Kind Words Matter: Polite Expressions in Russian

Politeness holds great importance in Russian culture, helping to establish positive interactions and show respect. Learning and using polite words and expressions is key to fostering connections and creating a harmonious environment.

In this article, we will explore essential polite words in Russian, focusing on greetings, requests, apologies, expressing gratitude, formal communication, cultural etiquette, and non-verbal politeness. By incorporating these words into your interactions, you’ll navigate social situations in Russia with grace and build meaningful relationships.

Being polite in Russian

Greetings and Common Polite Expressions

When meeting someone in Russia, whether it’s a store clerk or a neighbor, using polite greetings is a genuine demonstration of respect. You can use the following phrases to do this:

Здравствуйте. [zdrastvooytye] – Hello. (formal)

Доброе утро. [dobraye ootra] – Good morning.

Добрый день. (Dobryy den’) – Good day.

Добрый вечер. (Dobryy vecher) – Good evening.

Привет. (Privet) – Hi. (informal)

If you learn only the word “Здравствуйте,” it will be enough to greet people in Russia. But if you want to know all the ways to say hello in Russian, there is an article for you.

Basic polite expressions you should know also include:

Спасибо [spaseeba] – Thank you.

Пожалуйста [pazhaloosta] – Please/You are Welcome.

Извините [eezveeneetye] – Excuse me/I’m sorry. (formal)

Expressions like “Большое спасибо” (Thank you very much), “Извините” (Excuse me) and “Пожалуйста” (Please) contribute to maintaining a polite atmosphere. If you want to expand your polite vocabulary even more, here are a couple of additional phrases for you:

The word “извините” is commonly used in Russian as an expression to apologize or to seek someone’s attention. You can use the word “простите” for the same purpose, but it’s a little less common.

Благодарю (вас) [blagadaryu vas] – I thank you.

Простите [prasteetye] – Excuse me, I’m sorry (formal)

By the way, I have previously written about ways to apologize and express gratitude on this blog.

Using Вы and Addressing People

First of all, if you’re in a formal situation and/or socializing with strangers, you should forget about using the pronoun “ты” right away. Instead, you should solely employ “вы,” “вас,” “вам,” and so on.

In some less modern books, you might come across people addressing each other with the words “господин” or “госпожа” (the word “товарищ” was also common during the Soviet era). However, nowadays, no one really uses those terms anymore. When addressing individuals in a formal setting, we still maintain the use of “вы” or opt for the person’s first and middle name.

Ирина Александровна, поздравляю вас с юбилеем! – Irina Alexandrovna, congratulations on your anniversary!

Извините, вы не могли бы подсказать мне дорогу в Музей Пушкина? – Excuse me, could you give me directions to the Pushkin Museum?

When addressing strangers in Russian, it’s common to use polite and formal forms of address.

However, in most cases we just use simple words like “девушка” (girl), “женщина” (woman), “мужчина” (man) or “молодой человек” (young man).

For example:

Девушка, вы уронили перчатку. – Young lady, you dropped your glove.

Мужчина, вы наступили мне на ногу. – Mister, you stepped on my foot.

Молодой человек, вы не могли бы помочь мне поднять мой чемодан на верхнюю полку? – Excuse me, young sir, can you help me lift my suitcase onto the overhead shelf? (in the train)

But in most cases, using the pronoun “вы” and the word “извините” (“простите”) will be sufficient.

See Also: Difference Between Ты and Вы

Polite Requests

When making a polite request in Russian, it’s customary to use softening and respectful language to show consideration for the other person.

One common way to make a polite request is to use the phrase “Пожалуйста” [Pozhaluysta], which means “please.” This word is used both before and after a request to express politeness and respect.

For example, you can say “Пожалуйста, помогите мне” (Pozhaluysta, pomogite mne) which translates to “Please, help me.” However, “Помогите мне, пожалуйста” sounds more natural.

Another way to add politeness is by using the word “будьте любезны“, meaning “please” or “be so kind.” This phrase is often added before a request to make it more polite. For instance, “Будьте любезны, откройте окно, пожалуйста” translates to “Open the window, please.” This expression, however, is quite old-fashioned, and you might hear it from an older woman. “Будьте добры” means the same thing: “Будьте добры, помогите мне донести сумки” (Would you be so kind as to help me carry my bags?).

