Word Order in Russian

You have probably already heard that the word order in Russian is free. However, this is not exactly true. It would be more correct to say that the word order in Russian is flexible. Today we’ll talk about the structure of the Russian sentence. It is especially important if you are just starting to learn the language.

 

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Where to put the basic parts of the sentence

 

The basis of word order in Russian is SVO (subject-verb-object). In affirmative sentences, the subject usually precedes the predicate.

Зима наступила рано. — Winter came early.

The reverse order of the main members of the sentence (first the predicate, then the subject) is common in several cases.

  • In the author’s words, breaking direct speech or standing after it.

 «Я не хочу туда идти», — сказала мама грустно. — “I don’t want to go there,” Mom said sadly.

  • In sentences where the subject denotes a time or a phenomenon of nature, and the predicate is expressed by a verb with the meaning of becoming, being, the course of action.

Пришла осень. — Autumn has come.

Был солнечный день. — It was a sunny day.

  • In the descriptions.

Светит солнце, резвятся птицы, дует легкий ветерок. — The sun is shining, birds are frolicking, a light breeze is blowing.

  • As an inversion.

Нельзя бросать окурки в лесу, страшен неуправляемый огонь. — You mustn’t throw cigarette butts in the forest; uncontrollable fire is terrible.

  • Often with adverbs at the beginning of a sentence.

За окном шумели машины. — Cars rustled outside.

  • In interrogative sentences, the predicate often precedes the subject, as well. Успею ли я испечь торт до прихода гостей? — Will I have time to bake the cake before the guests arrive?
 
 

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Where to put secondary parts of the sentence

 

Secondary parts are:

  • object, it answers questions of indirect cases and denotes a subject,
  • attribute, it answers the questions “What?”, “Whose?”,
  • adverbial, it answers the questions “How?”, “Where?”, “Why?”, “How long?” and others.

Attributes expressed by an adjective are usually placed before a noun.

Наступила поздняя осень. — It’s late autumn.

The object usually follows the word it depends on.   

Он читает газету по утрам (read what? — newspaper (subordinate word). — He reads the newspaper in the morning.

Adverbial modifiers of manner (expressed by adverbs with the endings -o, -e), cause are usually put before the predicate.   

Он хорошо танцует (adverbial modifier of manner). — He dances well.

Он от страха не мог сказать ни слова (adverbial modifier of cause). — He couldn’t say a word out of fear.

Adverbial modifiers of time and place are often placed at the beginning or end of a sentence.  

Завтра он уезжает. — He’s leaving tomorrow.

Они уезжают в Москву. — They leave for Moscow.

Adverbial of degree is put before the word it depends on.  

Мама очень занята. — Mom is very busy.Дважды повторять не буду. — I will not repeat twice.

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Place of introductory words, address, particles

 

Introductory words are freely located in a sentence if they refer to it as a whole.

К сожалению, я забыл. / Я, к сожалению, забыл. / Я забыл, к сожалению. — Sorry, I forgot. / I, unfortunately, forgot. / I forgot, unfortunately.

If the introductory word is associated with one member of the sentence, then it is placed next to the latter.

Вчера вечером отключили свет во всем доме, к счастью, ненадолго. — Last night they turned off the lights in the whole house, fortunately, not for long.

The address is also freely located in the sentence but most often it is placed at the beginning.

Доктор, скажите, что я поправлюсь! / Скажите, доктор, что я поправлюсь! / Скажите, что я поправлюсь, доктор! — Doctor, tell me that I’ll get better! / Tell me, doctor, that I’ll get better! / Tell me that I’ll get better, doctor!

Put the particles in front of the word they refer to.Это упражнение трудно даже для меня. / Даже это упражнение трудно для меня. — This exercise is difficult even for me. / Even this exercise is difficult for me.

 

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What happens when you change the word order

 

Sometimes, when you change the word order in a simple sentence, the meaning can change as well, for example, when the form of a word in different cases is the same.

Дочь любит ночь. — The daughter loves the night.

Ночь любит дочь. — Night loves daughter.

In addition, the word order in a sentence depends on the semantic component. If you need to highlight a word or make an emphasis, then it makes sense to change the order.

Compare:

  • Все собрались за столом. Анна принесла книгу, и наступила тишина. — Everyone gathered at the table. Ann brought the book, and there was silence.
  • На столе лежала книга. Книгу принесла Анна. — There was a book on the table. Ann brought the book.
  • И вот эта книга у нас. Принесла книгу Анна. — So, we got this book. Ann brought the book.

In the second case, it is reported who brought the book, in the third, how it happened. In the first case, successively developing events are reported.

The word order in a sentence (and its meaning) depends not only on the previous context but also on the subsequent one.

Compare:

  • Весна… Молоденькие листочки начинают появляться на деревьях. Скоро они будут радовать глаза яркой зеленью. — Spring … Young leaves begin to appear on the trees. Soon they (trees) will delight the eyes with bright greenery.
  • Весна… Начинают появляться на деревьях молоденькие листочки. Они — первые вестники скорого лета. — Spring … Young leaves begin to appear on the trees. They (leaves) are the first messengers of the coming summer.
  • Весна… На деревьях начинают появляться молоденькие листочки, а в небе появляются перелетные птицы. — Spring … Young leaves begin to appear on the trees and migratory birds appear in the sky.

 

 

 

The topic of word order in Russian is quite difficult and requires serious study. If, after getting acquainted with the theoretical part, you want to go further, we will be glad to see you at the courses in the School of Russian Language “Leader”.

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