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The basics of survival in Russia


How Russians address each other


I. The polite form of address in Russian is «ВЫ», which is expressed according to the pronoun and the form of the verb.



Вы бы́ли в Москве́? - Have you been to Moscow?

Вы мо́жете сде́лать э́то? - Can you do it? Are you available to do it? 

Когда́ вы прие́дете? - When will you arrive?           

Где вы бы́ли в суббо́ту? - Where were you on Saturday?

Что вы бу́дете де́лать за́втра? - What are you going to do tomorrow?


The Imperative also has a polite form - «ВЫ» - it using the particle -ТЕ combined with the word «пожа́луйста» (please).



Скажи́те, пожа́луйста. - Tell me please.                

Да́йте, пожа́луйста. - Give me please.

Покажи́те, пожа́луйста. - Show me please.

Помоги́те, (мне) пожа́луйста! - Help me please!


The more familiar form of address using «ТЫ» (the informal) is used when addressing friends, close acquaintances, relatives, and children.


When dealing with officials, strangers, elderly people, work colleagues, and authorities, it is recommended to use the polite form «ВЫ». This is a way of showing respect to other people in the Russian language.


Another way of showing respect is by using the patronymic name when greeting someone. 


All Russians have this special name, formed from their father’s first name


Example: father’s name - Пётр / his son - Анто́н Петро́вич / his daughter - А́нна Петро́вна



When reading Russian literature you will come across many examples of lovely, polite forms of address between people.


Unfortunately, during the Soviet Union, the tradition of polite address between individuals was lost. In the place of such polite forms as «су́дарь - суда́рыня» (Sir - Madam), «господи́н - госпожа́» (Sir, Mister - lady, Madam) and «ба́рышня» (for a young lady - Miss), used earlier, during the times of the Russian Empire, there appeared the word «това́рищ» (comrade), used in greeting either a man or a woman. People also started to address each other as «мужчи́на - же́нщина» (man - woman), «молодо́й челове́к - де́вушка» (young boy - girl) depending upon the age and sex of the person.


After more than 20 years since the break-up of the USSR, the mentality of people and their use of language to express respect are changing very slowly. In contemporary Russia, in restaurants, shops, and on public transport, everyone is still using the forms «молодо́й челове́к - де́вушка». The greeting «мужчи́на - же́нщина» which is a form of address that lacks politeness.


It goes without saying that such forms of address appear strange and even rude to foreigners. It is advised to use the following phrases in introductions: «Бу́дьте добры́!», «Мо́жно …?», «Извини́те. In this way you will avoid using impolite forms.


At the present time, in official communications, particularly, in written communication, you should use the title «господи́н - госпожа́» (Mr. - Mrs., Miss, Ms.) plus the surname of the person being addressed.



Уважа́емый господи́н Ивано́в! / Уважа́емая госпожа́ Ивано́ва!  

Уважа́емые да́мы и господа́! - Ladies and Gentlemen!


The greeting «уважа́емый / уважа́емая / уважа́емые» (respected) in a less formal situation can be used with the first name and patronymic.



Уважа́емый Анто́н Петро́вич! / Уважа́емая А́нна Петро́вна! - Respected

Уважа́емые колле́ги! - Respected colleagues!


The greeting «дорого́й / дорога́я / дороги́е» (dear) is used informally, using only the first name of the person addressed.



Дорого́й Анто́н! / Дорога́я А́нна! / Дороги́е А́нна и Анто́н! - Dear …

Дороги́е друзья́! - Dear friends!



II. In Russian, the polite question ‘Would you like something / to do something?’ requires the polite form «ВЫ» and the corresponding form of the verb ХОТЕ́ТЬ combined with the word «пожа́луйста».



(Вы) Хоти́те ча́ю / ко́фе? - Would you like a cup of tea / coffee?

Хоти́те пойти́ в музе́й? - Would you like to go to the museum?


From the point of view of the Russian language this is a polite form of address.


In sentences such as ‘I would like to meet with you’ = «Я хоте́л(а) бы встре́титься с ва́ми» you use the past tense of the verb ХОТЕ́ТЬ (ХОТЕ́Л / ХОТЕ́ЛА / ХОТЕ́ЛИ) and the particle БЫ.


A variation is «Я хочу́ + infinitive» («Я хочу́ встре́титься с ва́ми»). It is a synonym, but straight talking.


If you want to suggest to someone that you do something together, use the imperative «ДАВА́ЙТЕ» - Let’s do something together.



Дава́йте пойдём в рестора́н! - Let’s go to the restaurant.

Дава́йте пое́дем в Петербу́рг!

Дава́йте встре́тимся в понеде́льник в 10 часо́в в о́фисе.


If you want to find out some information, use the polite question form and the negative particle -НЕ.



Вы не зна́ете, когда́ бу́дет встре́ча? - Do you know (= Don’t you know)

Вы не зна́ете, где Анто́н?

(Вы) Не подска́жете, где у́лица Че́хова?

Вы не ви́дели мою́ су́мку / Анто́на и А́нну?


When asking someone to do something, that is like an Imperative, use the construction «Вы не могли бы + infinitive» - Could you + infinitive + please.



Вы не могли́ бы мне помо́чь?!

Вы не могли́ бы сде́лать э́то сего́дня?