выдающая программа, потрясающийся успех

— А почему бы вам теперь не устроить свой вечер? Я бы такую пустил рекламу. На всех столбах, на всех стенах огромными буквами, что-о? Огромными буквами: «Выдающая программа…»
— Надо «ся», Гуськин.
— Кого-о?
— Надо «ся». Выдающаяся.
— Ну, пусть будет «ся». Разве я спорю. Чтобы дело разошлось из-за таких пустяков. Можно написать: «Потрясающийся успех».
— Не надо «ся», Гуськин.
— Теперь уже не надо? Ну, я так и думал, что не надо. Почему вдруг. Раз всегда все пишут «выдающая»… А тут дамские нервы, и давай «ся».

Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

Once again, Teffi’s Mr. Guskin provides us with some non-standard Russian which sounds comical. But why? In the quote, Mr. Guskin says выдающая instead of выдающаяся and потрясающийся instead of потрясающий. The latter word means “amazing” or “astounding”. Grammatically, this is a participle or, more precisely, adjectival participle (причастие), a verb form of потрясать, “to shake”, “to rock”, “to amaze”, “to astound” and such. Like English present participle, it is used as an adjective: «потрясающий успех» means “astounding success”.

Выдающаяся is also a participle, this time of the reflexive verb выдаваться, “to stand out”. This type of participle is called возвратное причастие (while the one derived from non-reflexive verb is невозвратное причастие). So «выдающаяся программа» means “outstanding programme”.

The words выдающая and потрясающийся exist in Russian too. They are participles of verbs выдавать “to give out” and потрясаться “to shake itself/themselves”, respectively. It is their use by Guskin that is dubious. While the drop of the affix -ся is noted in demotic or dialectal speech (трудящий ← трудящийся, выдающий ← выдающийся, годящий ← годящийся, моющий ← моющийся), the reverse, i.e. adding -ся, is really Guskin’s own, not exactly successful, attempt to please Teffi.

И совсем мне, — говорю, — не до смеху,
Это чьё же, — говорю, — указанье,
Чтоб такому выдающему цеху
Не присваивать почётного званья?!

Александр Галич,
«История о том, как Клим Петрович добивался, чтоб его цеху присвоили звание Цеха Коммунистического Труда, и, не добившись этого, запил»

Modern English and modern Spanish have only two types of participle: the present participle and the past participle. In spite of that, I found that many Spanish-speaking students of Engish tend to confuse these two. So here’s a mnemonic: look for the n, which is found in the endings of both English and Spanish present participles. Thus Spanish –ndo corresponds to English –ing. No more confusion.

English Spanish
infinitive dance bailar
present participle dancing bailando
past participle danced bailado

In Russian there are more types of participles. The adjectival participles could be active (действительные) and passive (страдательные). There are also adverbial participles, or verbal adverbs, which in Russian are classified as a separate part of speech, деепричастия. Moreover, Russian participles can take either present or past tense, so one verb can have up to six participle forms [1].

Let’s have a look at the imperfective verb любить, “to love”, which gives rise to all six participles.

  • Действительное причастие настоящего времени (Present active): любящий “loving”, “who loves”
  • Действительное причастие прошедшего времени (Past active): любивший “who loved”
  • Страдательное причастие настоящего времени (Present passive): любимый “being loved”
  • Страдательное причастие прошедшего времени (Past passive): любленный “who/that was (being) loved”
  • Деепричастие настоящего времени (Adverbial present active:) любя “(while) loving”
  • Деепричастие прошедшего времени (Adverbial past active): любив, любивши “having been loving”

If you listen to love songs or read romantic literature in Russian, you’ve bound to come across many of these words (although you’ll need to look hard for любленный) [2].

You may also remember that Russian perfective verbs do not have present tense and, consequently, no present participles. Thus a perfective verb, say полюбить, “to fall in love”, has only past participles in standard Russian:

  • Действительное причастие прошедшего времени (Past active): полюбивший “who fell in love”
  • Страдательное причастие прошедшего времени (Past passive): полюбленный “who/that had been fallen in love” (by somebody)
  • Деепричастие прошедшего времени (Adverbial past active): полюбив, полюбивши “having fallen in love”

This diversity of Russian participles may cause translation problems. It is often difficult to translate English titles (of books, films etc.) to Russian without knowing the context. When it is eventually done, the Russian titles tend to contain more information than the English originals. Also, translations of the original Russian titles to English may appear ambiguous, while their unambiguous translations look quite awkward.

