some peculiarities of Russian

This post is based on a presentation prepared by Tamara for her Spanish class.

Many people believe that Russian is a difficult language to learn. While it isn’t difficult for me, and shouldn’t be that difficult for speakers of any Indo-European language anyway, there are several important differences the Spanish (as well as English) speakers should be aware of. She also used some examples from Finnish, just to put things into perspective.

а. Alphabet

Modern Russian uses a variant of Cyrillic alphabet with thirty-three letters. These include ten vowels, twenty one consonants, hard sign ъ and soft sign ь. It looks like this:

Even though it may appear a bit frightening, I recommend to learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as you start learning Russian. Reading Russian in transliteration will only confuse you. For example, the character y is often used instead of two rather different letters (and sounds): the vowel ы and the consonant й. It is also used to indicate the “softening” of consonants (see below). As a result, the words you pronounce won’t sound anything like Russian.

б. Sounds

Some sounds in Russian present a difficulty for Spanish and/or English speakers.


  • Е: after a consonant, pronounced as /e/ or /ɛ/; in all other cases (at the beginning of a word, after a vowel, after the hard and soft signs) pronounced as /je/ or // in Spanish yerba /ˈjeɾ.βa/ or English yes /jɛs/.
  • Ё: after a consonant, pronounced as /ö/, like in German mögen; in all other cases pronounced as /jo/, as in Spanish cuyo /ˈ or English yolk /joʊk/.
  • Ы /ɨ/. There’s nothing like this sound in either Spanish or English. Just listen: 🔊. A commonly suggested trick to reproduce the sound of ы is to bite a (clean) pencil or pen so to spread the corners of your mouth while saying //, as in cheese /tʃiːz/.
  • Э: /ɛ/ like in English pen /pɛn/.
  • Ю: after a consonant, pronounced /ü/; in all other cases pronounced /ju/ as in Spanish yuca /ˈju.ka/ or in English yoo-hoo /ˈjuːˌhuː/.
  • Я: after a consonant, pronounced /æ/; in all other cases pronounced /ja/, as in Spanish cuya /ˈku.ja/ or English yard /jɑːd/.
  • Spanish has only five vowels, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, which always sound the same, stressed or not. There are more vowels in Finnish but they also always pronounced the same way, irrespectively of stress. As for English, they do not even know how many vowels there are, let alone which ones to use. The only thing everybody seems to agree is that most unstressed vowels in English are reduced to schwa /ə/. Vowel-wise, Russian is somewhere in between these two extremes. The stressed vowels always sound as expected. Unstressed а and о are usually pronounced as something between /a/ and /o/; unstressed е, и, э and я, between /e/ and /i/; unstressed у and ю, between /o/ and /u/. The good news is that even if you pronounce all vowels Spanish (or Finnish) way, you still will be understood.


  • Б and В: /b/ and /v/, respectively. Unlike Spanish, there is always a clear distinction between these two sounds.
  • Г: normal /ɡ/ as in Spanish guerra or /ˈɡera/ or in English get /ɡɛt/; in Southern Russian dialects, often pronounced /ɣ/ as in Spanish lago /ˈla.ɣo/.
  • Ж /ʐ/, similar to /ʒ/ in Portuguese janeiro /ʒaˈnejru/, French jour /ʒuʀ/ or English measure /ˈmɛʒə(r)/.
  • З /z/, same as /z/ in English zoo /zuː/ but not Spanish zurdo.
  • Р /r/ (rolled r), same as /r/ in Spanish perro /ˈpero/.
  • Х /x/, same as /x/ in Spanish ojo /ˈoxo/ or in Scottish loch /lɔx/.
  • Ц /t͡s/, as /ts/ in English nuts /nʌts/ or in Italian pizza /ˈpit.tsa/. This sound is not normally found in Spanish.
  • Ш /ʂ/, similar to /ʃ/ in Portuguese caixa /ˈkajʃa/, French chic /ʃik/ or English sheep /ʃiːp/.
  • Щ /ɕɕ/, which is not a combination of š and č in spite of being often transcribed as shch. It is similar to /ʃˈʃ/ in Italian uscita /uʃˈʃita/.

з shouldn’t be a problem for English speakers, ditto р and х for Spanish speakers.

