Ночь (часть первая)

by Don  

The Russian word for night is ночь. You may remember that the Spanish word for night is noche, which might lead you to wonder whether Spanish borrowed it from Russian or vice-versa. The answer is neither. Russian ночь and Spanish noche are cognates. In historical linguistics ‘cognates’ are words that descended from the same source many years ago, and due to the fact that they have a common ancestor, they still have a resemblance to each other.¹ Thus German nacht and English night are also cognates with Russian ночь because they are all descended from the same Proto-Indo-European word.

Ночь is a third-declension noun, which means it declines like this:


Many of the uses of ночь are similar to the use of night in English:

Ах, какая красивая ночь! Смотри, как сверкают звёзды! Oh, what a beautiful night! See how the stars are sparkling?
Наш ребёнок всю ночь не спал. Our baby didn't sleep all night.
Мне надоели одинокие ночи. Мне нужна подруга! I'm tired of these lonely nights. I need a girlfriend!
В детстве я любил книгу «Тысяча и одна ночь» In my childhood I loved the book “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.”

The most famous nights of Russia are the white nights белые ночи. Officially Moscow and Petersburg are too far south to have proper white nights, but during the two weeks on either side of the summer solstice Petersburg's nights are very white indeed, and the city hosts a world-famous celebration that attracts artists and celebrants from all over the world:

На фестивале «Белых ночей» я слушал Шерил Кроу и Джо Кокера I saw Sheryl Crow and Joe Cocker at the White Nights Festival.
В белые ночи в Петербурге можно гулять на улице в полночь под голубым небом. Это до нельзя красиво и на душе становится спокойно и просто. During the white nights in Petersburg you can walk outside at midnight under a light-blue sky. It's unbelievably beautiful, and everything in your heart becomes peaceful and uncomplicated.

When discussing time by the clock, there is a difference between Russian and English. In English night is sometimes conceived of as the time between sundown and midnight. In Russian ‘night’ is the time between midnight and roughly 4:00 a.m. So instead of saying “3:00 in the morning” the Russians say “3:00 at night”:

English Russian
one in the morning час ночи
two in the morning два часа ночи
three in the morning три часа ночи
four in the morning четыре часа утра²
five in the morning пять часов утра


Я обычно ложусь спать в час ночи. I usually go to bed at one in the morning.
— Почему ты так устала?
— Я читала до трёх часов ночи.
“Why are you so tired?”
“I read until three o'clock in the morning.”

¹ Outside of historical linguistics sometimes people use ‘cognate’ to mean a word that is superficially similar to another word in both sound and meaning. In that sense English television and Spanish televisión may be called cognates, but that's a sloppy use of the word. In all likelihood the Spanish word is a direct borrowing from French or English.

² There is some variation here. Some people will say четыре часа ночи. I wouldn't be surprised if the time of year actually affects this as well, with more people saying утра in the summer when it gets light earlier, and ночи in the winter when it stays dark later. A quick Google search also shows variation with five a.m.

dedie nacht
esla noche
frla nuit


Comment from: David Emerling [Visitor]  

Then where would be the dividing line between “день” and “вечер"? When the sun stops shining, does it become вечер?

Don responds: My current thinking is that evening begins with six o’clock. See this web page for details.

05/17/10 @ 10:45
Comment from: Patricia Chaput [Visitor]

Another difference is that in English “night” is associated with darkness, as in “driving at night,” and this isn’t the case in Russian. Russian ночь essentially corresponds to the “wee hours,” when people are normally asleep. In folklore tradition, ночь is the time when spirits might be up and about (while decent folk are asleep).

05/11/10 @ 09:51
Comment from: Andrey [Visitor]

I would rather say Russian night continues up to 4 am, not 6 am. I would say “3 часа ночи” and “4 часа утра". “3 утра” as well as “4 ночи” sounds very weird. I think it’s because of the sunlight, “утро” is the time when the sun begins to rise and since at 3 am it’s always dark - it’s definitely night time, and at 4 am in the summer time it’s definitely a morning time :)

Don responds: Agreed. Text updated.

And one more language to add to your list: in Ukrainian it will be “ніч”

Don responds: Thanks! I have not put Ukrainian in these lists because I have not personally studied Ukrainian. Perhaps after this summer I will be able to add Tatar as well.

05/11/10 @ 01:04

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