Learning a foreign language such as Russian goes beyond purchasing the dictionary and ingesting words like a walking encyclopedia. It’s a process that requires strategic learning and assimilation to achieve favourable results with less effort. It’s easy to memorize the most common Russian phrases and greetings just for communication, but this isn’t the path to attaining fluency.
Highlighting the core aspects of the language is the first step. Then, you can choose to master the Cyrillic alphabet before proceeding to complex topics such as Russian verbs, Russian grammar, Russian phrases, pronunciation, phonology, and pragmatics. You can also check out the following Russian guides:
Here are other guides to learning other Russian aspects:
To succeed in learning the language, you need patience, dedication, and constant practice. This article explains the syntactic structure of Russian sentences; its obligatory and optional elements, noun and verb modification, direct and indirect objects, emphasis, and sentence rules. Let’s get started!
"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." ‒ Frank Smith
The Russian Sentence Structure
Russian and English have the same basic “Subject+Verb+Object” sentence structure but they differ in flexibility. Russian’s sentence structure is more flexible as the word order can be changed easily without making obvious semantic changes. However, these changes have some contextual and stylistic changes you should keep in mind. While word orders alter the meaning of expressions, the accent and intonation assigned to words have the most impact on the sentential meaning.
Consider the following sentence:
I like bread - Я люблю xлeб
The table below illustrates the various acceptable Russian structures and their meaning.
|Russian Sentence Structure||Russian Sentence||Meaning|
|Subject + Verb + Object||Я люблю xлeб||Neutral meaning.|
|Object + Subject + Verb||Xлeб я люблю||A thoughtful statement emphasizing the speaker’s love for bread.|
|Subject + Object + Verb||Я xлeб люблю||Emphasis is placed on the object’s favourite meal.|
|Object + Verb + Subject||Xлeб люблю я||Emphasis is on who loves bread, the speaker.|
|Verb + Subject + Object||Xлeб я люблю||A pensive declaration emphasizing the speaker’s love for bread.|
|Verb + Object + Subject||люблю xлeб я||A declarative statement that has a poetic undertone|
Note that the sentential subject is in the nominative, while direct objects are assigned the accusative. The verb of the sentence must be conjugated based on the tense and aspect (if any). Speaking of objects, English and Russian have direct and indirect objects. Learners often find it difficult differentiating between direct objects and indirect objects. The simple code is to remember that the direct object is the first element the subject comes in contact with. The indirect object, however, is the second element the subject encounters. Since the direct object is assigned the accusative case, the indirect object can take the initial or final position of the direct object. For example:
|Subject||Verb||Determiner||Direct object||Preposition||Indirect object|
|Subject||Verb||Indirect object||Determiner||Direct object|
|-ь||Masculine||Replace with -ю|
|-й||Masculine||Replace with -ю|
|-а||Masculine||Replace with -е|
|-ия||Feminine||Replace with и|
|-я||Feminine||Replace with -е|
|-ь||Feminine||Replace with -и|
|-а||Feminine||Replace with -e|
|-ше, це, -ще, -же,||Neuter||Replace with -y|
|-e||Neuter||Replace with -ю|
|-o||Neuter||Replace with -y|
|-ь||Masculine||Replace with -ям|
|-й||Masculine||Replace with -ям|
|-а||Masculine||Replace with -aм|
|-ия||Feminine||Replace with -ям|
|-я||Feminine||Replace with -ям|
|-ь||Feminine||Replace with -ям|
|-а||Feminine||Replace with -ам|
|-ше, це, -ще, -же,||Neuter||Replace with -aм|
|-e||Neuter||Replace with -ям|
|-o||Neuter||Replace with -ам|
"We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly." – Kató Lomb
Russian Sentence Emphasis: Theme and Rheme
Every complete sentence comprises a rheme and a theme. The theme of a sentence refers to one or more words that express understood or known information; information that’s known and unimportant. The rheme refers to new information that the audience is unaware of but which the speaker intends to communicate. For instance:
|Last week my friend||bought a car.|
|На прошлой неделе мой||друг купил машину.|
In Russian, the rheme is logically stressed. Thus, changing the word order in the sentence would alter the meaning and logical stress. Consider the following examples:
Я xлeб люблю – subject + object + verb - Emphasis is placed on the object’s favourite meal.