  • Most Russian consonants come in two variants, “hard” and “soft”. The “softening” of Russian consonants before vowels е, ё, ю, я is often transliterated in English with letters y or i, which makes learners to pronounce, say, a phrase “Юля, я тебя люблю” (“Julia, I love you”) as /ˈjulja ja tiˈbja ljubˈlju/ instead of /ˈjulæ ja tiˈbæ lübˈlü/. The “softening” achieved with the soft sign ь alone is practically impossible to transliterate. You just have to listen and speak!
  • The consonants ж, ц and ш are always hard (even if followed by soft sign), й, ч and щ are always soft.

On the other hand, Russian does not have /ð/ and /θ/ sounds so common in English and in Peninsular Spanish, as in Madrid /maˈðɾi(θ)/. And there is no /w/ sound, so when transliterating English names, one has to decide whether to use в or у. For example, “Watson” could be transliterated as either Ва́тсон or Уо́тсон.

в. Declension

  • Modern Russian has six grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional. This sounds like a lot, as neither Spanish nor English have cases. But this is only two more cases compared with German (with which Russian shares four cases) and same number as Latin. Compare that with Finnish (15 cases), Hungarian (18) or Tsez (64) and stop complaining. Here’s how the word дом (house) will change in all six cases:

    case singular plural
    Nominative дом дома́
    Genitive до́ма домо́в
    Dative до́му дома́м
    Accusative дом дома́
    Instrumental до́мом дома́ми
    Prepositional до́ме дома́х

    And here’s what Finnish can do with their house (I didn’t bother with the case names):

    talo house
    talon of (a) house
    talona as a house
    taloa house (as an object)
    taloksi to a house
    talossa in (a) house
    talosta from (a) house
    taloon into (a) house
    talolla at (a) house
    talolta from (a) house
    talolle to (a) house
    talotta without (a) house
    taloineni with my house(s)
    taloin with (a) house
  • Russian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Cf. Spanish (masculine and feminine), and English (traces of).
  • Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, present and past participles, and numerals are subject to declension: they change their endings to indicate number, gender and case.
  • In Russian, there are three noun declensions conveniently named “first”, “second” and “third”.
  • Adjectives, present and past participles, and ordinal numerals have to agree (in number, gender and case) with nouns and pronouns.
  • Russian cardinal numerals два (two), три (three) and четыре (four) make the count noun to change differently compared to plural, as if they were “not quite” plural:

    singular один дом one house
    “few” два до́ма two houses
    “few” три до́ма three houses
    “few” четы́ре до́ма four houses
    plural пять домо́в five houses

г. Verbs

  • In Russian, there are only three tenses: past, present and future. (Some linguists go even further and say that Russian has only two grammatical tenses: present-future and past).
  • In the present and future tenses (or present-future), there are two conjugations; like in Spanish, each has six different forms: 1st singular, 2nd singular, 3rd singular, 1st plural, 2nd plural, 3rd plural.
  • In the past tense, there is no difference between 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but the verbs are number- and gender-specific.
  • There are no such things as perfect, imperfect or pluperfect tense. Instead, most verbs come in two flavours, imperfective (несовершенный вид) and perfective (совершенный вид).
  • There is only one type of verb “to be”: быть (unlike Spanish ser and estar). This verb is hardly ever used in present tense, so some apparently complete sentences do not contain a verb, for example «Я — русский», “I (am) Russian”.

д. Articles

  • That’s easy: Russian does not use articles. (Nor does Finnish.)

