See, Hear, Speak: 20+ Basic Russian Phrases Presented in Multiple Ways
I find phrase lists depressing.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, though.
They can be incredibly helpful and have been provided to the public by many kind people, from Rick Steves to the fine bloggers here at FluentU.
It’s just that my brain has a hard time getting from phrase list to actual situation.
Reading phrases that I can supposedly say to Russian-speaking people in a hotel, in a restaurant or on the street, isn’t going to naturally lead to me saying them.
I need to feel that a phrase is really mine before I can just fling it out into the world.
And nothing solidifies my confidence like being told point-blank by an experienced speaker of the language how I can use a phrase without completely embarrassing myself.
Luckily, in the world of YouTube, this is something we can all have.
So let’s leave the anxiety-provoking realm of non-qualified, straightforward phrase lists and check out something better.
Below are some basic Russian phrases accompanied by much more than a pronunciation key.
Why You Should Learn Russian Phrases from Videos (and Not Just Phrase Lists)
- You’ll develop better pronunciation. Pronunciation keys can be really helpful when you’re just heading out into the street armed with a phrasebook and nothing else. However, if you have time to practice, watching real people saying the phrases you want to learn is better.
- You’ll learn authentic usage. The only thing potentially better than having a speaker of a language explain to you exactly how you can use it is watching actual real-life examples of it being used. Fortunately, you can have both these things, with the instructional videos below and with FluentU.
- You’ll feel much more confident about actually speaking. Everyone is different when it comes to learning languages, so I guess it’s possible that printed vocabulary on a page with a simple definition of a phrase could fill you with all the comfort and assurance you need. But I think most of us feel more comfortable speaking about something once we’ve been able to observe someone else doing approximately the same thing.
However, if you just want a list of basic Russian phrases, you’re still in the right place. Skim through the list below and utilize the additional resources as much or as little as you like.
Jump for Joy! 20+ Basic Russian Phrases Come to Life with These 14 Videos
This list is arranged so that you can essentially use it any way you want, and return to it as many times as you like to go over the phrases in more detail. You can also read through the explanations without watching the videos. If you want audio pronunciations but don’t want to watch the featured videos, just click on the phrases themselves, which are linked to recordings on Forvo.
Russian greetings carry a significance that English greetings don’t, as the type of greeting you use speaks to the level of formality that you intend to use for the rest of the conversation. Привет is a word used in informal Russian, which you can generally use with friends, family, children or someone younger than you.
Another informal greeting is Здорово. This greeting tends to be used between male friends.
Здравствуйте, on the other hand, is a formal greeting that you’d use with a boss or someone else in a position of authority, someone you don’t know very well or someone older than you. It’s also a heck of a mouthful, and as a beginner Russian learner, you can really psych yourself out trying to say it. Don’t try to pronounce every letter though—the first в is silent.
This video from Katy’s Russian School demystifies the pronunciation of Здравствуйте for you, while also throwing in a quick Привет and the Russian for “my name is…,” which we’ll go into more detail about soon.
Now is a good time to note that Привет generally aligns with the usage of ты (“you,” used in singular and informal modes), and Здравствуйте with вы (“you,” used in plural and formal modes). However, you can still say Привет to a group of people who you’re on friendly terms with.
In addition, Здравствуй can be used as an informal version of Здравствуйте.
Здравствуйте is also occasionally shortened to Здрасьте (sometimes unintentionally, as it’s just a natural compressing of the phrase), but this can sound less polite.
Are you confused about formal and informal forms of address? This video from Denis Federov seeks to give you an overview of that subject while specifically focusing on Привет and Здравствуйте. It also gets into goodbyes, which we’ll cover later on in this post.
Доброе утро / Добрый день / Добрый вечер (Good morning / good day / good evening)
These are common, polite greetings that you can use during their corresponding hours of the day. Note that Добрый день literally means “good day” but is used more like the greeting “good afternoon” in English, both in terms of the time of day and in its status as a greeting.
This is important to understand, because “good day” sounds a little awkward and antiquated in English, and also like it should be used as more of a farewell. For many English speakers, it probably brings to mind Fez from “That ’70s Show” more than anything.
First things first though, here’s a simple video from Crash into Russian to help you nail down pronunciations.