English title Russian title Literal translation of the Russian title
Gone with the Wind Унесённые ветром They who are gone with the wind
Born Free → Рождённая свободной She who was born free
The Missing Пропавший без вести He who disappeared without a trace
Singin’ in the Rain Поющие под дождём They who are singing in the rain
Running on Waves Бегущая по волнам She who is running on the waves
Burnt by the Sun Утомлённые солнцем They who were wearied by the sun

Importantly, the participles in Russian provide an elegant way to express difference between active and passive participants in a feast, as could be seen in the 1979 comedy Осенний марафон (Autumn Marathon) by Georgiy Daneliya:

  • Тостующий пьёт до дна. “He who is proposing a toast drinks bottom up”
  • Тостуемый пьёт до дна. “He who has a toast proposed to him drinks bottom up”

This subtle difference aside, the final result is the same: everybody’s drunk.

In case of our friends потрясать and выдаваться, not all participles can be formed.

infinitive потрясать выдаваться
participle present past present past
active потрясающий потрясавший выдающийся выдававшийся
passive потрясаемый
adverbial потрясая потрясав выдаваясь выдававшись

In general, Russian reflexive verbs don’t form passive participles. However, I can’t think of a rule that forbids me to make the past passive participle of потрясать, viz. потряса́нный.

Overuse of active participles can fill your speech with too many fricatives, as in the novelty song by Leonid Sergeev:

Дорогие товарищи брачующиеся,
Вот стоите вы такие улыбающиеся,
Вот стоите вы такие любующиеся,
Своими отношениями узаканивающиеся!

Подойдите, пожалуйста, поближе, расписывающиеся,
Поднесите свидетеля уже нажравшегося,
Распишитесь вот здесь, здесь, здесь
И унесите свидетеля, совсем, к сожалению, обпившегося!

Леонид Сергеев, «Свадьба №1»

Adjectival participles can undergo nominalisation. In the same fashion as nominalised adjectives, they “inherit” their gender from the noun they were originally modifying, which is by now lost. For example, the neuter noun пресмыкающееся “reptile” is a nominalised participle derived from the verb пресмыкаться “to creep”, “to crawl”, and replaces the phrase «пресмыкающееся животное», “creeping animal”. When the lost noun stands for a person, both masculine and feminine versions are possible, for instance (m.) заведующий and (f.) заведующая “director”, “chief”, “head”, “governor”; same with управляющий “manager”, нападающий “forward” (e.g. in football), обвиняемый “accused”, заключённый “prisoner”, etc. Some of such nouns tend to be used in plural: отдыхающие “holidaymakers”, трудящиеся “workers”, and, from the song above, брачующиеся, “bride and groom”.

  1. Although future participles are not considered a part of standard Russian, there is no reason why they could not be derived from perfective verbs. In fact, these participles do exist: встанущий, приедущий, согреющий, увидящий, услышащий etc. See, for example, Михаил Эпштейн, «Есть ли будущее у причастий будущего времени?» (2007). Ksenia Shagal attests “the comparatively high level of acceptability” of future active perfective participle among native Russian speakers.
  2. Both passive and active participles have to agree with the noun in number, gender and case. In the example above, любящий, любивший, любимый and любленный are given in masculine singular nominative. Adverbial participles don’t inflect.

no beer, no subject

— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.
— Пиво есть?
— Пива нет.
— Пива нет?
— Пива нет.
— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.

— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.
— Пиво есть?
— Пива нет.
— Пива нет?
— Пива нет.
— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.

— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.
— Пива нет?
— Пиво есть.
— Пиво есть?
— Пиво есть.
— Добрый день.
— Добрый день.

Alas, Google couldn’t help me to identify the real author of the poem which I remember since my university days, so let’s call it “folklore”. This dialogue is made up of very short but complete sentences, every one consists of two words only. As discussed earlier, the Russian sentences can be both two-member (двусоставные) and one-member (односоставные). «Пиво есть?» and «Пиво есть.» are classical two-member sentences with subject пиво (beer) and predicate есть (there is). I trust you know that «Добрый день» means “Good day”. A common greeting, it is formally a nominal sentence (назывное предложение), a type of one-member sentence that, just like its English counterpart, has no predicate. «Пива нет?» and «Пива нет.», however, are puzzling.

Let’s compare «Пиво есть» (There is beer) with «Пива нет» (There is no beer). The sad fact of beer absence in English is indicated by laconic “no”. Likewise, in Spanish: “Hay cerveza” and “No hay cerveza”. Easy. Not so in Russian.

