11 Untranslatable Russian Words and When to Use Them

11 Untranslatable Russian Words and When to Use Them

The beauty of every language, no matter if it belongs to one particular language family or stands out alone ( which is called an isolate), is in its uniqueness.

By uniqueness, here we mean on words and phrases its native speakers use that can't be simply translated to English or some other language.

Russian, for example, has many words that can't be translated to English, so often it can be quite challenging explaining language learners and other non-Russian speakers some words.

On the other hand, understanding and, above all, using untranslatable Russian words is one of the signs that a person speakers Russian in some more advanced and sophisticated way.

Therefore, to help you with being fluent and impressing Russian native speakers, we've gathered the 20 most common untranslatable Russian words.

But now, let's dive in.

Why Learning Untranslatable Russian Words Anyway?

Languages are living things that change over time.

They aren't made intentionally so there is no special program or app or perhaps some magic you can pour into your brain and from the next day start using it.

Out of necessity and circumstances, languages developed words and phrases that mean something in their culture but outside they don't tell much.

That's why there are untranslatable words in Russian, as well as in many other languages.

So, here are some reasons why you should learn untranslatable Russian words:

  • Learning words that can be used only in Russian, undoubtedly, enrich your vocabulary.
  • Besides words, how and when to use them, you actually learn about the culture, history, and people as well.
  • You can compare to other Russian words and phrases which are spoken in other Russian speaking countries, find out if there are other namings for certain things that are used only in one particular area.
  • Besides vocabulary, this way is a great way to practice and improve your Russian pronunciation, too.

11 Untranslatable Russian Words And When to Use Them Properly

In the following lines, you can find some of the commonly used untranslatable Russian words, which can help you not only with your vocabulary but to help you understand the culture of one nation.


One of the close meanings in English is,undoubtedly, ‘maybe’ but this word can be explained with other words as well.

The word ‘aвось’ can also describe your desire and optimism that something will work out, that the final result will be positive.

In other words, it can be explained as ‘have faith’ as well.


Coming from the words ‘Бело’ in the meaning of ‘white’ and ‘ручка’ as ‘hand,’ this words is used for those who don’t want to do any dirty work, no matter the reason.


Now, this is the word that doesn’t have English equivalent, nor even some similar one.

It can be explained as the case when in autumn leaves fall from the tree.

The word comes from the words ‘лист’ which means ‘leaf; and the verb ‘падать,’ which means ‘to fall.


There is a lot of research about this word, especially Dostoyevsky himself used it as one of the key things in his works.

The word refers to emotional outburst, after so strong feelings a person can’t hide anymore.


Sounds pretty amusing the word, doesn't it?

Now when you hear meanings of all parts of the word, you would think that we are joking.

  • не- not
  • до- up
  • пере- over
  • пил- drank

So, literally translated, this word means 'not drank up too much.'

In situations when you are drunk, but not too much and you could ( also also wanted) to get just a little bit more drunk, feel free to use 'недоперепил.'


This word also can’t be translated to English, nor explained with one word.

It comes from the question word ‘Почему,’ which means ‘why.’

As you may suppose yourself now, it refers to someone asking a lot (or too many) questions.

For kids and toddlers, for example,  we can say thay are ‘Почемучка,’ because they ask too many questions.


The closest English equivalent to this russian word is ‘conscience.’

However, the Russian one isn’t only that. It represents conscience and a feeling for right, for moral in one.


Even though we don’t want to seems that all the Russians do is drink and get drunk, but here’s one more Russian word related to alcohol.

This word describes the feeling when your throat is dry the morning after partying and drinking.


This word is usually translated as 'boredom' or 'melancholy' and it isn't a mistake. However, this word can also be explained with 'yarning'

Today, the word isn't commonly used in everday conversations. Mainly, you can find it in literature, for example, in one of Vladimir Nabokov's works.


Here’s one word that was widely used back in Soviet times and has historic background. In that context, the word refers to a worker who serves as an example of how others should behave.

In some other, more general, contexts, the word can be used as a ‘drummer’ because the noun comes from the verb ‘удар’ which means ‘to hit.’ 


This word is mainly translated as 'audacity' or 'borishness' but we can't say that these expressions are a good translation.

This Russian word is somewhere between.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the Russian language has many commonly used words that can be simply translated to English or another foreign language.

Many of them neither can be explained for the foreigners to understand their meanings.

For some of them, a person has to be present, to be a part of the culture and situations the words is used and to feel when can be the right case to use it properly.

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