Why it’s easier to learn Russian than you’d think: word families. Part I.

If you have just recently taken up Russian, you’ve probably encountered a lot of difficulties already. The pronunciation is strange (at first), you have to learn the intonation and the stresses inside a word, you have to deal with the grammar and irregulars, and on top of that, even the words are longer than what you are (probably) used to.  However, there is one thing that actually can help you a lot. That is, world families. If you know some basic words, and you also know the basic rules for how to derive one word from another, you can much more easily express yourself. Basically what I’m trying to say is that you can’t really learn just one word in Russian, you learn instantly a whole family of words, derived from each other. There are multiple ways you can create these new words, the most common way being by adding suffixes and prefixes. Instead of instantly jumping to abstract concepts of prefixes and suffixes, let’s see a concrete example with one specific verb:


выгадывать/выгадать – to gain, to earn, to save

From this verb, with the usual and common -ание/ение suffix you can get a noun.

выгадывание чего- savings, the savings of something, the process of gaining

With just simply removing the suffix that made it a verb in the first place.

выгода какая? в чём?-  profit, benefit, advantage. This noun can even mean а good deal.


Changing the prefix

Now let’s see other prefixes to the base verb, or in this specific case, the absence of it.

гадать/погадать кому? на чём? на что? – to tell fortune, to guess, to read a fortune

With the common -тель and -щик prefixes you can easily address the male,  with -ка and -тельница, the female, who’s  doing the activity,

гадатель/гадальщик and гадалка/гадательница – fortune teller

Let’s see the already known -ание/ение suffix, that was previously used to create a noun, referring to the process or the result of the action. Can you guess it? Let’s check your assumption!

гадание– divination, fortune-telling

Now let’s see if we can turn it into an adjective. Of course we can, in Russian, it’s almost essential, and fortunately, it’s not that hard! With the -ный/ная/ное/ные suffixes, the noun becomes an adjective, referring to an object of that specific quality.

гадальный столик – a small table used for fortune telling

гадательный пасьянс- a Solitaire pack used by the fortune teller

You can even use participles, which are unfortunately a bit complex, so I wouldn’t go into details just now.

негаданный результат- unexpected result (something that you could not foretell)


Yet another prefix

The prefix до- usually means that the action has reached one specific point in its execution, usually the end. The postfix -ся/сь at the end of Russian verbs means that the grammatical subject and object are the same. In other words, it means that the person who does the action does it “on himself” or he is in the focus of the action. These are called reflexive nouns, just like in German, and don’t worry if you don’t understand it the first time, you will get there.

догадываться/догадаться о чём – to guess about something, to speculate, to suppose

догадка – conjecture, guess, estimation, speculation, assumption


The verbal prefix за- usually means to start doing something, or to get into the process of doing something, maybe repeatedly.

загадывать/загадать – literally this means to start guessing, to think something out

загадка – riddle, puzzle, enigma

загадочный– mysterious, cryptic (something that needs thinking or guesswork)

With the -ность suffix, you can easily turn adjectives into abstract nouns.

загадочность– mystery, inscrutability


The prefix раз- usually means to do something in multiple directions or to go in many different ways, even in the abstract sense.

разгадывать/разгадать что – to solve something using logic, to unravel, to decipher

разгадка-solution, key (to an enigma), answer


The Russian prefix -y means to go out of something or to get something out of something. This can also mean abstract ideas.

угадывать/угадать- to guess randomly

угадывание– a guess by chance at random, guesswork, tip

And one more for this article, the prefix -пред. Deriving from the Russian word ‘перед’ (in front, before, in advance), it means to do something in advance, before something else happened.

предугадывать/предугадать – to foresee, to anticipate, to predict

предугадывание– anticipation, prediction

The list actually still goes on, but this has already been enough to prove my point. With knowing these rules, and a basic verb or noun, you can guess the meaning of a significant amount of words. There is only one thing you should keep in mind, however. Although Russian grammar is very flexible when producing words, not all possible derivates that could exist are actually used. So, always make sure to check on the possible derivated term before using them, thus avoiding confusion.

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