sun-that-will-not-shine, moon-that-cannot-rise

As he had expected, his best friend, Billy Hake, was at the soda fountain, sitting on a stool and drinking a mild hallucinogen known as an LSD frappé.
“How’s the morn, Sorn?” Hake asked, in the slang popular at that time.
“Soft and mazy, Esterhazy,” Marvin replied, giving the obligatory response.
“Du koomen ta de la klipje?” Billy asked. (Pidgin Spanish-Afrikaans dialect was the new laugh sensation that year.)
“Ja, Mijnheer,” Marvin answered, a little heavily. His heart simply was not in the clever repartee.
Billy caught the nuance of dissatisfaction. He raised a quizzical eyebrow, folded his copy of James Joyce Comics, popped a Keen-Smoke into his mouth, bit down to release the fragrant green vapor, and asked, “For-why you burrow?”
The question was wryly phrased but obviously well intended.
Marvin sat down beside Billy. Heavyhearted, yet unwilling to reveal his unhappiness to his lighthearted friend, he held up both hands and proceeded to speak in Plains Indian Sign Language. (Many intellectually inclined young men were still under the influence of last year’s sensational Projectoscope production of Dakota Dialogue, starring Bjorn Rakradish as Crazy Horse and Milovar Slavovivowitz as Red Cloud, and done entirely in gesture.)
Marvin made the gestures, mocking yet serious, for heart-that-breaks, horse-that-wanders, sun-that-will-not-shine, moon-that-cannot-rise.
He was interrupted by Mr Bigelow, proprietor of the Stanhope Pharmacy. Mr Bigelow was a middle-aged man of seventy-four, slightly balding, with a small but evident paunch. Yet he affected boys’ ways. Now he said to Marvin. “Eh, Mijnheer, querenzie tomar la klopje inmensa de la cabeza vefrouvens in forma de ein skoboldash sundae?”
It was typical of Mr Bigelow and others of his generation to overdo the youthful slang, thus losing any comic effect except the pathetically unintentional.
“Schnell,” Marvin said, putting him down with the thoughtless cruelty of youth.
“Well, I never,” said Mr Bigelow, and moved huffily away with the mincing step he had learned from the Imitation of Life show.

Robert Sheckley, Mindswap

rico eucalipto, más dormir

Tradicionalmente se había considerado que la evolución anatómica de algunas partes del aparato fonador humano (es decir, de los órganos que utilizamos para hablar) podían darnos pistas sobre cómo y cuando había surgido el lenguaje. El descenso de la laringe ha sido interpretado durante mucho tiempo como un hito que conllevaba la producción de habla. Si bien el famoso descenso de la laringe es necesario para poder articular determinados sonidos, se han encontrado laringes igualmente descendidas en otras especies sin habla, como los koalas. A pesar de compartir posición laringal con los humanos, por el momento no parece que los koalas puedan hablar, lo cual es una pena; ¿qué nos dirían si hablaran? ¡Rico eucalipto! ¡Más dormir!

Elena Álvarez Mellado, Anatomía de la lengua

words they say

Based on a True Story

“Good morning, children.”
— Gutmonin.
“Today, we are gonna talk about Hallowe’en.”
— Helluin!

Well it was clear from the very start that these children don’t want to talk. They want to shout. But I have a secret weapon: colouring pages. Hallowe’en-themed, as it were.

— Quiero una araña.
— Quiero un murciélago.
— Quiero una calabaza.
“No, no, no.”
— ¡Araña!
“Here’s the deal: you have to speak in English to me.”
— Quiero…
No quiero. This is a spider. This is a pumpkin. This is a bat. All right?”
— ¡Bat! ¡Bat!
— ¡Batman!
“Not Batman. A bat.”
— ¡Espayder!
“No ‘Espayder’. Spider. Spy-Der. Spider.”
— ¡Espayder!
— Quiero spider.
No quiero. ‘Can I have…’”
Quen ay jav
“‘…a spider’.”
— ¡Espayder!

What did I get myself into? Can anybody hear the difference between ‘a spider’ and, well, ‘espayder’?

— Quiero bat.
— Quiero espayder.
— Quiero los todos.
— Quiero pis.
“Please go.”

The colouring pages are finally distributed.

— ¿Puedo colorear?
— ¿Puedo recortar?

Mind you, only the most polite ask this. The others have already taken hold of the crayons, felt-tip pens and scissors.

There is a pair of kids who never do what I ask. Instead of colouring, they cut things out, or glue the worksheets to the walls. One of the favourite activities is to cut out something (say, a bat) and stick it to the blank A4 paper sheet. Fifteen minutes later, the result is exactly the same as the original worksheet but a lot more crumpled and covered with glue and some unidentified dirt on both sides.

The others really like colouring and showing me their work.

— Mira, que bonito. (About their own pictures.)
— Mira, que feo. (About the neighbour’s work.)
— Mira, que botas muy chulas. (Points on her welly boots.)
— Tengo mocos.

My very first day in this class, one three-year old girl was looking at me intently for about twenty minutes. Then she said, very seriously:

— Eres guapo.

Later that month, we did some sort of Hallowe’en presentation, where I was supposed to be a vampire. I was dressed in black, had a (mostly white) face paint and a grey hair wig. Most of three- and four-year-olds were scared of me, which I judged to be a success. Not this girl though. She came close and asked me:

— ¿Quién eres?
“I am, er, a vampire, don’t you see?”
— Eres guapo.