First, note that пиво (nominative) inflects to become пива (genitive) in the negative sentence [1]. This change is so universal that every time Russian speakers need to construct a genitive form, they would mentally ask, «нет кого? нет чего?».

Wait a minute, I hear you saying. In Russian the subject, when it is a noun or pronoun, is always in nominative. So, пива cannot be the subject here, right? Right. In «Пива нет», not only beer but also the subject are missing.

Second, what about the predicate? We usually expect a verb to function as one, or form a part of it. But in this sentence we don’t seem to have a verb either. In school, we were taught that нет (no) is a particle (частица), the opposite of да (yes). On the contrary, in our example нет is the opposite of the predicate есть, which is the present indicative form of the verb быть (to be). Logic tells us that нет must be the predicate then.

Our dialogue, grammatically, is in present. To make sure that we are really talking about present, say, today, and not about the beer situation in general, we can be more specific:

— Сегодня пиво есть?
— Сегодня пива нет.

We can leave the present for a while and enquire about the recent past, such as yesterday:

— А вчера пиво было?
— И вчера пива тоже не было.

How sad is that! Note, however, that in the past our verbs behave as expected: the negative is formed by placing the particle не in front of the verb.

But don’t despair just yet. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have better luck.

— А завтра пива тоже не будет?
— Завтра пиво будет.

You see? If было and будет are, respectively, the past and the future of есть, then не было and не будет are, respectively, the past and the future of нет. So this нет is a verb. Most probably it is a contraction of не + есть; cf. its archaic form несть.

OK, we’ve established that «Пива нет» has no subject and identified нет as our predicate. What is пива then? Why, it is the object.

But isn’t it fascinating that in Russian the subject of the affirmative sentence become the object of the negative one? I think it is.

«Пива нет» is an example of impersonal sentence (безличное предложение). It is not important who is responsible for the absence of beer; what is important that there’s none. Curiously, this type of negative sentence remains impersonal even when we specify the potential owner of, alas, still missing beer:

— У тебя пиво есть?
— У меня пива нет.

Can’t we simply say: “Do you have beer?” — “I don’t have beer”, you may wonder. It turns out, in modern Russian the verb иметь (to have) is rarely used to indicate actual possession [2]. It is like Russians, while mentioning the location («у меня» literally means “near me”), are afraid to admit they own anything physical, lest somebody (e.g. the government) take it away. Instead, Russians would turn to reflexive verbs such as иметься (to be available) or найтись (to happen to be found), with this latter in the future tense — being a perfective verb, it does not have present tense.

— У самих револьверы найдутся

Копейку я сунул в карман и остановился, обнаружив, что в том же кармане имеется еще один пятак.

Not only are Russians reluctant “to have” things, they also love to ask negative questions, as if preparing themselves for a likely disappointment. To Russian ear, even abrupt «Пива нет?» sounds more polite than «Пиво есть?».

Хлестаков (громко и скоро). Взаймы рублей тысячу.
Бобчинский. Такой суммы, ей-богу, нет. А нет ли у вас, Петр Иванович?
Добчинский. При мне-с не имеется, потому что деньги мои, если изволите знать, положены в приказ общественного призрения.

Н. В. Гоголь, «Ревизор»

— Сигареты у вас не найдётся? – спросила она без всякой приветливости.

Братья Стругацкие, «Град обреченный»


  1. And vice versa, to transform an affirmative sentence into negative, it is not enough simply to replace нет with есть: we also need to change the genitive back to nominative.

    — Вы просите песен? Их есть у меня!

    In this quote, the genitive (их, i.e. песен) is used on purpose to emulate the Odessa dialect. Thus, instead of grammatically correct but boring «у меня есть песни», the Odessite (supposedly) says «у меня есть песен».

  2. Whenever I encounter the verb иметь in a sense “to possess”, I always suspect it being a poor translation from English or German. Of course, it could be — and is — employed to a comic effect:

    Субъект монотонно бубнил:
    — Имею имение за Варшавою, конечно, небольшое…
    — Имею доход от имения, конечно, небольшой…
    Снится это мне или не снится?
    — Имею луга в имении, конечно, небольшие…
    — Имею тётку в Варшаве…
    — Конечно, небольшую, — неожиданно для себя перебиваю я.

    Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

который час?

There are two common ways of asking “What time is it?” in Russian: «Который час?» (literally, “Which hour?”) and «Сколько времени?» (“How much time?”). When I were a lad, they taught us in school that the correct way is the first one, even though it may sound a bit old-fashioned now.

