Ли (часть третья)

by Don  

Previously we discussed the particle ли in its function of making yes-no questions. It has another function as the equivalent of the English word ‘whether.’ In English ‘whether’ always occurs as the first word in its subordinate clause; ли must always be the second item in its clause:

Я не знаю, должен ли я купить новый мобильник. I don't know whether I should buy a new cell phone.

If the subordinate clause contains words like должен, надо or нужно, they usually come before ли. The next most likely word to come before ли is a conjugated verb:

Она спросила, хочу ли я чая. She asked whether I wanted tea.
Она хочет знать, говорит ли Борис по-английски. She wants to know whether Boris speaks English.

Any other word/phrase can occur before ли if it bears the focus of the question:

Мой брат спросил, мама ли купила продукты. My brother asked whether it was mother who had bought the groceries or dad.
Профессор спросил, в Париже ли находится музей «Museo del Prado». The professor asked whether it was in Paris that the “Museo del Prado” could be found.

Clever students will have noticed that this use of ли is a part of what we call “indirect speech.” Indirect speech in Russian and English behave somewhat differently. In English, when changing from direct speech to indirect speech, the tense of the subordinate clause undergoes fairly complex changes. For instance, considering the following sentences.

Zhanna asked John, “Do you want some tea?”
Zhanna is asking John, “Do you want some tea?”
Zhanna will ask John, “Do you want some tea?”

Note the tense of the verbs in the subordinate clause in the corresponding indirect speech sentences:

Zhanna asked John whether he wanted some tea.
Zhanna is asking John whether he wants some tea.
Zhanna will ask John whether he wants some tea.”

This change is called “sequence of tenses” by linguists. Russian does not have a sequence of tenses rule like that. Whatever the tense of a verb is in the original direct speech is the same tense that occurs in the indirect speech. In other words, in direct speech we will have:

Жанна спросила Ивана, хочет ли он чая.
Жанна спрашивает Ивана, хочет ли он чая.
Жанна спросит Ивана, хочет ли он чая.

Rule of thumb: when switching from direct speech to indirect speech in Russian, keep the tense of the original verb.


Comment from: Arseny [Visitor]

ли must always be the second item in its clause - it’s absolutely wrong! ли stands AFTER FIRST STRESSED WORD, e.g.
Должен ли я - 2nd position
Не должен ли я - 3rd position
А не должен ли я - 4th position
Ну а не должен ли я - 5th position etc.
Ли can be on any position (from 2nd to last) but always after first stressed word in clause (there are some exceptions to this).
There is interesting lecture about particles in russian

Don responds:


Thanks much for the link. The lecture was interesting, and I was unaware of that website, which I hope to explore in the future.

You took issue with my contention that ли is always the second item in its clause. Please bear in mind that the target audience of this blog is first- and second-year students of the Russian language in English-speaking countries, particularly in the US. For such students my rule is a good starting place. When teaching beginning language courses, a good teacher makes gross generalities so that the student can begin to create and understand the target language at a basic level. As time goes on more complex and accurate rules can be given, and, hopefully, eventually the student will begin to develop instincts for the language that no classroom rule really has ever properly explained. If one gives too complicated a rule too soon, the student experiences frustration.

My rule stated that ли is always the second item in its clause, not the second word. By item I meant to imply that we do not necessarily count words. Before ли a verb or noun or adjective can appear, or a negated verb/noun/adjective, or a prepositional phrase, or a negated prepositional phrase, or quite a few other things. If in the second year a student can understand those aspects, then he will have no problem when he encounters more complex items before ли in spoken or written Russian.

Wishing you the best, Don.

01/05/11 @ 02:44
Comment from: Joke [Visitor]

Thanks. These posts explained a lot.

01/05/11 @ 02:17

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