“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…”
It’s probably safe to assume you’re familiar with this classic children’s song.
And it’s no wonder! It’s been around for nearly 70 years and can be heard in preschools all over the world, translated into various languages.
Children learn what to call the main parts of the body—eyes, ears, nose, mouth—very early on in their education. So, it makes sense that anyone learning a foreign language should learn this basic body vocabulary early on too.
First of all, knowing how to identify parts of your body in Russian is important in situations that require medical attention while abroad.
I hurt my neck.
I cut my leg.
Body parts vocabulary is also key for everyday small talk.
Have you done something new to your hair?
Are your legs tired after that workout?
This article will help you master body parts in Russian from the tippy top of your head down to your pinky toes, so you can point out your ouches to a doctor and carry casual conversations with a bit more ease.
A Few Grammar Notes
First, let’s briefly talk about gender in Russian. Every noun is either feminine, masculine or neuter. The ending of the word is usually the indicator.
- Nouns ending in a consonant are masculine.
For instance, глаз (eye)
- Nouns ending in either –а or –я are feminine.
As is the case with рука (hand)
- Nouns ending in either –о or –е are neuter.
For example, колено (knee)
- Nouns that end in –ь could be either feminine or masculine, with no additional marker to set them apart.
As you’ll see in локоть (elbow, masculine) and челюсть (jaw, feminine)
There are exceptions to the above rules, but none of them are relevant to body parts vocabulary.
Articles as a part of speech don’t exist in Russian at all, so you don’t have to worry about using the correct one in front of a noun.
However, recognizing noun gender is still essential because adjectives have to agree in gender with the nouns they describe.
левый глаз (left eye)
левая рука (left hand)
левое колено (left knee)
Plural nouns are fortunately less demanding. All genders equally agree with a single plural adjective form, for instance, усталые (tired) eyes/hands/knees.
Possessive pronouns in the first and second person act in the same fashion as adjectives when it comes to gender agreement.
мой глаз (my eye)
моя рука (my hand)
моё колено (my knee)
The Right Way to Say Something Hurts
The Russian verb for “hurts” is болит, and it’s the same for all genders. The plural form is болят.
You can express a painful condition by stating моё колено болит (my knee hurts), and although you’ll be understood, it’s not something used in everyday speech.
Instead, you should use the possessive construct у меня (it can’t be translated literally into English, but relays the meaning of “I have”), followed by болит and then the body part.
У меня болит колено. (My knee hurts.)
У меня болит рука. (My hand hurts.)
У меня болит спина. (I have back pain.)
Body Parts in Russian from the Crown of the Head to the Heels
Above the Shoulders
Hair in Russian is a plural masculine noun. The singular form is applicable only when talking about an individual strand of hair.
затылок (back of the head)
макушка (crown of the head)
бровь (eyebrow, feminine)
This is a plural feminine noun. Just as with hair, the singular form is rarely used.
This is a plural masculine noun. The singular form has a few specialized uses not related to the human body.
челюсть (jaw, feminine)
Rest of the Body
рука (arm or hand)
In everyday Russian, you don’t differentiate between hand and arm. There’s a word construct made specifically for the hand—кисть руки (feminine)—but it’s not used beyond medical situations.
локоть (elbow, masculine)
ладонь (palm of the hand, feminine)
указательный палец (pointer finger)
средний палец (middle finger)
безымянный палец (ring finger; lit. unnamed)
мизинец (little finger; it’s the only finger name not including the word finger)
большой палец (thumb; lit. the big finger)
палец ноги (toe; lit. a finger of a foot)
Note: Only большой палец and мизинец have their own monikers among the toes, but when you use them you’ll qualify that with на ноге (on a foot).
ноготь (fingernail or toenail, masculine)
When you need to distinguish talking about a toenail, you’ll add on “a foot” or even on a “finger of a foot” after ноготь.
грудь (chest or breast, feminine)
There’s no distinction between chest and breast in Russian. In fact, the plural of breasts are still expressed by the singular грудь.
пузо (belly, colloquial)
пупок (navel or belly button)
поясница (lower back)
You wouldn’t use талия when talking about a man’s waist, or when describing a physical condition for either man or woman; in those instances, you’d use поясница.
нога (leg or foot)
In everyday Russian, you don’t differentiate between leg and foot. There’s a word that means foot expressly—ступня—that’s rarely heard in conversation.
This is a singular noun that’s equivalent to the plural in English.
лодыжка or щиколотка (ankle)
Technically these are two connected but slightly different parts of human anatomy, but the words are used interchangeably in Russian.
Let’s Go Inside
This is a plural neuter noun that looks and behaves like an adjective. A singular form would only be featured in medical diagnosis.
кровь (blood, feminine)
печень (liver, feminine)
When discussing physique, the plural masculine мускулы may also be used.
кость (bone, feminine)
A Few Fun and Useful Idioms Featuring Body Parts in Russian
Any informal conversation in Russian invariably draws on various idiomatic expressions, many of which involve body parts. Some would be instantly recognizable by an English speaker if translated directly, yet many others will sound incomprehensible if you don’t understand the hidden meaning.
Practically every entry in the list above appears in at least a few common idioms in Russian, and some are featured in dozens of different expressions. Below is a small sampler meant to whet your appetite for learning more.
Let me stress informal here.
For these expressions to work, there should be a significant level of familiarity and camaraderie between the speakers.
Не бери в голову!
Literally, “don’t take [it] into [your] head.”
As you may guess, it more or less expresses a “don’t worry!” sentiment. Used only in the imperative, it implies that the person on the receiving end is agonizing over a trifle.
Вертится на языке.
This is a very useful expression to indicate that you definitely know the subject, but cannot recall what it’s called. Literally, “spins on [my] tongue.”
This idiom translates to, “take off shoes from [your] eyes.”
The implication is that what the other person is seeking is right under their nose, and is usually immediately followed by pointing to where the object of the search can be found.
Incidentally, “right under your nose” itself is an expression that directly translates into Russian.
Ноги в руки!
A close equivalent of “on the double!” The literal translation of this fun construct is “[take your] feet into [your] hands.”
От чистого сердца.
This idiom translates to “from a pure heart.” This expression frequently accompanies a gift, an offer of assistance or sometimes a piece of advice. It states that the giver has only the best intentions and no ulterior motive.
У меня скоро живот лопнет!
You can also interchangeably use желудок here. “My stomach is about to burst” is a playful way to indicate to your host that you cannot have any more of her delicious food.
Just make sure you look and sound sufficiently apologetic when saying that.
У меня глаза на лоб вылезли.
Literally, “my eyes got out to the forehead.” This phrase describes the state of being stunned by what you saw.
Попал пальцем в небо.
The English translation is “hit the sky with a finger.” It means that the other person just said something erroneous or made a wildly incorrect guess.
Будешь локти кусать.
When you tell someone “[you] will bite [your] elbows,” you’re implying that they’ll rue their decision, and will not get a re-do.
Не надо мне вешать лапшу на уши!
The literal translation of this idiom is “don’t hang noodles onto my ears.” It has a close equivalent in English to “don’t pull the wool over my eyes.”
So, there you have it, от макушки до пяток (from the crown of the head to the heels), body parts in Russian for small talk, idioms and health!