But, as we know, it is not enough to ask: it also could be nice to know what the answer means. There are a few curious things about telling time in Russian. One is, both cardinal and ordinal numbers are used: cf. «десять часов» (ten o’clock) and «десятый час» (the tenth hour). Another is, the ordinal number H+1th is used to name the hour between H:00 and H:59. For example, «десятый час» (10th hour) means any time between 9 and 10 o’clock. We use exactly the same logic when we give the name 20th century to the 19xx years. Yet I found that both English and Spanish speakers get confused with “Russian” way of naming hours.

In her memoirs, the Russian writer Teffi describes the dialogue between entrepreneur Guskin (Гуськин) and herself:

— Ну конечно. Новое дело. Опоздали на вокзал!
— Быть не может! Который же час?
— Семь часов, десятый. Поезд в десять. Все кончено.

Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

Guskin is so worried that they would miss the ten o’clock train that he runs to Teffi’s place at seven o’clock in the morning. Him saying «Семь часов, десятый» (when for anyone else it is only восьмой) adds to the comic effect.

Nine o’clock is девять часов. If we want to be precise, we say «девять часов ровно», “nine o’clock sharp”. We can safely drop the word час when it is clear that we talk about time:

— Сейчас ровно девять.

There are also two ways of telling hours and minutes. One is completely straightforward: 9:10 is «девять часов десять минут» (nine hours ten minutes). This is the “official” way of telling time, such as you can hear on the radio. The cardinal numerals for both hours and minutes are in nominative; the nouns час and минута, when in plural, change to genitive or accusative, as discussed elsewhere.

Another one is shorter but potentially confusing: «десять минут десятого», literally “ten minutes of the tenth” [1]. Here the cardinal numeral (minutes) remains in nominative but the ordinal one (hour) is in genitive. Which is kind of logical as these minutes belong to that hour.

For any number of minutes M between H:00 and H:30 we can use the “short” formula «M минут H+1-го». For 15 minutes, there is a special name, четверть (quarter), and for 30 minutes, половина (half). So 9:15 is четверть десятого, “quarter of the tenth”, and 9:30 is половина десятого, or полдесятого, “half of the tenth”. The German speakers will have no difficulties dealing with it, as they use halb zehn, “half of ten” for 9:30. However, in Spanish the same time will be las nueve y media “the nine and a half”, while in English we use “half past nine” (Brits say just “half nine”).

After H:30, the “long” way remains the same but for the “short” way we have to count backward from our “target” hour, H+1. So, 9:40 will be “long” «девять часов сорок минут» (nine hours forty minutes), or “short” «без двадцати минут десять» (ten without twenty minutes). Between H:30 and H+1:00, mentioning минуты is optional, so most people will just say «без двадцати десять» (ten without twenty). This is very similar to Spanish las diez menos veinte and, indeed, English “twenty to ten”. Of course, 9:45 will be «без четверти десять» (ten without quarter). Curiously, now the target hour is in nominative but the minutes are in genitive (the preposition без invariably requires the genitive).

When the hour is already known from the context, one can dispose of naming the hour and only talk about minutes:

Я должен прийти к девяти <часам>
На работу свою.
Но сейчас уже без десяти <девять часов>,
А я только встаю.

The “short” way of telling time exists only between one and twelve (0 < H < 11), so in case of ambiguity we have to indicate the time of the day: утро (morning), день (noon or afternoon), вечер (evening) or ночь (night), once again, in genitive. For example, 09:00 is девять часов утра (nine in the morning), 12:00 — двенадцать часов дня (twelve noon), 15:00 — три часа дня (three in the afternoon), 21:00 — девять часов вечера (nine in the evening), 24:00 — двенадцать часов ночи (twelve o’clock at night), 03:00 — три часа ночи (three in the morning). 12:00 is also known as полдень (midday) and 24:00 as полночь (midnight); the time after midday and after midnight could be specified with (sounding a bit archaic) пополудни and пополуночи, respectively. In all “short” time expressions the words часа/часов are optional, so we can say четыре утра, двенадцать ночи and so on. For one o’clock, however, the word час is obligatory; on the contrary, the word один (one) is not used. Thus 01:00 is «час ночи» and 13:00 is «час дня».

