8 homonymous Russian words

One of the first things you notice when you start learning Russian is that there are many words which are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. As if Russian wasn’t difficult enough! Homonymous Russian words can be funny though. Don’t you believe me? Have a лук at the following list!

1) Лук (Luk)

Лук is, in my opinion, one of the funniest homonymous Russian words. If I say человек с луком (chelovek c lukom), what first comes to your mind? Probably a person holding an onion. Or at least that’s what I thought when I heard this phrase for the first time. That’s why it is important to know that “лук” means both an onion and a bow. Here’s another funny example: recently the word “лук” has started to be employed in Russian with the English meaning of “look” but it is spelled “luk”. So, of course it sounds funny to Russians when they hear “have an onion at my new haircut!”.

2) Мир (Mir)

The word “мир” carries two meanings in modern Russian and can be translated as “peace” or “world”, depending on the context. Before the modernisation of the Cyrillic alphabet in 1918, the words “миръ” (peace) and “міръ” (world) were pronounced in the same way, but spelt differently. This fact has led to an urban myth according to which Tolstoy wanted his novel to be called “War and World”. However there is no doubt about the title, since Tolstoy himself translated it into French as “La guerre et la paix”.

3) Рука (Ruka)

Она несла в руках отвратительные, тревожные желтые цветы. (She was carrying these revolting, disturbing yellow flowers)

Did you recognise the quote? Master and Margarita, of course! The word “рука” both means “hand” and “arm”. It’s not difficult to imagine Margarita and her yellow flowers, but when it comes to translation things get harder. Is she just holding them in her hands or is she carrying them in her arms?

4) Правo (Pravo)

This word is really linked to the context in which it’s used. It will be very easy to remember it though since, like in English, “право” means both “right” (legal or moral entitlement) and “right” (direction or side, as opposed to left). And just like in English we can say “ты прав!” (you are right!).

5) Свет (Svet)

“Свет” is a really interesting word. The two better known meanings are “light” and “world”. Svet as “world” is more used than “mir” in poetry or idiomatic expressions. But this word also means “высшее общество” (high society).

6) Труд (Trud)

“Труд” means both “effort” (с трудом = hardly) and “work”. You are probably thinking: how about “работа” (rabota) then? English helps us again: we can say that “trud” (work) is more general than “rabota” (job), because it refers to general efforts and activities done to accomplish a goal.

7) Ключ (Klyuch)

This word means “key”, the one you use to open and close the door; it also means “clue, solution” and “clef”, the musical symbol to indicate the pitch of written notes. The adjective ключевой (klyuchevoi) can be used as the English word ‘key’ (key word, key figure etc). Klyuch can also be a sinonymous for “родник” (rodnik), a source of clean, fresh water.

8) Брак (Brak)

The word “брак” means both “marriage”, so the perfect union between two people, and “flaw”, imperfection. The always logical Russian language can be really full of surprises sometimes!


So here you have them – 8 homonymous Russian words. I hope you enjoyed this post and found some useful information!

Krizia Zappalà

Posted by Krizia Zappalà

Hello! I'm Krizia from Italy, I'll be interning at Liden & Denz in Saint Petersburg until the end of September. I hope you'll enjoy the blog and find useful informations about this wonderful city!

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