Problems for Russian Learners

The grammatical systems of Russian and English are fundamentally different. English is an analytical language, in which grammatical meaning is largely expressed through the use of additional words and by changes in word order. Russian, on the other hand, is a synthetic language, in which the majority of grammatical forms are created through changes in the structure of words, by means of a developed system of prefixes, suffixes and inflectional endings which indicate declension, conjugation, person, number gender and tense. Russian therefore has fairly complicated systems of noun and adjective declension and verb conjugation, but the Russian sentence has no real word order.

The Russian and English verb systems express rather different kinds of meaning. Russian has only three tenses: past, present and future. The verb system is mainly built on the notion of aspect. This is the contrast between actions which are uncompleted (imperfective aspect) and those which are completed (perfective aspect). These contrasts are indicated through affixation. Perfect and progressive forms of verbs, as understood in English, do not exist. Strictly speaking there are no auxiliary verbs like do, have or will in Russian, although the verb ‘bit’ (to be), for example, used to build future tense forms or passive voice forms, could be construed as a kind of auxiliary verb, e.g. 'V dva chasa ya budu rabotat doma' (I'll be working at home at two o'clock) or 'Rabota bila zdelana v srok' (The work was done in/on time). By the same token, the Russian verbal particle 'pust' (similar in meaning to the English 'let') used to build some imperative mood forms, could also be conceived as a kind of auxiliary, e.g 'Pust on Pridyot zavtra' (Let him come tomorrow).

Phrasal verbs do not exist in Russian, and the use of prepositions is far more limited than in English.

Nouns have no grammatical gender.

There are no articles in Russian.

With such basic differences between the grammatical systems of the two languages it is inevitable that there will be certain major difficulties for a Russian learning English.

So as to assist our new teachers to understand better the differences which exist between the English and Russian grammatical systems, brief descriptions have been provided for a number of grammatical areas. Rather than try to learn them by heart, it would be better to use this section as a reference, perhaps reviewing the appropriate section prior to teaching the grammatical structures contained within to your classes.


Questions and negatives; auxiliaries

Time, tense and aspect

Modal verbs

To be and To have


False friends

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