Having fun with grammar: Russian idioms with verbs of motion
28 September, 2018
Here we are, the verbs of motion, probably the most feared topic of Russian grammar. If you have being studying Russian for some time, you may have already encountered the frightening verbs. But why are they so feared by students? The hardest part of learning these verbs consists in the fact that there are so many different categories, all describing distinct situations. They are handy once you get into the system and master it, but first you have to learn it, and in order to do that you will for sure go through these verbs more than a thousand times, trust me!
Different categories of verbs of motion
In Russian saying “I went” or “I will go” can be expressed in many different ways, as many qualities are taken into account. There are two main categories of the verbs. The first one divides them into monodirectional and multidirectional verbs. This means that some actions suggest you are taking a one-way journey and others that you are randomly roaming or going somewhere and coming back. The second one highlights the difference according to the way you are moving: if you are using some kind of mean of transport or just walking by foot.
But the best is yet to come! In normal life you will more likely find the verbs of motion together with different prefixes, which change partially the meaning of the verbs.
Here there’s a list of some of them:
- в- in
- вы- out
- у- from
- за- drop in, stop by
- до- as far as, reach
- об- around
- от- away
- при- arrival
- под- approach
- про- through, pass
- пере- across
Learning all these forms is extremely important if you don’t want Russians to wince while you’re talking to them: use the wrong verb and you could end up saying something like “I went to Australia on foot”.
Idioms with verbs of motion
But did you know that verbs of motion can be fun as well? Exactly! You read that right! In the Russian language there are many idiomatic expressions where you can find them, and which will make your conversion way more colored and definitely more Russian. These are the most commonly used ones:
- Идти как по маслу
It literally means “to go like butter/oil does”. It refers to something working very easily, without any kind of difficulty as there is absolutely no friction. It can be compared to the English idiom “to be a piece of cake”. We can say that Russian verbs of motion completely не идут как по маслу.
- Идти/пойти в гору
“To go on a mountain”. It portrays a situation of success, when someone managed to obtain the best outcome. You can пойти в гору for example at work, when you are able to complete a hard task very well.
- Идти/пойти навстречу
“To meet somebody halfway”. Finding a solution that can fit the needs of both the people speaking. This phrase could come handy if your Russian teacher gives you a lot of homework over the weekend and you were thinking about going on a trip somewhere instead.
- Ходить вокруг да около
“Beat around the bush”. To talk about something for a long time without coming to the main point, without giving a clear answer.
- Ехать/ездить зайцем
The literal meaning is “ride as a hare”. Funny, isn’t it? The actual meaning is “being a free-rider”, “dodge the fare”. Probably the meaning is linked to the fact that a stowaway passenger is afraid of being fined and shakes like a hare. The expression originated under the influence of the French voyager en lapin (travel like a rabbit). Do not be amazed if you hear a controller saying “я вижу твои уши” (I see your ears), it doesn’t mean he thinks you are some kind of animal with ears, but just that you are on the bus without a ticket!
- Плыть по течения/против течения
“Go with/against the flow”. Doing what everybody does or, on the contrary, being original. It’s interesting that in Russia people do not say “being the black sheep”, but “being the white crow” (белая ворона).
- Водить за нос
“To lead by the nose”. To deceive, delude, mislead someone, to make promises and not keep them. This idiom exists in similar ways in many different European languages as well. The difference is that this phrase in Russian refers to a usual tendency or behavior, it refers to something that happens regularly or for a long period of time. So, if we want to say that it happened just once there’s another specific idiom “обвести вокруг пальза”.
- Лезть не в своё дело
“Mind other people’s business”. Have you ever noticed an old Russian babushka staring from her house window? Sticking one’s nose in other people’s affairs is something that is not seen as a good thing in any country, in Russia too. In Italy we say that a person who minds his own business, will live for a hundred years.