by Don  

Now here is word that is interesting. It describes a piece of furniture standing in a room that hold either books or clothes or something else. It usually has doors on it. It declines like this:


Actually, that's not the entire declension. Шкаф is one of those words that distinguish the locative case singular from the prepositional singular. In other words, if you are saying in/on the piece of furniture, the form of the word after the prepositions в/на is шкафу.

For us Americans this seems an odd piece of furniture. After all, if you are hanging up clothes, you use a closet. If you are laying them in a piece of furniture, then you use a chest of drawers. If you are putting books somewhere, then it is a bookshelf. Why do the Russians use a different piece of furniture? I suspect it has something to do with old European taxation schemes. If you make a separate tiny room to hang clothes in (a closet), that room counts as a separate room for taxation purposes. So if you want to hang your clothes in Europe, then the most cost effective way is to buy a flat and then add a piece of furniture to it for that purpose. In British English I'm guessing the best word for such a piece of furniture is ‘wardrobe,’ which is neatly reflected in one of the translations of C. S. Lewis's well-known book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” which came out in Wikipedia's Russian translation as «Лев, колдунья и платяной шкаф». Probably the best word for such a piece of furniture in current AmE is ‘armoire.’

Here are some sample sentences:

Положи бельё в шкаф. Put the underwear in the armoire.
Все мои словари находятся в книжном шкафу. All my dictionaries are in the book shelf.
Возьми чашки из шкафа. Get the cups from the cupboard.
Мои деньги спрятаны в книжном шкафу за бюстом Ленина. My money is hidden in the bookshelf behind the bust of Lenin.

1 comment

Comment from: Vanya [Visitor]

Haha, actually it’s not strange at all. Basically шкаф can refer to either a wardrobe or a bookshelf; after all, they are the basically the same, but just used for storing different types of objects. We just have separate words for them in English.

Also, I am surprised that you consider “armoire” but not “wardrobe” an American word. I hear “wardrobe” used quite frequently (I live in America and have one in my room, by the way), while I have heard the word “armoire” very rarely.

Also, Russians do have closets in the sense you speak of, and it isn’t less cost-effective than a wardrobe. In fact, they often have both in the same apartment — strange, isn’t it?

Hope that helps, and good luck with learning Russian!

Don responds: Interesting. Living in Arizona, I don’t think I’ve every heard anyone use the word ‘wardrobe’ outside of discussing Lewis’s work, whereas ‘armoire’ I’ve heard many times. Most people I know in the States do not own an armoire. Clothes are mostly kept in chests of drawers and closets. Among my own acquaintances, the ones who do have armoires actually mostly use them to house their televisions; that is, it becomes an ‘entertainment center.’

As to closets in Russia, yes, some Russian apartments do have them; in fact, the one I stayed in last summer had two, much to my surprise. I believe that’s mostly common in newer construction. All the older apartments (Soviet era) I can think of in Russia do not have built in closets.

12/10/10 @ 12:13

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