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English vs. Russian Adjectives Term Paper


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The aim of this paper is to compare the adjectives in the two languages, namely English and Russian. The discussed issues include the formation of adjectives, their structure, morphology, meaning, role in sentences, and peculiarities of this part of speech in each language.

This study will present the special features of Russian as of a Slavonic language. It will also compare the differences of adjectives use in English and Russian, and demonstrate them with different examples. In addition, the paper will show how the findings might be used in pedagogical practice in order to teach Russian.

Russian as a Slavonic language

Russian, as well as English, belongs to the Indo-European language family, which logically would have to point to a number of similar characteristics between the languages. However, in the more detailed specification, Russian belongs to a Slavonic group of languages, namely to its Eastern part.

This group has a multitude of features which differ it from the other Indo-European languages. Besides using a different alphabet (Cyrillic), it also is a synthetic language, in contrast to English, which is analytical (Ivanov, 2007). This feature plays a key role in the grammatical structure of the language.

The synthetic properties like the wide use of affixes, absence of a set word order pattern, dominance of active constructions over passive and use of impersonal constructions determine the way the words and sentences are being formed and used. This, in turn, means using an approach to morphology, syntax, and semantics, which is completely different from that used in English.

Besides the developed morphological system, Slavonic languages have one more significant difference. It lies in the fact that the languages of this group use seven cases, unlike the four used in English (Ivanov, 2007). They include nominative, prepositive, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumentive, and locative cases (Sussex, 2006).

This peculiarity determines the complexity of the language structure, and explains major differences between the use of English and Russian parts of speech. All these attributes of Russian as of a Slavonic language should be taken into consideration while conducting a comparative study between the two languages.

Role of adjectives in Russian

Due to the differences in language structures, the role of different parts of speech in Russian and English also differs. For instance, one should clearly understand, that while in analytical languages the predicative center (which usually consists of a noun and a verb) plays the key role, in synthetic languages such strict hierarchy is absent. This means that other parts of speech can be of no lesser significance.

Adjectives in Russian have a number of features, which makes this part of speech one of the most important, the one capable of cooperating and agreeing with any other part of speech. In addition, Russian adjectives have a much more complex nature than the English ones, as it will be demonstrated later in this paper.

Even though Sihombing (2008) argues that the morphological processes in English adjectives play an outstanding role in enriching the language, in fact there are only few affixes that can be used to change the form of an adjective.

In contrast, the opportunities of Russian morphology suggest that the number of affixes to use is almost unlimited, which is combined with a complicated system of declension and gender agreement (Asarina, 2009). Therefore, correct use of an adjective in Russian demands a deep knowledge of the language.

Comparison of Russian and English adjectives

Morphological structure

While comparing the adjectives in Russian and English, the morphological aspect is the most controversial and voluminous. This is due to the fact, that, as it was already mentioned, Russian is a synthetic language, which points to the exceptional role of morphology for its parts of speech. Concerning adjectives, the first thing to mention should be the existence of short and long forms of adjectives (Matushansky, 2006).

Besides some exceptions, all the adjectives in Russian can be used in the both forms, considering that short forms are treated as more formal. The forms are distinguished by certain endings added to the root, but their meaning remains unchanged in both cases (1):

Она умна. – She is smart. (short form)

Она умная. – She is smart. (long form)

Он умён. – He is smart. (short form)

Он умный. – He is smart. (long form)

Оно умно. – It is smart. (short form)

Оно умное. – It is smart. (long form)

Она больна. – She is sick. (short form)

Она больная. – She is sick. (long form)

Он болен. – He is sick. (short form)

Он больной. – He is sick. (long form)

Оно больно. – It is sick. (short form)

Оно больное. – It is sick. (long form)

This property can be to some extent compared to that of English short and long forms, such as (2):




but this only concerns the ic/ical endings. Despite the absence of difference in meaning of the long and short forms of adjectives, there is a difference in therir use. For instance, the short forms can only serve as a predicative adjective, while the long forms can also be used attributively (Levine, 2009).

As it can be seen from the given examples, the masculine gender demands not only adding a certain ending for a short form, but breaking the previous morpheme with an inserted vowel. Therefore, in case one is not sure about how to create a correct short form for masculine adjectives, he or she should better use the long ones.