Now and then, I show them the videos. Music videos and animations. And now they make requests.

— ¡Mana Mana!

I don’t know how much English they learned from that particular song, but everybody loves it. They crowd around my laptop.

— ¡No veo!
— ¡Que no veo!
— ¡No veo!
“Guys, can you please step one step back? Then everyone could see.”
— ¡No veo!
— Álvaro me ha empujau.

Until I started to work in school, I was convinced that the most popular given names in Spain are Juan and María. Nope. I don’t even have a single María. But there are lots of Álvaros, Brunos, Martinas and Saras.

— ¡Se ha acabau!
— ¡Otra!
— ¡Otra vez!

When I introduced them to Simon’s Cat, they ignored it. At first. Then, about a month later, a request arrived.

— ¡Un gato chino!
“You what?!”
— ¡Un gato chino!
“Do you mean Simon’s Cat?”
— ¡No, un gato chino!

By now, Simon’s Cat is one of their firm favourites.

— ¡Se acabó!
— Es muy corto.
— ¡Otra!
— ¡No veo!

There is one five-year old boy who is not interested in anything the others are doing.

— Estoy aburriendo.
— Estoy aburrido.
— Quiero algo divertido.
— Quiero algo volando.

I like it when they give me clues what to do next.

“Good morning, children.”
— Gutmonin!

I point at the blackboard where I did stick seven A4 paper sheets evolving towards a flying machine.

“Today, we are going to make a paper airplane.”

I find all twelve of them standing under number 7.

— ¡Quiero eso!
— ¡Quiero un avión de papel!
“No, no, no. We all are going to learn how to make a paper airplane. Everybody take a sheet of paper…”

And so it starts.

“…and fold it like this…”
— ¿Me ayudas?
— ¿Me lo doblas?
— ¿Me lo haces?

And this is just a half of the class. There is no way I am making 25 paper airplanes in one hour.

That was a stroke of genius, I admit it freely. Seven months later, only a handful of them learned this craft. But it provided me with another weapon.

— ¡Quiero un avión de papel!
“In English, please.”
— Es que no sé como decir.
“Ask Hugo, he knows.”

A minute later:

— ¡Plan! ¡Plan!
“What plan?”
— ¡Plane!
“Plane what?”
— ¡Quiero a plane!
No quiero. ‘Can you make…’”
— ¡A plane!
— ¡A plane!
— ¡A plane!

Now the teachers tell me: you know, your planes fly really far!

Yes, I know.

Apart from teaching in a classroom, I take turns to supervise them during the recess. Or before. Or after.

“Can you please put on your coats.”
— ¡Has dicho una palabrota!
“Did I?”
— ¡Has dicho ‘puta’!

Oh my. I have to be careful with these things.

To be fair, very few of them hesitate to use swearwords, especially in my class. In the beginning, they did not realise I know all this lexicon.

— Álvaro me ha empujau.
“Oh no, not him again.”
— ¿Puedes guardarlo? (Gives me a toy.)
“Claro que sí — oops, yes of course.”
— ¿Puedes atar mis cordones?
“Sure I can. And a magic word?”
— ¡Fuerte!

They do ask lots of questions, these kids. Mostly in Spanish.

— ¿Tienes novia?
— ¿Tienes bebés?
— ¿Por qué no hablas español?
— ¿Por qué llevas coleta?
— ¿Por qué andas en chanclas?
— ¿Cuántos minutos faltan? (Till the end of the class, that is.)
Can I go to the toilet please?


By midday, they drain all my energy. But sometimes they ask or tell me something that makes it worth it.

— ¿Cómo sabes todas estas cosas?
“Because I was paying attention when in school.” (It’s a lie, I didn’t.)
— Toma, esto es para ti.
“It is beautiful, Daniela. Thank you.”
— Quiero ser tu ayudante.
“Do you really? Can you help me to tidy up then?”
— Can you make a plane for me? Please?

actually, we don’t have to say “actually”

And yet, we do say it.

As it happens, I did not touch upon transitions (transition words and expressions) in this blog. Until now, that is. Evidently, I did not take transitions seriously enough, although I myself use them a lot. Incidentally, every sentence in this post has them.

