16 Reasons Why the Russian Language is so Weird


I often hear that Russian is a bizarre language, and I can’t disagree. So, why is it so strange and unusual, and why does it so often blow student’s minds? To answer this question, I analyzed learners’ feedback, and I came up with some findings.

The Russian language is considered to be weird because of it’s insane grammar, fierce but sometimes very funny pronunciation, odd vocabulary and, of course, the famous Russian cursive.

These findings are a collection of oddities I’ve gathered from my own experience and feedback from Russian learners.

To find out more about the oddities of the Russian language, continue reading!

Top Three Weird Things about the Russian Language

1. You suddenly realize that in Russian, your name has tons of variations! The Russian language grants you with dozens of new versions of your name. It’s not just Tom and Tommy. The Russian language has so many diminutive suffixes, and each of them has it’s special meaning: Tomik, Tomochek, Tomushka, Tomka, Tomusik… I can keep going on forever! The weird thing about this is that every version has its own shadow of meaning. You will soon notice that your colleagues prefer one version, your best friends prefer others.

2. Do you think that “Fart-Travel”, “Ass,” or “Shit” are bad names for business? Well, in Russian they sound fine.

The Russian word “фарт” (transliterated as “fart”) means “luck.” The term “асс” (transliterated as “ass”) means a high professional, and “щит,” that sounds like “shit,” is a shield.

3. It’s easy to mix up “to write” (писАть/ pIsat’) and “to pee” (пИсать/ pisAt’) because word stresses change their place as they wish. In English, once you’ve learned the word “to mAster,” you can be sure that it will never become “to mastEr” or “masterIng.” Russian word stresses do not obey any rules. You learn a nice short word, “дOм” (dom/a home), but when you want to say “homes,” the stress jumps to the end: “домА” (domA). But if you’re going to ask, “Are you at home?” don’t forget to shift the stress to the beginning again: “дОма” (dOma). 

The Weirdness of Russian Letters and Sounds

4. Two dots have never been more annoying! The letter “Е” and “Ё” sound completely different: like [je] and [jo]. However, locals almost always omit these two dots above the letter, even in books and newspapers. For instance, you see the name “Алеша” (Aljesha). Surprise! It’s not “Алеша” (Aljesha), but “Алёша” (Aljosha). To a language learner, it’s like trying to write “a pAn,” but meaning that it’s actually “a pEn.” Native speakers just recognize the word with a proper letter and read it correctly and don’t bother themselves with putting any extra signs.

5. Some letters don’t have their sound at all: Ь and Ъ. They have their “names”: a soft sign and a hard sign, but the weird thing is that you can not pronounce the sound they represent. These letters make sense only when they “merge” with other letters in a word; otherwise, they are “soundless.”

6. Your teacher says that Ш [sh] and Щ [sch] sound differently, but you don’t believe him! For an average beginner, they sound entirely similar, and it takes some time to hear this tiny difference. But when you learn how to pronounce them, you feel like a God of phonetics!

7. Zdravstvuiti – this Russian “hello” can scare off anybody. When you see it, you think that the word obviously lacks some vowels in the middle, and you desperately want to fill these gaps. At first, you think that ordinarily, people don’t say words “vstv” in a row, but soon you get used to it and easily say “otsutstvujushij” or “otvjetstvennost.”

On the other hand, you can make a sentence that consists only of vowels:

  • Э, а я? – Hey, what about me?

Russian Grammar can Blow your Mind

8. For the Russian language, the dead is a living thing. Is an object alive or not is very important for grammar. Generally, it’s easy: we all know who is a living creature and what isn’t, but Russian will make you doubt. Here, a dead body (труп) is inanimate, but the dead (покойник) is animate. What about vampires and zombies? For the Russian language, they are still alive, the same as snowmen and robots.

9. A dog (собака) is female and a cat (кот) is male – this is how things are going in the Russian grammar. In this universe, a book (книга) – is a feminine noun, a students book (учебник) – masculine, and a page-turner (чтиво) – is neutral. On the other hand, Russian genders are much more comfortable than German, where the choice between masculine, feminine, and neutral is much more random. 