What is more, attention should be paid to the movable word stress, which is sometimes placed on the initial syllable in masculine and neuter gender. The tendencies of stress change can only be observed in the Russian speaking environment.

It is worth noting that the short forms of adjectives in Russian are unlikely to appear in imperative sentences (3):

Будь сильным, but not: Будь силен (Be strong);

Будь красивым, but not: Будь красив (Be beautiful).

What is more, only long forms of adjectives in Russian can receive case (Matushansky, 2006), which makes this form dominant for most cases of use in a certain context.

Degrees of comparison

Just like in English, qualitative adjectives in Russian have comparative and superlative forms. Their formation pattern for regular adjectives is similar to the one used in English, as far as in Russian there also are suffixes that can be add to denote the comparative and superlative forms, as well as words equal to “more” and “the most”, which can be placed before the adjective(4):

Nominative form Comparative form Superlative form
rich richer richest
богатый богаче/ болеебогатый богатейший/ самыйбогатый
complicated morecomplicated the mostcomplicated
сложный сложнее/ болеесложный сложнейший/ самыйсложный

Thus, the English suffixes –er and –est correspond to such Russian suffixes, as –че, -ще, -же, -ше, еe, and some others, while the words more and most in comparative structures correspond to более and самый. However, in practical use a significant difference between the two languages is that in Russian most of the adjectives can have two variants in the comparative and superlative forms.

Despite the fact that it is also possible for English, it is more typical for this language to apply only one of the form of comparative or superlative degree to a certain adjective.

In addition, it is impossible to use the suffixes for creating comparative and superlative forms of long words such as important, while in Russian the number of syllables does not play any role in the formation of degrees of comparison. This once more points to the absence of strict limitations for morphological forms in synthetic languages.

Interestingly, while the comparative form created by the word более preserves its property of gender, the neighboring form created with the help of a corresponding suffix does will be common for all the three genders (5):

Он более умный. (He is smarter)

Она более умная. (She is smarter)

Оно более умное. (It is smarter);


Он умнее. (He is smarter)

Она умнее. (She is smarter)

Оно умнее. (It is smarter)

Intensifying morphemes

Analyzing the morphological peculiarities of English and Russian, it is impossible to miss such aspect as formation of affectionate diminutive forms of adjectives. This ability, in fact, is most developed in East Slavonic languages, and presents an exclusively wide range of morphemes that can be used with this purpose (Sussex, 2006).

In English the use of diminution is not very spread, which is due to the analytical structure of this language. In fact, the only possible way to make and adjective sound “small” or “cute” is adding the suffix –y, for example as in good-goody. In addition, this suffix does not always denote diminution and can be used with different purposes.

In comparison with English, Russian morphology offers a range of suffixes, which can be add to adjectives in order to achieve a certain stylistic effect. The most spread one is the suffix ньк, which is used to denote the small size of a subject or show affectionate attitude to it (6):

Хороший (good) – хорошенький (good and small)

Зелёный (green) – зелёненький (green in a pleasant way)

Тонкий (thin) – тоненький (exquisitely thin)

Старый (old) – старенький (old and kind)

Холодный (cold) – холодненький (pleasantly cold)

In addition to the mentioned suffix ньк, two more affixes can be added in the former position in order to express tender emotions. Namely, these suffixes include ёх and о (7):

Малый (small) – Малёхонький

Живой (alive) – Живёхонький

Старый (old) – Старёхонький

What is more, it is typical for Russian language to use one and the same adjective twice at one time. In this case, it will constitute one word, which is usually written with a hyphen. This method is used in order to intensify the meaning of an adjective. Interestingly, both regular and diminutive forms of adjectives can be used with this purpose; in case the two forms are combined, the diminutive usually follows the regular form.

Furthermore, the helping prefix пре can be used for the adjective used for the second time. The meaning of this morpheme also can be interpreted as “very”, or “much”, which explains the use of this prefix as a meaning intensifier. In the example below, all the possible variations of this tool will be demonstrated, bearing that each of the words will have the meaning of “very old”(8):







All the mentioned tools for diminution are not characteristic of English language, which increases the level of complexity of Russian for those studying it as a second language.