At first glance, the information content of most transitions is close to zero. In the best case, they can make the speech appear to run more smoothly. In the worst case, they are used as more literary equivalents of “um”, “er” and other procrastination noises. (I remember a colleague whose discourse chiefly consisted of “you know”, “I mean” and “you know what I mean”.) Consequently, one could cross out all of the transitions without affecting the overall meaning of a text. In fact, I could start right away.

Still, it would be wrong to dismiss transitions as meaningless fillers used only by uncultured speakers. Far from it: transitions are found everywhere, from news to scientific publications to impenetrable legal constructions. Typically, transitions indicate

addition, example, contrast, comparison, concession, result, summary, time (often chronology), and place.

In other words, they help to convey more — or less — than unadulterated truth. Moreover, the most blatant lie will go down rather smoothly when preceded by phrase like “you won’t believe it” because the whole construction creates an impression of honesty — after all, you don’t have to believe it, right? Besides, transitions make human communication less robot-like. In particular, the mathematical passages like proofs of theorems can be made just about readable, thanks to expressions such as “similarly”, “therefore”, “thus” and “it follows that”.

Now, in Russian there is a term for the words and expressions which litter our daily speech: слова-паразиты, “parasite words”. Admittedly, many transitions behave as such parasites: they multiply, take over the conversation and suck all meaning out of it.

In my opinion, the relationship between the transition expressions and “proper” sentences is that of symbiosis (of which parasitism is a special case). More specifically, transitions are obligate endosymbionts, that is, they live inside the “host” sentences but cannot survive on their own. So to speak. In any case, transitions are with us to stay.

Finally, here are some of my favourite quotes featuring my favourite transitions.

“Do you see, Piglet? Look at their tracks! Three, as it were, Woozles, and one, as it was, Wizzle. Another Woozle has joined them!”
And so it seemed to be. There were the tracks; crossing over each other here, getting muddled up with each other there; but, quite plainly every now and then, the tracks of four sets of paws.

A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Cat: All in all, 100% successful trip!
Kryten: But sir, we’ve lost Mr Rimmer.
Cat: All in all, 100% successful trip!


Father Fitzpatrick: Taken from the German advance on Russia. You can see where the hammer hits the shell casing.
Father Ted: Gosh, that’s very interesting.
Father Fitzpatrick: These are helmets, mostly infantry…
Father Ted: Yes, these would be German as well, wouldn’t they?
Father Fitzpatrick: That’s right.
Father Ted: You don’t have anything from the allied side?
Father Fitzpatrick: No, no. That sort of thing wouldn’t interest me at all, I’m afraid.


When people enquire
After me health-wise,
‘Not bad, considering,’ I usually say.

Christopher Matthew, Rude Health


“First, I am explaining to you how my Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker is vurrrking. Listen carefully.”
“We are listening!” cried the audience who were now jumping up and down in their chairs with excitement.
“Delayed Action Mouse-Maker is a green liqvid,” explained The Grand High Witch, “and vun droplet in each choc or sveet vill be qvite enough. So here is vot happens:
“Child eats choc vich has in it Delayed Action Mouse-Maker liqvid…
“Child goes home feeling fine…
“Child goes to bed, still feeling fine…
“Child vakes up in the morning still okay…
“Child goes to school still feeling fine…
“Formula, you understand, is delayed action, and is not vurrrking yet.”

Roald Dahl, The Witches


Now and then it would vanish for hours from the scene,
But alas, be discovered inside a tureen.

