subject nor verb. More specifically, when a sentence in Russian has no nominative subject, neither expressed or implied, that sentence is called an “impersonal sentence” «безличное предложение». For instance:

Холодно. It's cold.

That's right «Холодно» all by itself is a complete sentence in Russian. If you want to put the sentence into the past you use было (not был, была or были). If you want to put the sentence into the future, you use будет (буду, будешь, будем, будете or будут):

Холодно было. It was cold.
Холодно будет. It will be cold.

You can add modifiers of place to such sentences as well:

Тут холодно. It's cold here.
Там было холодно. It was cold there.
В Гонолулу не будет холодно. It won't be cold in Honolulu.
На Аляске холодно. It is cold in Alaska.
В Москве было холодно. It was cold in Moscow.
В Архангельсе будет холодно. It will be cold in Arkhangelsk.

There are many other words in Russian that can be used this way, among them quite a few that have to do with weather or light or darkness:

В Финиксе было жарко. It was hot in Phoenix.
На улице темно. It is dark outside.
На Гавайях бывает тепло. It is usually warm in Hawaii.
В Вашингтоне летом влажно. It's humid in the summer in Washington.
В Барроу, штат Аласка, всё лето светло. In Barrow, Alaska, it is light out all summer long.
У нас сегодня облачно. It's cloudy here today.

Isn't that great? There are so many things in Russian that are so complicated that it's a joy for us foreigners to find something that's easy to say in Russian!