The various suffixes and prefixes of different meanings in Russian are replaced by separate additional words like “very” or “rather” in English, which illustrates one of the key differences between the use of adjectives in different stylistic contexts in the two languages.

Besides diminution, different stylistic contexts demand the effect of exaggeration from adjectives, which is also realized in Russian with the help of certain suffixes. To the most often used ones belong the suffixes ущ, ющ, and енн (9):

Большой (big) – большущий

Хитрый (foxy) – хитрющий

Страшный (scary) – страшнющий

Дорогой (expensive) – дорогущий

Широкий (wide) – широченный

Старый (old) – старенный

Богатый (rich) – богатенный

Again, there are no such correspondent affixes in English, where the effect of exaggeration is usually achieved with the help of particles “too” or “very” put before the adjective.

Deriving adverbs

For the adjectives of both Russian and English languages it is typical to form adverbs with the help of certain derivative affixes. This process is usually realized in English language with the help of suffix ly, which corresponds to the Russian suffix o.

However, while the derivation of adverbs in English demands simply adding the suffix, in Russian it is necessary to remove the ending first, and the suffix is added to the bare root. Let us consider some examples (10):

Noun Adverb
quick quickly
быстрый быстро
interesting interestingly
интересный интересно
abrupt abruptly
резкий резко

It is worth denoting that derivation of adverbs is a property of qualitative, and not relational adjectives, in both languages.

Semantics of adjectives

As it is known, according to their meaning, adjectives can be divided into qualitative and relational. The former ones denote a certain quality of the object they modify, while the latter point to the relations between words (Levine, 2009). This subdivision is typical of both English and Russian adjectives, and it determines the meaning of these adjectives.

However, the semantic functions of adjectives in English and in Russian are quite different. For instance, according to (Ikeya, 1995), in English adjectives are “basically a one-place predicate”. This explains the wide use of prepositional phrases which consist of an adjective and a preposition in English. Such phrases do not exist in Russian, where the system of prepositions is poorer and less significant.

For this language it is more characteristic to have the adjectives strictly following or preceding the word they modify. This means the use of both attributive and predicative adjectives, which I also practiced in English. Therefore, some of the following adjective uses can be met in both languages, while the stable prepositional phrases are typical only of English language (11):

It is a typicalmistake. Это типическаяошибка.
This mistake is typical. Эта ошибка типическая.
It is typical ofher to do so.
This is a goodboy. Это хорошиймальчик.
This boy is good. Этот мальчик хороший/хорош.
It is good forhealth to jog.
This person is happy. Этот человек счастливый/счастлив.
This is a happy person. Это счастливыйчеловек.
I am happy tohelp you.

Apart from the semantic functions of adjectives, it is worth mentioning that many adjectives in English and Russian have more than one meaning, which means that they are polysemic. This quality is best realized in certain contextual environments, as far as besides the actual meanings there can be some denotative meanings, derived from certain cultural situations and beliefs.

Obviously, only native speakers are capable of distinguishing the full range of meanings of one adjective, as far as it demands a deep knowledge of the cultural background of the spoken language. Let us consider several examples, which show how the multiple meanings of an adjective can coincide or differ in the two languages (12):

Adjective Meanings
  1. not rich
  2. unhappy
  1. not rich
  2. unhappy
  1. of the color of the sky
  2. melancholy
  3. conservative (in Politics)
  1. of the color of the sky
  2. homosexual
  1. made of wood
  2. awkward in movement
  1. made of wood
  2. insensitive
  3. bad oriented in some area
  1. of high temperature
  2. enthusiastic
  3. containing yellow or red color
  1. of high temperature
  2. enthusiastic
  3. pleasant
  4. containing yellow or red color
  5. the one that is heated (of a room)

Syntactical peculiarities of adjectives

It is a well-known fact that morphology, semantics, and syntax are tightly connecter to each other, as far as the structure of the word is always interdependent with its meaning and use in sentences. However, while the morphological and semantic features are lying on the surface of a language, the syntactical relations between words demand a much deeper analysis.

From the syntactical point of view, English adjectives are much simpler than the Russian ones. Indeed, an adjective in English does not change its form, regardless of the word it modifies. In contrast to this, Russian adjectives have to agree with the noun they modify in gender, number, and case (Levine, 2009).