Edward Gorey, The Doubtful Guest
Transitions Вводные слова Palabras o frases de transición
above all (things); the main thing (самое) главное ante todo; sobre todo
accordingly соответственно en consecuencia
actually; effectively; in fact; really в действительности; на самом деле de hecho; en realidad; realmente
admittedly по общему признанию es verdad que; hay que admitir que
after all в конце концов después de todo
all in all в общем; в целом en general
all the same; even so; still; yet и все-таки aún; aun así; todavía
all things considered учитывая все обстоятельства bien mirado; mirándolo bien
allegedly будто бы; как утверждают según se afirma
amazingly; astonishingly; astoundingly поразительно asombrosamente
anyhow; anyway так или иначе; как ни крути (как ни верти) de todos modos
apparently; by all appearances по-видимому; судя по всему a lo que parece; al parecer
as a minimum; at the very least как минимум como mínimo
as a rule как правило por regla general
as already mentioned; as mentioned before как уже было сказано / указано / упомянуто como ya se ha dicho / indicado / mencionado
as always как всегда como siempre
as expected как и ожидалось; как и следовало ожидать como era de esperar
as far as I am concerned что касается меня en/por lo que a mí respecta/se refiere
as far as I can see насколько я могу судить por lo que yo veo
as far as I know; to the best of my knowledge насколько мне известно que yo sepa
as everybody knowns как всем известно como es de todos conocido
as it happens как это бывает; как это случается da la casualidad de que
as it is (well) known как (хорошо) известно como es (bien) sabido
as it turned out как оказалось resultó
as it were; so to speak так сказать por así decirlo
as (good) luck would have it; fortunately; luckily к счастью afortunadamente; la suerte quiso que; por suerte
as (ill) luck would have it как назло; как нарочно la mala suerte quiso que
as one can see как видно como se puede ver
as strange as it may seem; strangely enough как (это) ни странно por extraño que parezca
as (per) usual как обычно como de costumbre
as we will see как будет показано; как мы увидим como veremos
at first glance на первый взгляд a primera vista
at last; finally в заключение; наконец por fin; por último
at least по крайней мере; по меньшей мере al menos; por lo menos
at the same time в то же время al mismo tiempo
be that as it may как бы то ни было sea lo que sea
believe it or not верь или не верь; верьте или нет lo creas o no
besides кроме того además
between you and me между нами entre tú y yo
beyond doubt; indubitably; doubtlessly; undoubtedly вне всякого сомнения; несомненно indudablemente; sin duda
by the way; incidentally к слову; кстати; между прочим por cierto
certainly безусловно; несомненно ciertamente
chracteristically; typically что характерно característicamente; de modo característico; típicamente
clearly очевидно; ясно claro que
come to think of it если вдуматься ahora que lo pienso
consequently следовательно por consiguiente
considering; under the circumstances в данных обстоятельствах dadas las circunstancias
contrary to expectations вопреки ожиданиям en contra de las expectativas / de lo previsto
conversely; on the contrary наоборот; напротив a la inversa; al contrario
curiously; interestingly что любопытно; что интересно curiosamente; de manera interesante
definitely определенно decididamente; definitivamente
equally в равной степени; точно так же igualmente
especially в особенности; особенно especialmente
essentially по существу; что существенно básicamente; en lo esencial
evidently; obviously видно; очевидно; явно evidentemente; obviamente
far from it отнюдь ni mucho menos; todo lo contrario
firstly; in the first place во-первых en primer lugar; primeramente
for all these reasons; in light of all this в свете всего вышеупомянутого; исходя из вышеупомянутого por todo lo expuesto
for better or worse к худу ли, к добру ли para bien o mal
for example; for instance к примеру; например por ejemplo
for the moment; for the time being на данный момент; пока что de momento; por ahora
frankly (speaking); to be honest откровенно говоря; честно говоря francamente
hence; therefore следовательно; стало быть por eso; por lo tanto
however; nevertheless; nonetheless; notwithstanding впрочем; однако; тем не менее no obstante; sin embargo
I’m afraid боюсь me temo que
I believe (я) полагаю; (я) считаю creo que
I mean я имею в виду quiero decir
I suppose (я) полагаю / предполагаю supongo
I think думаю; мне кажется creo que; pienso que; me parece
if the worst comes to the worst; in the worst case в (самом) худшем случае en el peor de los casos
in a nutshell; to sum it up подводя итог / черту en resumen; en resumidas cuentas
in a (certain) sense в (известном / каком-то / некотором / определенном) смысле en (cierto) sentido
in a way некоторым образом de alguna manera; en cierta manera
in any case в любом случае; во всяком случае en todo caso
in my opinion / view на мой взгляд; по-моему a mi juicio; a mi parecer; en mi opinión
in other respects; otherwise в других отношениях; в остальном por lo demás
in other words иначе говоря en otras palabras; para decirlo con otras palabras
in particular; particularly в частности en concreto; en particular; particularmente
in practice на практике en la práctica
in principle в принципе en principio
in short в двух словах; короче говоря en pocas palabras
in the best case в (самом) лучшем случае en el mejor de los casos
incredibly; unbelievably как ни невероятно increíblemente; por increíble que parezca
indeed в самом деле; действительно de verdad; verdaderamente
inevitably неизбежно inevitablemente
ironically как ни смешно irónicamente
it has to be noted (pointed out) that следует заметить (отметить), что hay que notar (señalar) que
it has to be said that следует сказать, что hay que decir que
it’s worth noting that стоит отметить, что merece la pena destacar que
it turns out (that) оказывается resulta que
let’s face it давайте взглянем правде в глаза; признаемся reconozcámoslo; seamos realistas
(let’s) say скажем digamos
likewise; similarly подобным образом asimismo; del mismo modo
moreover; what’s more более того además
naturally естественно; натурально naturalmente
needless to say (that) само собой разумеется huelga decir que; ni qué decir tiene que
not surprisingly что неудивительно no es sorprendente que
note that заметьте, что tenga en cuenta que
of course конечно; (само собой) разумеется desde luego; por supuesto
on the other hand с другой стороны por otra parte; por otro lado
ostensibly; seemingly как будто бы aparentemente; en apariencia
paradoxically парадоксально paradójicamente
presumably; supposedly предположительно es de suponer; presuntamente; supuestamente
probably вероятно probablemente
regrettably; unfortunately к сожалению desgraciadamente; por desgracia
remarkably что замечательно notablemente
sadly как ни печально lamentablemente
secondly во-вторых en segundo lugar
significantly что знаменательно es significativo que
so; then итак; так entonces
strictly speaking строго говоря en sentido estricto; en términos estrictos; hablando con propiedad
suddenly; unexectedly неожиданно de repente; inesperadamente
surprisingly на удивление; что удивительно lo cual es sorprendente
thank God; thank goodness; thank heaven; thankfully слава Богу; слава тебе, Господи a Dios gracias; gracias a Dios
that is то есть es decir
the point is that дело в том что el caso es que
then again опять-таки pero vamos; por otra parte
thus таким образом así pues
to be fair справедливости ради, стоит сказать, что para ser justo
to be (perfectly) honest если быть (абсолютно / предельно / совершенно) честным para ser (totalmente) sincero
to everyone’s surprise ко всеобщему удивлению para sorpresa de todos
to put it bluntly грубо говоря; прямо скажем hablando en plata; para decirlo sin rodeos
to put it mildly мягко говоря por decir lo menos
to put it simply попросту / проще говоря para decirlo sencillamente
to tell the truth; truth to be told по правде говоря; правду сказать a decir verdad; la verdad es que
truly воистину; поистине verdaderamente
ultimately; when all is said and done в конечном счете a fin de cuentas
understandably понятно; понятное дело es comprensible
we note that отметим, что observamos que
well ну; значит pues
without further ado без дальнейших церемоний; не мудрствуя лукаво sin más ni más
without further delay без дальнейшего промедления sin más demora
would you believe веришь aunque parezca mentira
you know знаешь (ya) sabes
you know what знаешь что sabes qué
you understand вы понимаете; понимаешь tú (ya) me entiendes