Now, if you’re brand new to Russian, you might be wondering why, if all these phrases just mean “good [time of day],” there’s some variation in the first word in the phrases. This is an adjective agreement thing.
Basically, adjectives have to agree in gender with the nouns they modify. Before you start to stress about that, though, here’s a video from R for Russian with a cute dog and a Russian speaker explaining this concept in more detail.
Essentially, утро is a neuter noun, and the adjective ending ое in доброе corresponds with neuter nouns. День and вечер, on the other hand, are masculine nouns and the corresponding masculine adjective ending, in this case, is ый. Hence, Добрый день.
Now, you might naturally be wondering how you’d say “good night.” Доброй ночи can be used as a nighttime greeting or to say goodbye to someone during the nighttime hours.
“Okay,” you might be thinking, “so ночи must be night, and доброй must be the corresponding adjective, and both words must be feminine because that’s the only gender we haven’t covered yet.”
This is true, but there’s actually a little more to it.
Besides being a feminine noun modified by an adjective, Доброй ночи is actually in the genitive case, meaning that both the adjective and noun have been modified to take on the meaning of possession. But don’t stress or worry about this if you haven’t started on cases yet. This is just a set phrase that has a larger implied meaning of wishing for someone to have a good night.
Спокойной ночи is another genitive phrase that works the same way. This one also essentially means “good night,” but is only used to wish someone a good night, the way you’d say “good night” in English to someone when going to bed. You can think of it as along the lines of “sweet dreams.”
If you’re curious, there’s another video from R for Russian that goes into Спокойной ночи a bit deeper.
Как тебя зовут? / Как вас зовут? (What’s your name?)
The тебя and вас above correspond to the informal and formal “you” respectively.
Меня зовут… (My name is…)
The obvious response to either of the above questions would be Меня зовут…followed by your name. With this phrase, you don’t need to worry about degrees of formality.
Once someone has asked you what your name is, you can ask them theirs with А тебя? or А вас? (And you?)
Очень приятно (Nice to meet you)
This is a more informal way to say “nice to meet you.”
Приятно познакомиться (Pleasure/pleased to meet you)
This is a bit more formal of a phrase to express the same sentiment.
In this video from RussianPod101, Svetlana shows how Привет can pair with Очень приятно and Здравствуйте with Приятно познакомиться. Grouping phrases together like this is a good way to start building conversational material.
This video from Russian with Anastasia also walks you through these phrases and includes a sample dialogue between two people at the end.
It also introduces some alternative language and responses that you can use in introductions. For example, instead of saying Меня зовут, you can say Я + [your name].
Anastasia goes on to explain that you can echo Приятно познакомиться as a response, or you can say Мне тоже. (Me too.)
Где…? (Where is…?)
The word где in Russian does mean “where,” but this meaning is more specific than “where” in English. Где refers to where something or someone is located.
Где… is a convenient, short phrase that you can follow up with anything or anyone you’re looking for. For example, “Где вы?” (Where are you?)
An answer to this question often uses the preposition в. Let’s say someone asks where you are, and you’re in Moscow. In that case, you could say, Я в Москве. Incidentally, “Moscow” is in the prepositional case here, but again, don’t worry about it if you’re not there yet.
However, if I met you while walking out on the street and wanted to say, “Where are you going?”, I wouldn’t use где. I’d say…
Куда ты идёшь? / Куда вы идёте? (Where are you going?)
Куда is used to ask “where” when movement is involved. More specifically, when the location in question is being moved towards.
Note that Куда ты идёшь? or Куда вы идёте? is just a common way of using the word куда, and specifically refers to traveling somewhere on foot.
If I were walking to Moscow, I could say, Я иду в Москву.
But more likely, I’d say, Я еду в Москву.
For the verb, I’m using ехать, which indicates we’re talking about driving or riding somewhere. “Moscow” is also now in the accusative because I’m doing something to it (i.e., moving towards it) rather than existing in it.
This video from Cafe Russian quickly breaks down the difference between куда and где and gives several examples of how you could use each, including some of the phrases above.
Of course, this all naturally begs the question of how you might talk about a location that’s being moved away from. In this case, you would use откуда.
This video from learnrussian.org gives a further breakdown of all three of these words, along with some more examples of how you might respond to questions posed with them.
For instance, you can use Откуда вы to ask where someone is from. You might respond to Откуда вы with Я из (I’m from) [place]. Someone from Moscow might say, Я из Москвы.