Agreement in gender

Formally, there are three genders in both English and Russian languages; however, in English the property of one of the cases is only expressed by the pronouns he, she, it. The other parts of speech have no morphological features denoting gender. In comparison with English, Russian morphology provides a number of endings available to denote all three genders.

For instance, feminine gender is expressed by the endings –а, –я, -ая, masculine – by the endings –ый, –ий, and neuter gender – with the ending –е. The situation becomes even more complicated considering that in Russian the division into genders is applied more often than in English.

For instance, in English the abstract notions (like happiness, love, feeling), inanimate objects, animals, and many other words are of neuter gender, which determines referring to them as to “it”.

In Russian practically all the notions have a certain gender, and the adjectives need to agree with them, which makes the task of forming a correct phrase of a combination of an adjective and a noun even more difficult. Let us compare some phrases of English and Russian (13):

Hard life (neut) Тяжёлаяжизнь (fem)
Happy puppy (neut) Счастливыйщенок (masc)
Round plate (neut) Круглаятарелка (fem)
Green grass (neut) Зеленаятрава (fem)
Kind boy (masc) Добрыймальчик (masc)
Beautiful girl (fem) Красиваядевочка (fem)

Agreement in number

Besides the property of gender, the adjectives both in Russian can be of singular and plural number. In English this subdivision is implied, but no obvious features of plurality or singularity are present. In Russian, the feature of plurality is expressed by the endings –ые, –ие. Correspondingly, when an adjective modifies a noun or pronoun, it should be of the same number as the word.

Agreement in case

The last important aspect in adjectival agreement with the modified word is the agreement in case. Similarly to the gender and number, English adjectives do not demand this kind of agreement to be realized. In contrast, Russian adjectives have to be of the same case as the words they modify.

As it was mentioned before, Russian language offers seven cases instead those four of English, which means that there are more forms of adjectives, specifically their endings, depending on the case they are used in. What is more, the declension of adjectives is highly dependent on the consonant they are ending in.

For instance, the adjectives with the stems ending in hard, soft, and unpaired consonants will have slight differences in endings changes in the process of declension (Levine, 2007). Let us consider each type separately. An adjective, which has its stem ending in a hard consonant will have the following form of declension (the empty boxes denote the same form as on the left) (14):

Case/Gender Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative молодой молодое молодая молодые
Accusative молодого молодой молодыми
Genitive молодого молодой молодых
Prepositive о молодом о молодой о молодых
Dative молодому молодой молодым
Instrumentative молодым молодой молодыми
Locative в молодом в молодой в молодых

The stems ending in a soft consonant will have different forms (15):

Case/Gender Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative летний летнее летняя летние
Accusative летним летнюю летних
Genitive летнего летней летних
Prepositive о летнем о летней о летних
Dative летнему летней летними
Instrumentative летним летней летними
Locative в летнем в летней в летних

In case a stem of an adjective ends in an unpaired consonant, the endings in declension will be the following (16):

Case/Gender Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative тихий тихое тихая тихие
Accusative тихого тихую тихих
Genitive тихого тихой тихих
Prepositive о тихом о тихой о тихих
Dative тихому тихой тихим
Instrumentative тихим тихой тихими
Locative в тихом в тихой в тихих

Pedagogical implications and applications

As it can be seen from the presented study, the structures of English and Russian languages differ greatly. Therefore, while analyzing the adjectives of the two languages, all the differences in morphological, semantic, and syntactic structures have to be taken into consideration.

The divergence of forms and meanings of Russian adjectives suggests that a teacher should not expect an easy perception of all the information about the Russian language by the students who learn it.

First of all, in order to teach students to use Russian adjectives, the teacher should explain the students the property of gender. It is extremely important for the students to learn the basic endings typical of neuter, feminine, and masculine gender.

Indeed, this knowledge will allow them not only to use the adjectives correctly, but also to recognize their belonging to a certain gender group in written and spoken forms, which means the increasing of language comprehension. In order to develop these skills in students, it is possible to offer them an exercise based on choosing an appropriate ending for a certain adjective, depending on the gender of the word it modifies.