Xлeб люблю я – object+ verb + subject - Emphasis is on who loves bread, the speaker.
- “My son is an engineer.” The established information (theme) here is “my son” while the new information (rheme) is his engineering profession “an engineer”.
- “My son is the engineer.” The rheme in this expression is “my son”.
"The joy of knowing a foreign language is inexpressible. I find it really difficult to express such joy in my mother tongue." ― Munia Khan
Major Russian Grammar Rules
Every standardized language has rules, Russian inclusive. Here are some rules every learner should master.
Bi-syllabic and poly-syllabic words must have a primary stressed syllable. The primary-stressed syllable would have a stronger tone, prolonged articulation, and raised pitch. Russian stress has no established rule as the language, like English, has an irregular stress pattern. Thus, the only solution to its mastery is to memorize the stress placement of each word. Moreover, when there's a change in the word form, a stress shift can occur. For example:
The word "ру'ка"- (ha'nd) has the primary stress assigned to the second syllable. Once it changes to "'руки" - ('hands), a stress shift occurs and the primary stress is assigned to the first syllable.
Capitalization in Russian occurs in two major situations:
- When writing real names
- When starting a sentence
With the above rules, you might think that Russian capitalization is similar to that of the English language. This isn’t true because the nationalities, months of the year, days of the week aren’t capitalized in Russian. Furthermore, while the English letter “I” is capitalized, the Russian я is assigned the lowercase; the pronoun “you” takes the lowercase in English while the Russian variant - Вы – is assigned the uppercase sometimes.
Intonation changes based on the sentence type and the meaning intended. The following intonation rules will make your speech sound more native-like.
- The tonic syllable (last stressed syllable) of a declarative sentence is lowered. For instance:
Это mapтa – This is Martha.
- For interrogative expressions, the wh-word (who, where, how, what, or when) is assigned the primary stress. For example:
Who is it? - Кто это?
- For interrogative sentences devoid of wh-words, the tonic syllable has a rising tone. For example:
Это mapтa? – Is this Martha?
Devoicing of Voiced Consonants
Voiced consonants vibrate the vocal cords when pronounced and they include Ж, Д, Б, Г, З, and В. If a voiced consonant ends a word or is succeeded by a voiceless consonant, it becomes voiceless as well. For example:
- The voiced consonant sound /з/ in the word “Глаз – eye” is articulated as the voiceless consonant /c/. Devoicing occurs because the voiced consonant is in the word-final position.
- “Будка – booth”. /д/ is succeeded by the voiceless consonant /к/; thus / д / is pronounced as the voiceless consonant sound /T/.
The Russian language has six declensions and they all share an equal level of importance in attaining fluency. Each case defines how words change form based on a change in position or context.
- The nominative case identifies the sentential subject (what, who?).
- The dative case shows that the object receives something (to what, to whom?).
- The genitive case shows attribution, possession, or absence (what, who, whom, or whose?).
- The prepositional case indicates the person, place or time that’s being addressed (where, about what, or about whom?).
- The instrumental case indicates what instrument is utilized (with what, with whom?).
"To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world."
The Russian language has two forms of questions:
- Polar questions.
Asking Polar Questions
Polar questions are also referred to as “yes or no questions”. There’s no need to change the syntactic structure for emphasis. The written form simply needs a question mark at the end while the spoken form requires a raised pitch to indicate it’s a question rather than a declarative statement.
These questions require full answers as the questions include “when, where, how, who, what, and why”.
There are many aspects that make up the sentence. Learning these aspects in batches is the key to successful mastery of the Russian sentence.