1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Russian
  4. >
  5. Есть vs. кушать?


Есть vs. кушать?

For reference: My wife's family came to the USA from Ukraine/USSR in the late 70s, so their Russian language skills are basically frozen in time from then. They still read some .ru websites or watch modern videos in russian, but I doubt that they've kept up with changes to the language. English from the 70s is certainly a bit different than it is today, with some words falling out of favor.

With that in mind: Whenever I'm with them, the first thing out of their mouths is что ты хочешь кушать?

However, all of the lessons and different translations I find say that есть is "to eat" even though it has кушать as a second definition.

Can someone explain the difference?


EDIT: I just found some stuff that clarifies it a bit more where the connotations are more like "to dine" vs "to snack", or perhaps even "to gnaw". "You want something to gnaw on?" certainly sounds different than "do you want something to eat"!

November 4, 2015



These are two different verbs that mean the same thing. "есть" is more common, while "кушать" comes from the older Russian and happens mainly in idiomatic expressions or to make the speech more colorful. I suggest using "есть" as a default option.


So it's just an older word? Would a native russian speaker laugh at me for using кушать, or would they get my meaning just fine?


It is older, but not ancient. So it is okay to use it. I think people would use one or the other more often depending on what they are trying to say. For example, "хочешь кушать?" sounds to me better than "хочешь есть?", but "я поел" (I have eaten.) is certainly more common than "я покушал", which sounds childish or intentionally cute (apparently, Russian children also find it hard to use two different verbs for the same thing.)


Heh...it must be the time difference from when they left USSR.

My inlaws definitely ask "он покушал?" about our son even when we just told them that we ate dinner just before getting on skype with them, as well as saying exactly the same thing to my wife when I walk in, even though she told them 10 times that I was coming from dinner with friends.


It's okay to ask about other people using this verb, but applied to yourself it sounds silly or childish.


I think this article puts it together nicely. However, I wouldn't flatly deny the existence of this preference in usage. As a native speaker (male, under 20), I'd say that it feels wrong and childish to apply «кушать» to myself and I'd probably only say that to little children.

On the other hand, some people seem to be absolutely fine with it.


I was reading a very old textbook that said to use есть when talking about yourself eating (Я или мы) and кушать when referring to someone else. Obviously I know that's no longer the case, but that book was the only place I had ever seen it mentioned. I've never heard of a language having different words for eating depending on who is doing it, so I wonder how that evolved.


There may be also regional differences. Ukraine is certainly very far from where I come from :)


That's true and not something I'd considered!


It has nothing to do with the decade they left USSR in. The use of «кушать» was frowned upon even then. I have a dictionary on usage of certain words and word forms published in 1974 which features quite an amount of outdated advice (like a completely unacceptable stress for «фольга» foil, which used to be the main correct option back then).

The dictionary says the following (translated to English):

КУШАТЬ Used only when inviting to a meal and towards children. One should not use the verb кушать in 1st person.

The use of that word was probably even more actively discouraged four decades ago: many scientists note that stylystic borders in Russian became blurred in the nineties.


Thanks for the info :)

I guess, then, that the most likely situation is that my inlaws still speak to their 30 year old offspring that have provided them grandchildren as if they are still children themselves.

Unless...can you use it when inviting to a meal for anyone (including adults)? Because I guess usually I hear it as что вы буите кушать which I'd say is more or less inviting to a meal.


кушать is more informal.
Also, don't confuse есть (to eat) with есть (he/she/it is) as a form of the verb быть (to be)

  • 2101

кушать is more informal.

It's not about being informal, it's about sounding distinctly servile. Кушать is a term historically used by serfs to refer to their masters' eating and ever since then it has kept its "servile" flavour. You can use it in fixed expressions (кушать подано), inviting someone else to eat (i.e., when sounding overly polite is OK) or else, when talking to babies. Under no circumstances should you use it in the first person - you will sound like someone trying to kiss your own arse. (Then again, if that's what you like - who am I to object?)

Upshot: Just use "есть" unless you really know what your are doing.


Yeah, at first I couldn't really figure out how it was related, but then I realized that in English, we use "to be" to mean "eat" all the time: "What are you having for dinner?" "I'm going to have chicken" "here, have a candy bar" and so forth.


They are really two different verbs with the same infinitive - i.e. they conjugate differently.


Oh....well that's just more confusing!

[deactivated user]

    Actually Russian does allow using 'to be' in the meaning 'to eat' sometimes, but only in the future tense: «Что ты будешь?» — «Я буду картошку» ('What will you [eat]?' — 'Iʼll [eat] potatoes'). Compare «Я буду программисткой» (Iʼll be [a] programmer) where 'буду' is used in the usual sense of 'to be'. But this is a very colloquial usage, and it is unrelated to the the homonymy of 'есть' ('is', present tense, 3 sg) and 'есть' ('to eat', infinitive).


