by Don  

Most human languages have separate words for you-singular and you-plural. Russian is no exception. The plural you in Russian is вы, which declines like this:


Any time you address more than one person in Russian, you must use the вы form instead of the ты form:

— Откуда вы?
— Мы из Одессы.
“Where are you from?”
“We are from Odessa.”
Дорогие студенты, предупреждаю вас, что экзамен будет очень трудным. Dear students, I must warn you that the exam will be difficult.

In Russian the вы form is also used to speak politely to a single individual; it's the form you normally use when meeting a stranger or talking to someone who is your superior at work or to someone you don't know very well:

— Откуда вы?
— Я из Одессы.
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Odessa.”
Иванов, предупреждаю вас, что экзамен будет очень трудным. Ivanov, I must warn you that the exam will be difficult.

Now here is a subtlety. If вы is the subject of a sentence that has a predicate adjective, and if the adjective is a short form adjective, then you must use the plural form; but if it is a long form adjective, you must use the singular with corresponding gender agreement. Thus if I am talking to a woman I may say:

Short form: Вы очень красивы.
Long form: Вы очень красивая.
You are very pretty.

If I am talking to a man, I may say:

Short form: Вы очень красивы.
Long form: Вы очень красивый.
You are very handsome.

I should note that some of those sentences may sound a bit stilted in Russian. Russian-speakers tend to use predicate adjectives less often than English-speakers, and one needs a bit of experience to figure out when they sound okay and when one should use an alternative constructive. Grammatically, though, all four sentences are correct.


Comment from: Zhenya [Visitor]

For me as a native Russian speaker it is very interesting to read your blog.
I would like to add a comment here - when you use “Вы” for polite singular you need to capitalise it in writing. I am not sure of the origin of this rule - may be it is used to distinguish between plural and singular, may be to make it even more polite.
So it should be like “Я считаю Вас прекрасным педагогом”

Don responds: You are absolutely right, of course. I’m afraid I’ve let myself get sloppy on that issue. In this day of internet communication most educated native speakers of my acquaintance when they write e-mail or post online don’t bother to capitalize вы. They are a bad influence on me… :)

So when you write a formal letter or are trying to make a good impression, definitely capitalize.

04/04/13 @ 04:40
Comment from: Vitaly Repin [Visitor]

I think these famous verses by Pushkin can help to understand the difference between “ты” and “вы” when addressed to the one person:


Пустое вы сердечным ты
Она обмолвясь заменила,
И все счастливые мечты
В душе влюбленной возбудила.
Пред ней задумчиво стою,
Свести очей с нее нет силы;
И говорю ей: как вы милы!
И мыслю: как тебя люблю!

12/22/11 @ 09:58

Form is loading...