Russian Phrases For Dummies
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By mastering the basics of polite conversation in Russian, you put yourself and the person you're talking to at ease. Everyone should learn essential Russian conversational words and phrases before traveling to a Russian -speaking country. These words and expressions are sure to come up in most everyday conversations.

Basic courtesies

Being polite is just as important in Russian-speaking countries as they are in the United States. The following words and phrases cover most of the pleasantries required for polite conversation. After all, learning to say the expressions of common courtesy in Russian before traveling is just good manners.

da! (dah) (yes)
nyet! (n’eht) (no)
Da, pozhalujsta (dah, pah-ZHAH-luh-stuh) (Yes, please.)
pozhalujsta (pah-ZHAH-luh-stuh) (please)
Spasibo (spuh-SEE-buh) (thank you)
Bol’shoye spasibo. (bahl’-SHOH-eh spuh-SEE-buh) (Thank you very much.)

Personal pronouns

Once you've mastered the common pleasantries, the next important thing to learn is how to refer to people using personal pronouns. In Russian, you'll use slightly different variations of the pronoun you depending on the number of people you are referring to and how well you know them.

ya (ya) (I)
on (ohn) (he)
ona (ah-nah) (she)
my (mih) (we)
oni (ah-nee) (they)
ty (tih) (you [informal singular])
vy (vih) (you [formal singular and plural])

Nouns and gender

So what about it? In English, inanimate objects are usually referred to with the pronoun it, but in Russian, an inanimate object is always referred to with the pronoun corresponding to its grammatical gender.

  • on (ohn), if the noun it refers to is masculine

  • ona (ah-NAH), if the noun it refers to is feminine

  • ono (ah-NOH), if the noun it refers to is neuter

  • oni (ah-NEE), if the noun it refers to is plural

Phrases for travelers

There are some phrases that are particularly helpful to international travelers. Below are several phrases that might be particularly helpful during your stay in a Russian-speaking country.

  • Izvinitye, ya nye ponyal. (eez-vee-NEE-t’eh ya nee POHH-n’uhl) (Sorry, I didn’t understand. [m])

  • Izvinitye, ya nye ponyala. (eez-vee-NEE-t’eh ya nee puh-nee-LAH))Sorry, I didn’t understand. [f])

  • Izvinitye, ya plokho ponimayu po-russki. (eez-vee-NEE-t’eh ya PLOH-khuh puh-nee-MAH-yu pah-ROOS-kee) (Sorry, I don’t understand Russian very well.)

  • Govoritye, pozhalujsta, myedlyennyeye! (guh-vah-REE-t’eh pah-ZHAHL-stuh M’EHD-lee-nee-eh!) (Speak more slowly, please!)

  • Kak vy skazali? (kahk vih skuh-ZAH-lee?) (What did you say?)

  • Povtoritye, pozhalujsta. (puhf-tah-ree-t’eh pah-ZHAH-luh-stuh) (Could you please repeat that?)

  • Vy govoritye po-anglijski? (vih guh-vah-REE-t’eh puh uhn-GLEEY-skee?) (Do you speak English?)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Andrew Kaufman, PhD, is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. He holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Stanford University, and he has recognized success as both a published scholar and an innovative, award-winning teacher of Russian language, literature, and culture at some of the country’s top universities. To learn more about Dr. Kaufman, please visit his website at

Serafima Gettys, PhD, earned her doctorate degree in Foreign Language Education from Gertzen State Pedagogical University, Leningrad, USSR. She is currently a Coordinator of the Foreign Language Program at Lewis University, where she also teaches Russian. Prior to coming to Lewis University, she taught Russian at Stanford University. Gettys is also a member of a number of professional language associations.

Nina Wieda is a doctoral student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern University in Chicago. A trained linguist with an MA in Social Sciences, Nina also has a book of poetry published in Russian, and a number of scholarly articles on Chekhov and contemporary drama published in English.

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