Tackling the Russian Complex Sentence: Coordinating and Subordinating Conjunctions

From Pushkin to Dostoevsky, Russian literary masters have navigated complex syntax with grace and precision. Yet for all language learners, the complex Russian sentence remains daunting. Mastery of subordinate clauses through conjunctions and relative pronouns may seem a tedious task.

However, such mastery enables one to construct eloquent, nuanced sentences rather than simple, choppy phrasebook Russian. Just as an artist employs palette, brush, and technique to render visions into vivid canvases, so too can command of syntax help render complex ideas into vibrant Russian. This guide will explore the components enabling anyone to paint their own complex masterpieces.

Definition

Complex sentence structures in Russian involve the combination of multiple clauses, including independent and dependent clauses, to convey more intricate thoughts and ideas. These structures allow for the expression of complex relationships between different parts of a sentence.

Complex sentences are an essential component of the Russian language, allowing for nuanced and precise expression. Proper usage requires an understanding of subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns.

A comma is used before the coordinating/subordinating conjunction and connects the two clauses.

Types of Complex Sentences

Russian employs various types of complex sentences beyond simple subject-predicate constructions. Mastering the proper use and formation of complex sentences is key for both comprehension of written Russian as well as for expressing more intricate relationships between ideas in one’s own speech and writing.

See Also: The Ultimate Guide to Russian Word Order

Compound Complex Sentences

A сложносочинённое предложение in Russian is called a “compound sentence” in English. This is a complex sentence composed of two or more independent clauses joined by coordinating conjunctions like и (and), а (and, but, while), но (but), или (or), однако (however, yet).

For example:

Мы пошли гулять, но вскоре начался дождь. – We went for a walk, but soon it started to rain.

Here there are two independent clauses – “Мы пошли гулять” (We went for a walk) and “вскоре начался дождь” (soon it started to rain) – joined by the coordinating conjunction “but”.

The most common coordinating conjunctions are и, а, но and или.

Conjunction и means “and”; used to combine elements of equal importance in an additive or positive relationship: 

Мы пошли в музей, и там была интересная выставка. (We went to the museum and there was an interesting exhibition there.)

Conjunction а means “but” or “while”; used to show contrast between the elements. Can connect clauses where one has a surprising relation to the other:

  • Сегодня холодно, а вчера было тепло. (It’s cold today, while yesterday it was warm.)
  • Мне нравится читать, а мой брат предпочитает смотреть фильмы. (I like reading, while my brother prefers watching movies.)
  • Анна сказала, что опоздает, а пришла вовремя. (Anna said she’d be late, but she arrived on time.)

Conjunction но also means “but”; tends to show more strong opposition than “а”. Often used to connect clauses where the second negates or contradicts the first: Я очень спешил, но опоздал на поезд.

  • Я очень устал, но мне нужно закончить работу. (I’m very tired, but I need to finish this work.)
  • Фильм был интересный, но сложно понять сюжет. (The movie was interesting, but the plot was hard to understand.)
  • Мы собирались пойти в поход, но пошёл сильный дождь. (We were going to go hiking, but heavy rain started.)

Или (or) connects two clauses within compound sentences, presenting different options or choices. It implies a mutual exclusivity between the two clauses, indicating that one of the stated possibilities will be realized.

Ты можешь позвонить мне, или я сам найду информацию. (You can call me, or I will find the information myself.)

Coordinating conjunctions in Russian

Subordinating Conjunction Sentences

A сложноподчинённое предложение is called a “complex sentence” in English grammar. This is made up of a main clause (a complete sentence that can stand alone) and one or more dependent clauses (incomplete sentences that cannot stand alone), which are joined by subordinating conjunctions like “когда” (when), “потому что” (because), “если” (if), and many others.

For example:

Он не сможет прийти, потому что у него есть другое дело. – He won’t be able to come because he has another appointment.

In this sentence, “Он не сможет прийти” (He won’t be able to come) is the independent clause, and “потому что у него есть другое дело” (because he has another appointment) is the dependent clause. The dependent clause is introduced by the subordinating conjunction “потому что” (because).

Another example:

Когда начался дождь, мы пошли домой. – When it started to rain, we went home.

The main clause is “мы пошли домой” (we went home) and the dependent clause joined by the subordinating conjunction “when” is “Когда начался дождь” (When it started to rain).

Som we can change the order and say:

Мы пошли домой, когда начался дождь. – We went home, when it started to rain.

This order would be fine if, for example, we were asked exactly when we went home.

Subordinating conjunctions introduce dependent clauses, which cannot stand alone as complete sentences. Common subordinating conjunctions in Russian include “что” (that), “когда” (when), “если” (if), and “поскольку” (since).

For example:

Я знаю, что ты прав. (I know that you are right).

In these sentences, an independent clause is linked to one or more dependent clauses through the use of subordinating conjunctions.

Subordinating conjunction sentences fall into several other categories.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses provide additional information about a noun and are introduced by relative pronouns such as “который” (which/that) and “чей” (whose). These clauses typically follow the noun they modify.

