Categories: "Verb pairs"


by Don  

Back in 1988 or so I was in Moscow at «Дом книги» with a former student. He was thirsty. I asked a saleswoman whether there was any place he could get a drink of water. I figured the woman would say to one of her coworkers something like «Покажи нашему гостю, где попить» “Show our guest where to get a drink.” Instead she said, «Надь, напои этого мальчика» “Nadya, water this boy.”

Wow, talk about a learning moment. Once again a Russian had shown me her ability to compress what was a multiword phrase in English into a single Russian verb: поить/напоить. The verb means “to give [something] [to someone] to drink,” and it's conjugated like this:

to give (something to someone) to drink
Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive поить напоить
Past поил
Present пою
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду поить
будешь поить
будет поить
будем поить
будете поить
будут поить
Imperative пои(те) напои(те)

The person or animal that will be drinking shows up in the accusative case. The thing you give them to drink shows up in the instrumental case:

Я напоил сына и положил его спать. I gave my son a drink of water and then put him to bed.
Напоите меня, а то сдохну! Give me something to drink or else I'll die like a dog!
Я напоил иностранных гостей водкой, и нам не задавали никаких неуместных вопросов. I gave our foreign guests vodka to drink, and they didn't ask us any awkward questions.
— Чем ты напоил Машу? Онa спит уже спокойно.
— Имбирным чаем. Он успокаивает живот.
“What did you give Mary to drink? She's sleeping peacefully now.”
“Ginger tea. It soothes the stomach.”
Я коней напою. I'll water the horses.
Тимошенко в Японии напоили чаем. (source) Timoshenko was given tea to drink in Japan.
Грузины поят иностранцев вином перед посольством РФ в Тбилиси. (source) The Georgians are giving foreigners wine to drink in front of the Russian Federation's embassy in Tbilisi.

Note: standard dictionaries describe the stress pattern of this verb as either shifting-stress or end-stressed. All the native speakers I have consulted prefer the shifting stress pattern shown here.

What we can learn from a cow's death

by Don  

Last week we discussed the four verbs most commonly used to mean “to die” in Russian: умирать/умереть, погибать/погибнуть, скончаться, and сдыхать/сдохнуть. If you have mastered those, you are able to express pretty well all the most standard shades of meaning. However…

Every Russian will also know a few more synonymous verbs like издыхать/издохнуть, which is used when an animal dies, i.e., it means the same thing as сдыхать/сдохнуть and is conjugated the same way, but it has a more folksy, less educated sound to it. It doesn't have the status of “literary language” as сдыхать/сдохнуть does.

Then there is the imperfective дохнуть, which means the same thing, but is again conversational, not part of the literary language. (Note this is distinct from the verb дохнуть, which means something else entirely.) From дохнуть is derived the verb pair подыхать/подохнуть, which means the same thing.

Then there is околевать/околеть. This word is part of the literary language, and it means that an animal has died. For some people the verb implies that the corpse is already growing cold or stiff, and for some people it implies dying of cold.

Then there is the imperfective verb гибнуть, which means “to perish, die in tragic circumstances” and applies to people.

Then there is the imperfective verb мереть, which is conversational or low-style and can be used when people die. It's used in the incredibly wide-spread phrase «мрут, как мухи» “they are dying like flies.”

Last but not least, there is помирать/помереть, which nowadays is folksy, uneducated speech, and it can be used when people die. In the 19th century, though, this was just a normal word for “to die,” so you can find it in classic Russian literature without any sense of folksiness.

That gives us at least eight different ways to say “Our cow died.”

1. У нас сдохла корова.
2. У нас околела корова.
3. У нас умерла корова.
4. У нас погибла корова.
5. У нас скончалась корова.
6. У нас издохла корова.
7. У нас померла корова.
8. У нас подохла корова.

