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Use of the indefinite and definite articles in Russian

I'm still a beginner in learning Russian, so I can't write this in Russian, I'm sorry.

My question is this: I've read that you don't use definite or indefinite articles (the/a) in Russian, is that correct? In the first few lessons on Duolingo I encountered "этот/эта/это/эти" and they were translated as "the". Shouldn't they be translated as something more like "this/these"?

There are threads about this in Russian, but the google translation is not that reliable... Can someone please give me a short update about this in English?

December 23, 2013

11 комментариев


Hi, yes, you're right, we don't use any articles in Russian. If we need somewhere to emphasize that the object is the one, we use words этот=this or тот=that. So it was very challenging for us to translate the duoloingo sentences, where there is no context to tell the difference between a girl and the girl. And also we don't have any grammar explanations yet. So, our decision was to use этот instead of the, and I will show you on some examples how it works.

If we are given an indefinite sentence, like: A boy reads a book.

We would translate it as: Мальчик читает книгу.

And that is how you're supposed to translate those when you see them in your lesson. Actually, the Russian sentence can be also translated as "A boy is reading a book" (and we accept that as well)

However, when the sentence is: The boy reads the book

We translate it: Best translation = Этот мальчик читает эту книгу. Alternative accepted translations are: Этот мальчик читает книгу. Мальчик читает эту книгу. Мальчик читает книгу. As you can see, the latter is the same as we had for the indefinite case.

The best translation means that it is the Russian sentence which will be given to the students to translate back into Russian.

So, they will receive Этот мальчик читает эту книгу. And for that we accept the following translations:

[The/This/That] boy [reads/is reading] [the/this/that] book.

This is how we write it, so essentially there are 3x3x2=18 different ways to translate the same sentence. And it is a pretty simple case.

You may ask, why "that" is accepted as "этот", while before I told you it means тот. The thing is that Russians are not very consistent in using this and that, and can say THIS about things which are far away or happened in the past, in all those cases, where English speakers would use that. Some English sentences with that cannot even be translated with тот, as no Russian would say тот in that particular context.

I hope it was helpful, let me know if you have other questions. We all will be glad to help.


Thank you for the explanation! I took Russian in college and the grammar rules are a bit fuzzy, but I couldn't figure out how you all had done this for the duolingo course.


Update, we've discussed the matter today between the Russian mods, and we've decided that for the sentence Maльчик читает книгу we will accept the following forms:

[A/The] boy [reads/is reading] [a/the] book.


Thank you very much for the explaination and the update, Larisa! It's so nice of you putting it here in English even though the course is for Russian speakers.


You're welcome, we know that there are many of those who try to learn Russian using this course. And I know that you all are very dedicated people, because it is a hard language, and because the tool is not created for your purpose. So, I will be more than happy to answer whatever questions you have, if I can, and to help you find some additional resources, if I cannot. Welcome guys to the world of Russian. I'm sure that soon will be able to converse in Russian with each other :)


Thank you so much, Larisa (and other mods) for supporting us - english speakers learning Russian - even though the course is not meant for that purpose! I have not found any better Russian course available (to brush up my Russian that I learned as a child), and I have tried and looked a lot! Thanks a lot for your great work!

Just out of interest - are there any plans to develop a Russian course for English speakers?


Yes, there are, in a couple of months or so.


Wow. I thought not having articles would actually make things simpler, how wrong am I? :-)

Thanks for the detailed explanation Larisa.


Things are simple while you stay in the realm of your own language, and it doesn't matter if you have articles or not. But as soon as you start "dating" :) other languages, everything becomes complicated.


Very true - all languages have their quirks, you just don't notice those in your own.


I've come across this conversation and would like to add to Larisa's perfect overview:

Similarly to how we substitute "this/that" for "the", we also use "one"="один/одна/одно" for "a/an", like in:

"Вчера я смотрел один фильм, там играет одна известная актриса, та, которая играла ещё в..." - "I watched a movie yesterday, a famous actress acts there, the one who also starred in..."

That said, it still is true that we officially do not use any articles, and the use of these substitutes is optional and depends on the speaker's discretion/habits.

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