For example:

Человек, который пришел, – мой друг. – The person who came is my friend.

Relative pronouns are used to connect adjective or relative clauses to the main part of a complex sentence. The relative clauses act to describe a noun in the main clause by functioning like an adjective.

Here are some other examples of relative pronoun usage in complex sentences:

Фильм, который мы смотрели, был очень интересный. (The movie which/that we watched was very interesting.)

Это мой друг, чья сестра учится со мной в университете. (This is my friend whose sister studies with me at the university.)

Москва – город, где я родился и вырос. (Moscow is the city where I was born and raised.)

The relative pronouns relate the descriptive clauses back to Moscow, friend, movie, etc. Correct pronoun usage avoids ambiguity and clarifies the complex sentence relationships.

Circumstantial Clauses

Temporal

Тemporal conjunctions indicating time relationships and include words like:

  • когда – when
  • пока – while
  • прежде чем – before
  • после того как – after
  • с тех пор как – since

These conjunctions are used to join an independent clause with a temporal dependent clause, demonstrating a chronological relationship between the two parts of the sentence.

For example:

Когда я проснулся, на улице уже шёл дождь. (When I woke up, it was already raining outside).

Прежде чем идти в кино, мы решили поужинать. (Before going to the cinema, we decided to have dinner.)

Temporal clauses in Russian, as in English, act to provide time-related details but cannot stand alone as complete sentences.

See Also: What are Adverbs of Time in Russian

Causal

Causal conjunctions connect two clauses together by establishing a cause-and-effect or correlative logical relationship between them. The main causal conjunctions in Russian include:

  • потому что – because
  • так как – since, as
  • из-за того что – because of the fact that
  • благодаря тому что – thanks to the fact that

Here is an example causal conjunction sentence:

Мы не пошли гулять, потому что на улице была плохая погода. (We didn’t go out for a walk because the weather outside was bad.)

The main clause with the “effect” (we didn’t go out) is joined by the causal conjunction “потому что” to the subordinate clause presenting the “cause” (the bad weather).

Another example:

Мы отменили пикник, потому что пошёл дождь. (We cancelled the picnic because it started raining.)

Causal clauses explain the reason or cause behind the premise in the main clause but cannot stand alone, e.g.:

Так как шёл сильный дождь (causal clause)…
(Since heavy rain was falling…)

Conditional

Conditional conjunctions are used to link clauses and communicate a logical relationship between them based on a condition or hypothesis. The subordinate clause presents an outcome based on the condition set out in the main clause.

Key conditional conjunctions in Russian include:

  • если – if
  • раз – since, given that, considering that
  • хотя бы – even if
  • даже если – even if

Conditional sentences follow this formula:

[Main clause with condition] + [conjunction] + [result in subordinate clause]

For example:

Если завтра будет хорошая погода, мы устроим пикник. (If the weather is nice tomorrow, we’ll go on a picnic.)

The main clause presents the condition (good weather), while the subordinate clause contains the potential result (going on a picnic).

Another examples:

Если завтра не будет дождя, мы пойдём на рыбалку. (If it’s not raining tomorrow, we’ll go fishing.)

Ты можешь пойти со мной, если хочешь. (You can go with me if you want.)

Concessive

Concessive conjunctions are used to join an independent clause and subordinate clause that expresses an unexpected or contrasting circumstance.

Common Russian concessive conjunctions include:

  • хотя – although, though
  • несмотря на то, что  – despite the fact that
  • пусть – even if
  • даже если – even if

For example:

Хотя на улице было холодно, дети долго гуляли. (Although it was cold outside, the children played outside for a long time.)

Here the concessive conjunction “хотя” connects the contrasting elements – cold weather but kids playing for a while regardless.

Concessive clauses using conjunctions like “хотя”, “пусть”, etc. establish the counter expectation but cannot stand alone. For example:

Хотя уже стемнело (concessive clause)…
(Although it was already dark…)

Purpose

Purpose clauses indicate the reason or intent behind an action and are introduced by conjunctions like “чтобы” (in order to) or “для того чтобы” (in order to).

Я учусь, чтобы получить степень. (I study in order to obtain a degree).

Мы встали пораньше, чтобы успеть на поезд. (We got up early in order to catch the train.)

The renowned linguist Roman Jakobson once said that “languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they can convey.” As we have seen, with all its interconnected clauses, the versatile Russian sentence can convey quite a lot. Yet without minding the conjunctions and pronouns stringing our ideas together, attempts at expression resemble a tangled ball of yarn.

By methodically studying coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, grasping when to use relative pronouns like который and когда, and avoiding common errors, Russian students can disentangle confusion and unlock the power of the complex sentence. While onerous at times, the journey toward eloquence is deeply rewarding.

With practice, patience, and the patterns illuminated here, you too can craft complex Russian sentences worthy of Dostoevsky’s pen. The only limit lies within how much your heart desires to convey.

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