Russian English Spanish
час one o’clock la una
два часа two o’clock las dos
(ровно) девять часов nine o’clock (sharp) las nueve (en punto)
девять часов утра nine in the morning las nueve de la mañana
двенадцать часов дня; полдень twelve noon; midday las doce de la mañana; mediodía
три часа дня; три часа пополудни three in the afternoon las tres de la tarde
девять часов вечера nine in the evening las nueve de la tarde
двенадцать часов ночи; полночь twelve in the night; midnight las doce de la noche; medianoche
три часа ночи; три часа пополуночи three in the morning las tres de la madrugada
четверть четвёртого quarter past three las tres y cuarto
половина четвёртого half (past) three las tres y media
без четверти четыре quarter to four las cuatro menos cuarto

Everybody who lived in Soviet Union should remember the standard message broadcast daily at 15:00 Moscow Time on the radio:

Передаём сигналы точного времени. Начало шестого сигнала соответствует пятнадцати часам московского времени. [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, Beeeeeep!] Говорит Москва. В столице пятнадцать часов, в Ашхабаде — шестнадцать, в Ташкенте — семнадцать, в Караганде — восемнадцать, в Красноярске — девятнадцать, в Иркутске — двадцать, в Чите — двадцать один, во Владивостоке и Хабаровске — двадцать два, в Южно-Сахалинске — двадцать три, в Петропавловске-Камчатском — полночь [2].

In this famous message, the names of the cities of the former USSR where the times were listed are given in prepositional case (предложный падеж) and preceded by в (in), therefore Караганда → в Караганде, Владивосток → во Владивостоке, etc. while the numeral (or, in case of полночь, a noun) is in nominative.

To indicate at which time or when something is happening, we also use the preposition в (variously translated as “at”, “on” or “in”). This time, however, в requires accusative case. Luckily, for masculine inanimate noun such as час, that means no change of form from nominative, so there won’t be any change in the expressions of time discussed above, e.g. три часа дня → в три часа дня.

o’clock preposition numeral noun
1 в один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
2 в два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
3–4 в три, четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s
5–20 в пять — двадцать часов
Acc Gen / m / pl
21 в двадцать один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
22 в двадцать два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
23–24 в двадцать три, двадцать четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s

Let’s see what’s happening with feminine nouns such as минута, четверть and половина:

minutes preposition numeral noun
1, 21, 31, 41, 51 в (x) одну минуту
Acc / f Acc / f / s
2, 22, 32, 42, 52 в (x) две минуты
Acc / f Acc / f / pl
3, 4, 23, 24, 33, 34, 43, 44, 53, 54 в (x) три, (x) четыре минуты
Acc Acc / f / pl
the rest в пять, шесть, etc. минут
Acc Gen / f / pl
quarter в одну четверть
Acc / f Acc / f / s
half в одну половину
Acc / f Acc / f / s
1, 21 без (двадцати) одной минуты
Gen / f Gen / f / s
the rest без двух, трёх, четырёх, etc. минут
Gen Gen / f / pl
quarter без одной четверти
Gen / f Gen / f / s

Now we can combine the hours with minutes: в одну минуту первого; в два часа двадцать две минуты; в четверть четвёртого; в десять часов десять минут; в половину одиннадцатого (or пол-одиннадцатого); (в) без пяти пять; (в) без одной двенадцать and so on [3].

Can we use в together with expressions like «десятый час»? Yes we can, but here we have to use yet another case, and a rather unusual one: locative (местный падеж). By now the Russian locative has almost completely merged with prepositional case, however there is a group of nouns where one can see the differences in declension between prepositional proper and locative after the prepositions в and на. So, первый час → в первом часу, второй час → во втором часу etc.

Во втором часу,
Принцесса в лесу.

Генрих Сапгир, «Принцесса и Людоед»

To set the boundaries of a period of time, we use prepositions с or от (“from”, “since”) and до (“to”, “till”), all followed by genitive, for instance: «у меня классы с десяти до полвторого» (I have classes from ten to half past one).

«Игра на музыкальных инструментах от 5 часов дня до 7 часов утра воспрещается».

Вопросы любви и смерти не волновали Ипполита Матвеевича Воробьянинова, хотя этими вопросами по роду своей службы он ведал с девяти утра до пяти вечера ежедневно с получасовым перерывом для завтрака.


  1. They never say «десять минут десятого часа», “ten minutes of the tenth hour”.
  2. By some reason, time for the last city on the list was given as «полночь» rather than more formal «ноль часов» (zero hours). As most Soviet citizens were reminded that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky even exists only at this particular time, the city acquired a joking reputation of a place of eternal midnight.
  3. The combination of prepositions в без sounds rather awkward; here в can be omitted without any change of meaning.

See also: ¿Qué hora es?