Russian Word Formation

            Word Formation            

Once you have learned the grammar of one of the Romance languages such as French or Spanish, your task is mostly done. Building vocabulary is largely a matter of learning a new pronunciation, slight spelling variations, and variant usage of English vocabulary, e.g. French expression, immense, formidable, gouvernement, sensationnel. English has not borrowed so many words from Russian as it has from French and Latin, so building vocabulary is a more serious challenge.

The way to a large vocabulary in Russian is through the other type of morphology: derivational morphology. Russian contains two types of morphology: inflectional and derivational. Derivational morphology is sometimes called 'word formation' because, rather than marking the relations of words within a phrase, its job is to create a set of new words from each old one. In Russian this is accomplished by adding prefixes and suffixes that change the meaning of the word rather than, say, just the tense, aspect or number.

This section of the on-line interactive grammar will deal with this aspect of Russian morphology. Let us begin with the creation of new verbs.


            The Formation of New Russian Verbs            

The fundamental principle to remember about Russian verbs is that they are basically imperfective. However, when a prefix is added to them, they automatically become perfective. Each imperfective base verb, like писать and читать, has one perfective mate whose meaning is identical with that of the imperfective form. Most often the perfective is derived from an unprefixed imperfective base verb by means of a prefix. For писать the prefix is на- (на-писать) and for читать it is про-, as in про-читать. The verb forms with and without the prefix in these cases form the perfective - imperfective pair required of most Russian verbs.

When prefixes other than the one designated to simply perfectivize the imperfective base verb are added, however, the result is a new verb. For example, when the prefix до- is added to the base verb писать, the result is a new verb meaning 'to finish writing'. Since prefixation perfectivizes verbs, this new verb now requires an imperfective mate. Imperfectives are usually formed from perfective verbs by the addition of a suffix -ывай-. The imperfective of дописа-, for example, is до-пис-ывай-. Of course, if the final root consonant is soft, the ending will be ивай-. And at last some good news about accent: the accent always falls on the syllable immediately preceding this suffix. Here are some more verbs derived by prefixation whose imperfective is subsequently formed with this suffix.

Perfective Imperfective
дописа- дописывай-
дочитай- дочитывай-
осмотре- осматривай-
разработай- разрабатывай-

The suffix -ывай- has one unusual effect on the stems to which it attaches, visible in the examples above: if the vowel in the last syllable preceding this suffix is o, it is changed to a.


            The Verbal Prefixes            

The verbal prefixes vary the modality of the verb in one of two ways. When added to verbs of motion, they indicate the direction or path of the action: over, under, across, along, up to, away from, as far as, convergence and divergance. When added to other verbs, they specify the stare of the action: whether it has been begun, finished, carried through successfully, reversed, repeated, or done excessively or mildly.


            Verbal Prefixes on Verbs of Motion            

The verbal prefixes of path and direction added to verbs of motion are used in conjuction with a usually redundant preposition. The following table lists all the prefixes with the prepositions they are used with. Notice that the first four sets of prefixes in the following table form antonymic pairs.

Verbal Prefixes with Verbs of Motion
Prefix Preposition Gloss
при- в+Acc, на+Acc, к+Dat to
у- из+Gen, с+Gen от+Gen away
в- в into
вы- из out of
под- к up to
от- от away from
раз...(ся) по+Dat [dispersion]
с(о)...ся c(o)+Gen [convergence]
про- (через) through
про- мимо+Gen past by
пере- (через) over
за- за+Acc behind
до- до+Gen as far as
на- на+Acc at, onto
с(о)- с(о)+Gen down from
в(о)з- (в+Acc) upwards

Before examining how these prefixes are used to create new verbs in Russian, it is worth reminding ourselves of how Russian handles the lack of prepositions meaning 'to', 'at', and 'from'. The prepositions meaning specifically 'into' (в+Acc), 'onto' (на+Acc), and 'up to' к+Dat are used ambiguously to express 'to'. To express 'at', Russian uses the three-preposition set в+Prep, на+Prep, and у+Gen. Finally, to express 'from', Russian resorts to the triplet из+Gen 'out of', с+Gen 'down from' and от+Gen 'away from'. Here is a table demonstrating how these prepositions are applied as sets, such that any noun selecting one of these prepositions must select all in the set. For example, if в+Acc is used with школа (в школу) to indicate 'to school', then в+Prep and из+Gen must be used to express 'at school' (в школе) and 'from school' (из школы).