    It's not the same infinitive. One infinitive is есть (to eat) the other is быть (to be).


    You are giving us examples of using "to have" to mean "to eat". We don't use "to be" to mean "to eat". We use "to be" with any verb to make the present progressive or continuous tenses. These two words are different words that just happened to be spelled the same for a particular conjugation. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D1%8C

    • 1733

    Also, "есть" comes from Indo-European word "h₁ed"- --> English "eat", German "essen", Latin "ēdere". It was the main word with this meaning already among prehistoric Indo-European tribes.
    "Кушать" is a later word and doesn't have reliable cognates beyond Slavic language family, it is related to the Russian word "кусать" "to bite", "кусок" "a piece".


    Caveat: This is based on my experience in Russia and that was 15 years ago.

    Кушать was very much what you used for other people/to offer food. It would seem kind of weird to use it about yourself. Also, in my experience, if someone is saying "Eat! You must eat something!" then using есть in the imperative feels a bit rude, whereas using кушать is somehow more polite/gentler.

    Random sort of related aside. I know off the top of my head at least three ways to say I don't need to eat, I'm not hungry, without even thinking about it, and if I sat down and thought about it and remembered the things I used to know, I'm sure it's at least half a dozen. I actually have to sit and think for a moment to remember how to say I'm hungry. This tells you everything you need to know about my Russian хозяйка/бабушка <3


    хозяйка is one of my favorite russian words my wife taught me to describe the woman her cousin married that we're pretty sure was a mail order bride. I know it can be meant as a compliment, but in this case her cousin was not very ambitious and so all he wanted was a хозяйка, not a woman with her own drives and dreams.

    Edit: I just googled it and the definition it comes up with is "mistress" and it seems to be somewhat connotated as an authoritarian. The way my wife's family uses it is more of a "housewife"...a wife that keeps the house clean and cooks and raises the kids, but is sort of a trophy wife that just serves her husband.


    I think it's one of those words that doesn't really translate very well into English? Because the ways I've heard it used by Russians are actually quite varied, and it can just mean landlady sometimes I think?

    I tend to use it mostly because I can't find a good alternative. My Russian granny was not actually my granny, and she was my landlady in that I paid to live in her house, but she was much more than my landlady, and it would be weird to call her my host mother because she was more my host grandma, and... yeah. So if I say хозяйка/бабушка, that kind of sums it up better than any other way I can put it.

    I think it can mean landlady, hostess, mistress, housewife, depending on who's using it about whom. I also don't know if it depends where in Russia you are, I'm pretty sure it was considered fairly neutral by the people I heard use it... :-/

    I kind of like it as a word. It's really satisfying to say!


    I would likely say "домохозяйка" when meaning a housewife, whereas I would use "хозяйка" meaning a hostess (or a landlady - as was in some comments above.) Literally however "хозяин/хозяйка" means owner or master/mistress. "Я сам себе хозяин" - "I am my own master."


    You can use есть anytime anywhere, it is the main form of the verb "to eat". While кушать is stylistically limited in use. Кушать may be used in the following contexts:

    • A polite invitation of a person/persons to eat:
      "Кушать подано! Садитесь жрать пожалуйста{@style=text-decoration:line-through; text-color = #e2e2e2}" A moment from a Soviet comedy movie
      "Кушайте, пожалуйста!" - Eat please
    • Addressing to children:
      "Ты уже покушал?" - Have you eaten yet?
      "Садись покушай." - Take a seat and eat.
    • Talking about yourself "Я кушаю" is okay just for women and children. A man would sound weird in this case, and should say "Я ем".
    • Also if you say about your family "Мы покушали" it would sound like a family of landlords from XIX century just finished their lunch and are going to rest in front of the fireplace :)


    Also if you say about your family "Мы покушали" it would you sound like a family of landlords from XIX century just finished their lunch and are going to rest in front of the fireplace :)

    LOL I like!

    • 2101

    Talking about yourself "Я кушаю" is okay just for women and children. A man would sound weird in this case, and should say "Я ем".

    Not even then. To my (St. Petersburg) ear it sounds horrible in the first person regardless of the speaker's gender or age. OK, perhaps it's fine if the speaker is a 4-year old - just because that's how 4-year old children are commonly talked to, but hardly otherwise.


    FoR my Novosibirsk ear it sounds horrible as well. I don't want to be arrogant, but really, never heard it from cultured people.


    So maybe..."to dine" or "to sup" may be better english translations, at least as far as connotation?


    I am not sure but I guess these words refer more to "обедать" and "ужинать" respectively, while "кушать" means "to eat" in general.

    Learn Russian in just 5 minutes a day. For free.