by Don  

Russian-speaking Americans often confuse the words давно and долго. Today we will deal with the former. The first meaning of давно is something like “a long time ago.” In this sense it sometimes becomes давным-давно, meaning “a very long time ago”:

Давным-давно люди жили в пещерах. A very long time ago people lived in caves.
Я раньше жил в Туле, но это было уже давно. I used to live in Tula, but that was a long time ago.
Я давно купил эту книгу. I bought this book a long time ago.
— Твой брат холостой?
— Нет, он давно женился.
“Is your brother single?”
“No, he got married a long time ago.”

Давно is sometimes also translated as “for a long time” in certain senses, but there is a quirk in translating verb tenses between English and Russian with that sense. If you are talking about an activity that still goes on, and that activity began a long time ago, then in English you will often use the present perfect progressive tense, and the equivalent Russian sentence is put in the present tense and uses the phrase давно:

Я давно живу в Москве. I have been living in Moscow for a long time.
— Ты играешь на рояле?
— Да, на рояле я играю уже давно.
“Do you play the piano?”
“Yes, I have been playing the piano for a long time.”

For some verbs you will see the present perfect (see note) instead of present perfect progressive:

— Ты давно знаешь Борю?
— Да, я его знаю уже двадцать пять лет.
“Have you known Boris for long?”
“Yes, I have known him for twenty-five years now.”
— Твоя мама давно говорит по-испански?
— Нет, по-испански она говорит всего два года.
“Has your mother spoken Spanish for a long time?”
“No, she has only spoken Spanish for two years.”
Я уже давно хочу пойти на концерт Земфиры. I have wanted to go to a Zemfira concert for some time.

If you are talking about something you have NOT done for a long time, then the English sentence is only in the present perfect, and the equivalent Russian sentence shows up in the past tense:

Я не видел его уже давно. I haven't seen him for a long time.
Мой отец уже давно не сидел. My father hasn't been in prison for a long time.
Они давно не ездили за границу. They haven't gone abroad for a long time.
Мы с женой давно не ссорились. Живём дружно. My wife and I haven't fought for a long time. We get along well.
Я давно не играл в хороший теннис. I haven't played good tennis for some time.

Note: which verbs require present perfect progressive and which verbs require present perfect in English contexts is a complex issue. Stative verbs and dynamic verbs behave differently. The difference between the two is the stuff of which doctorates are made.

Second note: American English is losing the distinction between the past tense and the present perfect. Similarly there is not always a clear distinction between present perfect and present perfect progressive. This is one of the reasons that English is so frustrating to learn. That, and when to use “the,” “a” or no article.


Comment from: Mark [Visitor]

“хочу идти” doesn’t sound quite right in your example. It would sound OK if you’d say “не хочу идти” (I don’t want to go) or “хочу идти учиться через год” (I want to go in a year).

When you say “хочу идти на концерт” you are talking about something rather immediate that you want to do. So the perfective “хочу пойти” is more natural.

When you want to emphasize the result or completion of the action you should use the perfective aspect of the verb.

You could either say “хочу пойти” or “хочу сходить". The latter is the best in my opinion.

Don responds: Point well taken. I’ll adjust the entry, using the пойти version mostly because students will encounter it earlier.

08/10/09 @ 01:59
Comment from: Kris [Visitor]

I just wanted to say that I agree whole heartedly with your comment that English is frustrating to learn. When I taught English in Russia, I found students almost ready to give up on the language because the best explanation of grammar they usually got was “it just is the way it is.”

Russian on the other hand, despite most English speakers’ attitude that it is one of the hardest languages on earth, I find to be logical and predictable. It requires the English speaker to change his thought processes slightly, and it takes time for the cases to become second nature, but at least the grammatical and phonetic rules are (mostly) consistent. This is certainly not true of English, and I’m glad its my first language and not one I’ve had to acquire!


PS - Your blog is fantastic. I make a point of reading it every day.

06/12/09 @ 00:54

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