Prepositions Expressing Basic Motions
Object is Откуда? Где? Куда?
Interior из(о)+Gen '(out) of' в+Prep'in/at' в+Acc '(in)to'
Flat с(о)+Gen '(down) from' на+Prep 'on/at' на+Acc '(on)to'
Animate от(о)+Gen '(away) from' у+Gen 'by/at' к+Dat 'to(ward)'

The choice between the use of в or на with nouns is generally based on whether the noun refers to a place or object with an interior in which human beings or animals conventionally go, e.g. в саду 'in the garden', в лесу 'in the woods', в здании 'in the building', в школе 'in school'. Exceptions include: на почте 'at post office', stations such as на вокзале 'train station', аеропорт 'airport', and factories: на заводе 'at the plant', на фабрике 'at the factory. All other concrete (на улице 'in the street') and abstract nouns (на концерте 'at the concert') require на plus the appropriate case.

Now here are some example sentences illustrating the literal meanings of the verbal prefixes on verbs of motion and the prepositional phrases that must accompany them. Notice in particular the first three sets of examples which show how the three sets of prepositions meaning 'to' and 'from' are used with and without the prefixe при- 'to' and у- '(away) from'.

The Prefixes ПРИ- and У-
Маша идёт в школу.
Masha is going to school.
Маша приходит в школу.
Masha arrives at school.
Маша идёт из школы.
Masha is leaving school.
Маша уходит из школы.
Masha is leaving school.
Маша идёт на концерт.
Masha is going to the concert.
Маша приходит на концерт.
Masha arrives at the concert.
Маша идёт с концерта.
Masha is leaving the concert.
Маша уходит с концерта.
Masha is leaving the concert.
Маша идёт к другу.
Masha is going to her friend's.
Маша приходит к другу.
Masha arrives at her friend's.
Маша идёт от друга.
Masha is leaving her friend's.
Маша уходит от друга.
Masha is leaving her friend's.

The Prefixes В- and ВЫ-

When added to verbs of motion, the prefix в- with the preposition в+Accusative indicates the motion into (Ира входит в дом 'Ira is entering the building', and the prefix вы- with the preposition из+Genitive signals motion out of something (Ира вы-ходит из дому 'Ira is coming out of the building').

Я веду брата в комнату.
I take my brother to the room.
Я ввожу брата в комнату.
I bring my brother into the room.
Я веду брата из комнаты.
I take my brother from the room.
Я вывожу брата из комнаты.
I take my brother from the room.
The Prefixes ПОД- and ОТ-

When added to verbs of motion, the prefix под- with the preposition к+Dative indicates the motion up to (Ира подходит к дому 'Ira is approaching the house'. The prefix от- with the preposition от+Genitive signals motion away from something (Ира отходит от дома 'Ira is coming away from the building'). When speaking of any means of transport between cities, при- is used with от-.

Птица летит к окну.
The bird flies toward the window.
Птица подлетает к окну.
The bird flies up to the window.
Птица летит от окна.
The bird flies from the window.
Птица отлетает от окна.
The bird flies away from the window.
Лодка плывёт от дока.
The boat sails from the dock.
Лодка отплывает от дока.
The boat sails away from the dock.
Лодка плывёт к доку.
The boat sails to the dock.
Лодка подплывает к доку.
The boar sails up to the dock.
Она несёт кувшин к нему.
She carries the pitcher to him.
Она подносит кувшин к нему.
She brings the pitcher up to him.
Она несёт кувшин от него.
She carries the pitcher from him.
Она относит кувшин от него.
She carries the pitcher away from him.

Самолёт летит в Москву.
The plane flies into Moscow.
Самолёт прилетает в Москву.
The plane arrives in Moscow.
Самолёт летит из Москвы.
The plane flies from Moscow.
Самолёт отлетает из Москвы.
The plane departs Moscow.
Поезд идёт на вокзал.
The train goes to the station.
Поезд приходит на вокзал.
The train arrives at the station.
Поезд идёт с вокзала.
The train leaves the station.
Поезд отходит с вокзала.
The train departs the station.
Корабль плывёт в Баку.
The ship sails to Baku.
Корабль приплывает в Баку.
The ship sails into Baku.
Корабль плывёт к доку.
The ship sails to the dock.
Корабль отплывает из Баку.
The ship sails out of Baku.

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