Let's discuss the differences:

1. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation.
2. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation. Differs from #1 in that it may imply that the corpse is already growing cold/stiff, or that the subject died of cold.
3. Perfectly normal sentence, both in writing and conversation, but by not using a word that specifically applies to animals, it implies that the speaker was emotionally attached to the cow, e.g. perhaps it had given milk to the family for years.
4. “Our cow perished.” Sounds ironic because it implies the cow died in tragic or heroic circumstances. Or perhaps the cow was hit by a truck.
5. “Our cow passed away.” Sounds ironic because it refers to the death of the cow as formally as at a public memorial or as gingerly as one would refer to the death of a close friend or relative .
6. “Our cow done died.” Sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated.
7. “Our cow done died.” To some it sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated. To others it merely sounds antiquated.
8. “Our cow done died.” Sounds folksy, perhaps uneducated.


by Don  

There is one more significant word for “to die,” which is погибать/погибнуть. It means “to perish” and communicates the idea that the death was tragic. Sometimes it seems to add the idea of nobility or heroism. It is conjugated like this:

to perish
Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive погибать погибнуть
Past погибал
Present погибаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду погибать
будешь погибать
будет погибать
будем погибать
будете погибать
будут погибать
Imperative погибай(те) погибни(те)

Here are some sample sentences:

Во время спецоперации в Дагестане погибло трое военнослужащих. (source) Three military men perised during special operations in Dagestan.
Если ты так уверен, что погибнешь, то откажись от полета. (source) If you are so sure that you will perish, then turn the flight down.
720 детей погибают в дорожно-транспортных происшествиях ежедневно. (source) 720 children perish in auto accidents every day.
Погибнут ли некрещёные младенцы? (source) Shall unbaptized infants perish?


by Don  

When an animal dies, the word Russians usually use is сдыхать/сдонуть, which conjugates like this:

to die
(said of an animal)
Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive сдыхать сдохнуть
Past сдыхал
Present сдыхаю
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду сдыхать
будешь сдыхать
будет сдыхать
будем сдыхать
будете сдыхать
будут сдыхать
Imperative сдыхай(те) сдохни(те)

Sample sentences:

У соседа сдохла корова. Our neighbor's cow died.
Когда у меня сдохнет кошка, мне станет так грустно. When my cat dies, I will be so sad.

Since the verb implies dying like an animal, it is sometimes used in insults and vulgar expressions.

Этикет — это когда думаешь «Чтоб ты сдох!», а говоришь «Здравствуйте»? (source) Etiquette… is that when you think, “Die like a dog!”, but you say, “Hi, there”?
Чтоб ты сдохла! (video) Die, bitch!


by Don  

When people are grieving it feels harsh to use the word умирать/умереть for “to die.” In those contexts it's better to use the verb “to pass away,” which in Russian is скончаться. It only exists in the perfective with that prefix, but кончаться/кончиться can have roughly the same meaning as well.

to pass away
Infinitive скончаться
Past скончался
Present No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future скончаюсь
Imperative скончайся

Sample sentences:

Когда мой дедушка скончался, на похороны приехало двести человек. When my grandfather dies, two hundred people came to the funeral.
25 июля 1980 года, в 4:10 утра, Высоцкий скончался во сне в своей московской квартире. (source) Vysotskiy passed away in his sleep at his Moscow apartment on the 25th of June, 1980, at 4:10 a.m.
В Боливии от лихорадки денге скончалось 19 человек. (source) 19 people died of Dengue fever in Bolivia.
Когда умру, когда скончаюсь,
Когда в холодный гроб уйду,
Тогда любить меня не надо.
Люби сейчас пока живу! (source)
When I die, when I pass away,
When I depart into the cold tomb,
Then you don't have to love me.
Love me now while I'm alive!

That last quote is from a site that collects romantic text messages. Romantic. Hm. My first reaction was to think that it's more like horny and desperate text messages. But then I thought again. The truth is that we never know when those we love will die. If we don't show our love to them now, we might never have a chance again. Choose today to show love to those around you.

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