Gapped sentences or phrases can be very helpful in this case. The teacher should bear in mind the wide use of neuter gender in English, which is not observed in Russian. Due to this fact, students may find it difficult to get oriented in the Russian words in respect to their gender. Therefore, some exercises comparing the words of different genders in English and Russian can be developed.

Declension of Russian adjectives is another problematic point, which can make the process of learning Russian complicated. The tables containing the needed examples and clear explanation of the material are the only tools that can be used in this case.

The tables can be hung in the class room, in order to allow the students use it as a template while learning Russian adjectives. Only practical tasks can lead to the automatic use of adjectives in the right form.

It is also important for the learners of Russian to know how to form different degrees of comparison. Since the rules of comparative and superlative forms formation in most cases coincide in English and Russian, it is enough to demonstrate the students the parallel constructions and offer them to practice on their own.

The same method can be used to explain the position of adjectives in the sentence, which often is similar in the two languages.

The use of short and long forms seems to cause no problems for the students, as far as the both forms have the same meanings. The long forms are with no doubt dominant, and play a greater grammatical role; however, in order to achieve a high level of Russian language use and comprehension, the students should know how to use the both forms.

This knowledge can be derived from reading Russian literature, where both short and long forms of adjectives are being used. In this way, clear comprehension will turn into correct use in the future.

As for the meanings of Russian adjectives, it is almost impossible to explain them all in a short course. However, in order to broaden the perception of the language by the students, it is necessary to give them idiomatic structures, phraseological units, and the adjectives used in proverbs and sayings.

This will demonstrate the students the fact that there is more than one possible meaning for one adjective, and that in order to understand all the denotative meanings, an understanding of cultural environment of the language is needed.


This paper investigated the differences and similarities between the Russian and English adjectives, their forms and use. It is based on the broad analysis of the structures of the two languages, and on the deep analysis of an adjective as of a part of speech. The analysis of such aspects, as morphology, semantics, and syntax showed the relatively complicated nature of Russian adjectives comparing to the English ones.

Wide use of affixes, change of endings depending on number, gender, case, stem ending, – all these features are untypical of English, and characteristic of Russian adjectives.

This makes the gap between the languages deeper than that perceived on the general level, and sometimes proves an impediment to learning Russian for English-speaking people. Understanding of these differences is the condition needed for understanding the languages, and, as a consequence, for proper translation.

The investigation showed that the problems with Russian adjectives most often occur because of their changing endings. Declension of Russian adjectives plays an outstanding role in the spoken and written language, and automatic correct use of the different forms is crucial for language use and comprehension.

That is why, clear explanation of the rules should be combined with the methodologically suited practical tasks for effective learning of this part of speech. All these aspects should be taken into consideration by the pedagogical stuff dealing with teaching Russian.

However, this study embraces only the main spheres of differences in the languages. Besides the studied problems, there are also archaic and borrowed forms, which have different rules of use in Russian. What is more, the field of semantics is so wide, that its analysis obviously cannot be limited with that presented in this paper. Adjective in practical use can be related to many other parts of speech.

The relations of adjectives with nouns, verbs, pronouns, prepositions, as well as the role of adjectives in the sentence are the possible ways of investigation. In addition, while this study is focused on the differences between the adjectives of English and Russian, it could be useful to look for similarities between them.

This would make it easier to understand the use of adjectives in each language and to learn one of them as a second language.

Reference List

Asarina, A (2009). Gender and Adjective Agreement in Russian. Moscow: SLS 4th Annual Meeting.

Ikeya, A (1995). Predicate-Argument Structure of English Adjectives. Amsterdam: Toyo Gakuen University.

Ivanov, V, Browne, W (2007). Slavonic Languages. R. K. P. Web.

Levine, J (2009). Shaum’s Outline of Russian Grammar, 2nd Edition. NY: Mcgraw Hill.

Matushansky, O (2006). How to Be Short: Some Remarks on the Syntax of Russian Adjectives. Paris: IUMR Seminar.

Sihombing, K (2008). The Morphological Processes of English Adjectives. A Thesis. Faculty of Letters: English Department. Depok: Gunadarma University.

Sussex, R, Cubberley, P (2006) The Slavic Languages. In Cubberley, P (2006) Russian: A Linguistic Introduction. London: Cambridge University Press.

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