10. Russian words have an insane amount of forms, especially verbs. The more frightening thing is that all words agree in a sentence, this means that nouns, verbs, adjectives, numerals, and others will have their endings depending on the situation.

Let’s take the verb “to read.” I made a list of possible forms and 94 variations. Though, in the picture, I didn’t manage to place eight more future forms of the verb.

At first sight, you might think: “Who in his mind can ever learn this?”

But in fact, the endings are very repetitive and obey strict logic. So, yes, there are many forms, but if you learn the rules consistently with no rush, you will soon understand how they do work.

The Russian language is not as severe as it may seem. To make sure, you can read the post where I honestly rated the difficulty of each aspect of the language.

10. Say good-bye to articles! Russian doesn’t use articles at all, and it seems very unusual for English speakers. They feel a lack of important information in a sentence: are we talking about a random thing or a specific one? You will never know it from a Russian sentence.

On the other hand, all the Russians who learn English break their heads to put an appropriate article in the correct place. Probably, an English speaker’s revenge for Russian cases 🙂

What can be Weirder than the Russian Cursive?

11. Russian handwriting – probably one of the weirdest parts of the language. Who in his mind can ever understand this combination of absolutely similar loops and stripes? But natives still use it everywhere. Even in a computer-typed text, a well-familiar “т” can turn into “m.”

Russian Cursive letters Connections
The word “lilies” in Russian cursive

Some learners think that it’s near to impossible to master Russian handwriting as tricky as it may seem. It’s very logical, and you can easily learn it yourself even if you’ve never used cursive in your native language. Here I have a complete guide with a free workbook. Having completed it, you will be able to write a postcard in Russian cursive!

The Oddities of the Russian Vocabulary

12. Russian has four words for one simple “to go,” because, by some weird reason, it’s significant for the language exactly how you go: do you use a vehicle or go by foot, do you go to a single point or you go somewhere from time to time? To “go to the shop (now),” “to go shopping,” “to go to the shop by car (now),” and finally, “to go to the shop on Sundays” are four different types of “to go.” 

13. Russian has a special word for light-blue (голубой / goluboi), for the number 1,5 (полтора / poltora), working days (будни / budni), and many others. Another one – “авось” (avos’), is tough to explain as it means an irrational belief in a positive outcome when you don’t put efforts to reach it. On the other hand, it’s really hard to translate into Russian a very common Western term, “privacy.” If you ask for some privacy, your Russian interlocutor will be confused. What do you want: to stay alone, confidentiality, or to stop discussing the problem? You’ll need to give more explanations.

14. In Russian, you use “to be” and “to have” three times less, and you desperately miss them. In Russian, the phrase “I have a new car” turns into something like “At me new car” (with no “have” at all). Or the phrase “I am a doctor” becomes “I doctor.” This blows your mind the first time because you want to use habitual constructions that don’t work anymore. And this makes you think differently! 

15. The Russian Language is full of paradoxes. You can make up a sentence with one word, a dialog with just two, or have all the words which, with no exception, begin with one letter – П [p]. Here are some funny examples.

  • Косил косой косой косой. It’s not a senseless repetition of similar words. This sentence means, “A squint-eyed hopper had grass with a curved scythe.”
  • – Есть пить? – Пить – нет, есть есть. This one translates as: Is there anything to drink? No, there isn’t, but there’s food to eat. 

16. You’ll never meet more weird logic about things that stand and lie. A knife lies on a table, but if we stick it into a surface, it stands. Ok, there’s some logic. Maybe horizontal objects lie and vertical stand? Let’s take a flat object: a pan. Surprise! A pan stands on a table! But if we put it upside down, it lies.

 In the Russian language, a clock can go when they hang and stand when they lie. And it’s grammatically correct to say: “I’ve sat on the bus. I’m standing.”

Conclusion

Like any other language, Russian has its own unusual and beautiful features. Which ones are the weirdest for you as a learner? When was the last time you thought, “Oh, how interesting!” Share in comments below!

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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