You’ll notice the ending for the word for “Moscow” has shifted once again from the examples above. Here, we’re back to our old friend the genitive case.
There’s a lot going on in this section with cases and spatial relations, so if you’re lost, just concentrate on the phrases. When you learn the grammar later, it will all tie up nicely.
Спасибо (Thank you)
This one is simple enough, but if you want to be more profuse in your gratitude, you can bump things up with Большое спасибо, which is literally “big thank you,” to say “thank you very much.”
Пожалуйста (Please / you’re welcome)
Пожалуйста is roughly the equivalent of “please” in English. For example, you might say, Извините, пожалуйста. (Excuse me, please.)
However, it’s also often used in the sense of “you’re welcome” in Russian. This is quite a difference from how “please” is used in English, but it might help to think of other English variations along the lines of “please, don’t worry about it.” Or “I’m happy to help.” Which brings us to our next phrase…
Не за что (Not at all)
This is another common Russian response to a Russian thank you and is close to “not at all” in English.
In another video from RussianPod101, Svetlana covers the above phrases and explains some nuances in intonation and body language that can inform meaning.
Как дела? (How are you doing?)
This is a standard way to ask someone how they’re doing or how things are going. Below are some common answers you may want to use. Like in English, the words below can be used as complete responses.
Хорошо (Good / well)
If you’re doing not just good, but great, you can answer with Отлично!
Alternatively, you can go with Здорово! Note, however, that this isn’t the same as the Здорово suggested as an informal greeting at the beginning of this list. This Здорово puts the stress on the first syllable, so I’ve linked it to a separate set of pronunciations on Forvo. You can also hear it pronounced for this context in the video below.
Нормально (Ok / fine)
Alternatively, to express the sentiment that nothing is particularly different, or “same old, same old,” you can use Всё по-старому.
This excellent video from Antonia Romaker addresses not just the vocabulary above and variations of it, but also the whole concept of asking how someone is doing in Russian. In short, in English, “how are you?” is often not a real question, whereas, in Russian, it’s likely to be more so.
Note that Как делишки can be used as a more colloquial version of Как дела?
Antonia also presents a few other ways of asking the same question, including Что нового? (What’s new?) Or asking about something specific using Как…, as in Как работа? (How’s work?)
Now that you’ve learned the word хорошо, you should be aware that it’s not simply the equivalent of “good” in English. For a more thorough overview of the differences, check out this video from Be Fluent in Russian. The title isn’t meant to be taken literally, just to outline when you shouldn’t use хорошо. (It’s fine to use it as explained above.)
Что это? (What is it? / What’s this?)
This isn’t a typical phrasebook phrase, but it’s a basic phrase that’s extremely useful for beginners to know.
Note that Что это is just a simple way to literally ask what something is.
– Что это? (What is this?)
– Это блог. (This is a blog.)
If you want to say something more along the lines of, “What’s going on here?” you could use Что происходит?
Кто это? (Who is it? / Who’s this?)
This is, no surprise, the equivalent phrase but when applied to people (or animals).
Это… (It/this is…)
You can use this phrase to answer either Что это or Кто это?
This video from Learnrussian.org gives you pronunciations of the above phrases and some more examples of how you can use them together.
It also shows how you can either use the above phrases as stand-alones or add onto them. For instance, you can ask Кто это when you see a picture of Alexander Pushkin, or ask Кто это Александр Пушкин? (Who is Alexander Pushkin?) Either way, you should probably know who Alexander Pushkin is.
As mentioned earlier, the first videos in this list cover goodbyes. Пока is an informal goodbye. And if you need to go formal, there’s…
До свидания (Goodbye)
This video from Real Russian Club provides pronunciations and deeper discussions of meaning for both of these phrases.
It also covers a few other useful goodbye phrases. До завтра is a way of saying, “see you tomorrow.” До встречи is a less committal phrase you can use to say, “see you later” or, “see you soon.” Счастливо is more of a general well-wishing phrase, like, “take care.”
The phrases above are a great start for building your Russian vocabulary.
As you can see, it’s hard to learn even basic Russian phrases in any kind of detail without getting into some heavier aspects of grammar.
But all that really means is that you’ll just need a little more patience and perseverance when getting started.