más expresiones canarias

expresiones canarias

Since last October, I have been attending and thoroughly enjoying Spanish classes organised by CEPA (Centro de Educación de Personas Adultas) Fuerteventura Norte. But every good thing comes to an end: we had our last class today. Unfortunately, it is not clear if the classes will even continue next academic year, what with all the disgraceful budget cuts.

One evening I walked in the classroom and found these on the blackboard. Before the class started, I took care to copy them in my book — to share these colourful expressions with the world!

Canario Castellano
¡Agüita! a ¡Qué pasada! o ¡Cuidado!
amarrar el burro al guayabero b estar ligando
arrancar la penca marcharse, irse
batata, bobomierda, papafrita, tolete tonto, bobo (depende del tono, puede ser en broma o insulto)
enterao de la caja el agua persona que lo sabe todo (despectivo), un listillo
estar como un pejín c estar delgado
¡Fuerte chiquillo cocúo / morrúo! ¡Qué persona testaruda!
ir embalao d / follao ir muy rápido
¡Ñoss! e / ¡Choss! f para expresar algo exagerado
tener el rabo torniao g estar del mal humor, enfadado
  1. Es una expresión popular canaria, muy utilizada en Tenerife, que se dice como coletilla cuando alguien lee, oye o ve algo que le impresiona o llama la atención especialmente, ya sea por su novedad, curiosidad, ironía o porque le resulta escandaloso o impactante (¿Qué es agüita?)
  2. Guayabero means guava tree. But why one would tie the donkey to the guava tree? Maybe because he is after guayabas? Guayaba means not only guava fruit but also young girl.
  3. pejín a small fish, salted and dried (from pez)
  4. embalado fast (from bala bullet)
  5. Also ¡Ñohh! Estoy sorprendido por lo que acabo de ver u oír (from coño)
  6. Superlativo de ¡Ñohh!
  7. torniao = torneado, torcido

léxico canario para chonis

Whenever you order a cup of coffee (or tea) in Canaries, you have an opportunity to learn a bit of vernacular. The Canarian company, Café Ortega, came up with a brilliant idea: to put Canarian words (canarismos) where they are least expected… on sugar sachets. I don’t take sugar with my hot drinks, but when I saw a sachet with the word zumbadera on it, I just had to take action. And when I say action, I mean a bit of internet research. Luckily for me, some people not only collect sugar sachets, but share their treasures with the world. Adriana, a schoolgirl and a budding sucrologist from Gran Canaria, did just that. I used many of the words from her collection in the table below.

Mind you, these sugar-sachet definitions of canarismos can be tricky, and not just for chonis (foreign tourists) but for the Spanish speakers too. For example, matraquilla is defined as “pesado con idea fija, obsesión, guineo”. Guineo? In Collins Spanish-English Dictionary, guineo means “banana”. But according to Léxico Canario y Palabras Canarias guide, guineo means “repetitive talk” or “nonsense”. Or take mago: “campurrio, maúro, hombre del campo” — both campurrio and maúro are Canarian words themselves.

Spanish Wikipedia classifies canarismos as follows:

  • Derived from Spanish or its dialects
  • Derived from old Castilian, or archaisms
  • Derived from other languages

The latter include those “borrowed” from Guanche language, for instance baifo, gofio, or tabaiba; Portuguese, such as margullar or millo; and English, e.g. bisne (business), fonil (funnel) or quinegua (King Edward potato).

aboyado harto de comer, lleno hasta reventar
ahuevado con forma esférica o de huevo
alongarse asomarse, proyectar el busto hacia adelante
arrente a ras, próximo a, seguido de
baifo cabrito
baña barriga, chicha, gordura
belingo fiesta, jolgorio
bembas labios (generalmente gruesos)
bisne negocio de carácter trapisondista
bochinche cafetín, taberna, cantina
cachimba pipa para fumar tabaco
cachorro sombrero que usa el canario
cambado curvado, torcido, doblado
cartucho bolsa de papel para envolver
chispar lloviznar, llover ligeramente
choni turista extranjero, guiri
destupir desatascar, dejar libre el paso de una corriente del agua
encabronarse irritarse, ponerse furioso
enyesque tapa, pequeña porción de alimento para acompañar la bebida
escoñar estropear, dejar algo inservible
escobillón el cepillo de barrer
fañoso que habla con pronunciación nasal, constipado, resfriado
farruco bravucón, matón
fechillo cerrojo, pasador para cerrar puertas y ventanas
fonil embudo
fósforo cerilla
jalar tirar de algo con la mano
jeito maña, habilidad
jeringarse fastidiarse, conformarse
jocico boca, principalmente de animal aunque también se usa para personas
liña cuerdas para tender la ropa
mago campurrio, maúro, hombre del campo
magua pena, desconsuelo, añoranza
majada golpe (normalmente en las manos)
margullar bucear, sumergirse
matraquilla pesado con idea fija, obsesión, guineo
molido cansado
ñoños dedos de los pies
partigazo tortazo contra el suelo, peñazo
pastuño excremento de animal o persona
pelete frío
queque bizcocho (postre)
quinegua tipo de papa (proviene del inglés King Edward)
raña sucio, encachazado
rayar anotar puntos de la partida “arrayar”
rodarse desplazarse hacia un lado
rosca palomita de maíz
ruín 1. Se dice del niño muy travieso, inquieto y revoltoso. 2. Se dice de los alimentos con mal sabor.
sancochado hervido, guisado
solajero sol muy fuerte
sopladera globo
tangonazo beber de un golpe, lingotazo
templadera borrachera
tenderete fiesta, reunión de gente divirtiéndose
tenique piedra grande
tolete lerdo, torpe
tonga pila o porción de cosas apiladas en orden
ventorrillo quiosco de feria de comidas y bebidas
verguilla alambre de hierro
zarandajo informal, persona en la que no se puede confiar
zumbadera aturdimiento, atontamiento