Additionally, it’s common to use the imperative verb form to make requests more polite. By using the verb in the conditional form, you can soften the request and make it sound less direct. For example, instead of saying “Дай мне воду” (Day mne vodu), which means “Give me water,” you can say “Подайте, пожалуйста, воду” (Podayte, pozhaluysta, vodu) meaning “Please, pass me the water.”

The phrase “не могли бы вы” in Russian translates to “could you” or “would you” in English. It is commonly used to make polite requests or ask someone to do something. Here’s how you can use it:

не могли бы вы” + verb + [additional details or conditions]

Examples:

Не могли бы вы мне помочь? – Could you help me?

Не могли бы вы подержать сумку? – Would you hold my bag?

Не могли бы вы открыть окно? – Could you open the window, please?

The phrase “не могли бы вы” is a polite way to make a request, showing respect and acknowledging the person’s ability to assist. It is commonly used in various social and formal settings to ask for help, favors, or simple actions.

The phrase “Можно вас попросить” (May I ask you) can also be helpful.

Можно попросить вас передвинуться немного? – May I ask you to move a bit?

Извините, можно попросить вас помочь? – Excuse me, may I ask you for help?

When initiating a request or asking a question to an unfamiliar person, it is advisable to begin with polite expressions such as “извините” or “простите“. These phrases help establish a respectful tone and show consideration for the individual’s time and attention. Starting a conversation with these words can greatly enhance the chances of receiving a positive response or assistance.

Here are a few examples:

  • Извините, можно задать вам вопрос? – Excuse me, may I ask you a question?
  • Извините, можно вас попросить… – Excuse me, may I ask you to…
  • Извините, не могли бы вы мне помочь? – Excuse me, could you please help me?
  • Извините, не могли бы вы сделать мне одолжение? – Excuse me, could you do me a favor?
  • Извините, не могли бы вы повторить это еще раз? – Excuse me, could you please repeat that?

Don’t forget to express gratitude afterwards to show appreciation for the help:

Большое спасибо. – Thank you very much.

Remember to use appropriate tones and body language to enhance the polite nature of your request. This content is stolen. Being respectful and courteous while making requests will facilitate positive interactions with native Russian speakers.

See Alo: Asking For and Offering Help Like a Russian

Politeness in Formal and Written Communication

In formal and written communication, the use of polite language is of utmost importance in Russian culture. Whether you’re writing a formal letter, sending an email, or engaging in professional interactions, employing polite expressions and adhering to cultural norms creates a respectful atmosphere.

In formal communication, addressing recipients with respect sets the tone for the entire interaction.

Beginning a letter or email with “Уважаемый/Уважаемая” (Honored) followed by the recipient’s name and title, if applicable, shows respect.

Official letter in Russian
Example of an official letter in Russian, source: https://assistentus.ru

Ending a formal letter or email on a respectful note exemplifies professionalism and cultivates a positive perception.

The phrase “С уважением” (With respect) is commonly used to conclude a formal letter or email. It conveys your respect for the recipient and leaves a positive final impression. Example: “С уважением, Иван Иванов” (With respect, Ivan Ivanov).

You can also add one of these phrases:

  • С наилучшими пожеланиями” (Best regards): Use this expression when closing a less formal yet still respectful correspondence.
  • С благодарностью” (With gratitude): Employ this phrase to convey your appreciation while maintaining a professional tone.

Keep in mind that the level of formality differs across various situations. For instance, in the civil service and the judicial system, the language is highly formal, replete with bureaucratic terminology. However, in the realm of business, companies nowadays tend to adopt a more casual tone, aiming for simplicity when communicating with clients through written correspondence, avoiding complex jargon and formalities.

An email to a customer from an online store
An email newsletter I receive from a popular online retailer

Other Polite Expressions

Politeness is a universal language that transcends cultural boundaries and creates positive interactions. Whether you’re traveling to Russia or engaging with Russian speakers, knowing these polite phrases will help you navigate social situations with grace and respect.

Пожалуйста, помогите мне…
(Please, help me…)

Извините, можно попросить вас…
(Excuse me, may I ask you to…)

Извините, я могу задать вам вопрос?
(Excuse me, can I ask you a question?)

Не могли бы вы подсказать мне…
(Could you please tell me…)

Извините за беспокойство, но у меня возник вопрос.
(Sorry for the inconvenience, but I have a question.)

Пожалуйста, пришлите мне информацию по электронной почте.
(Please, send me the information by email.)

Извините, но я плохо понимаю русский язык. Не могли бы вы говорить помедленнее?
(I’m sorry, but I don’t understand Russian very well. Could you speak slower, please?)

Спасибо за внимание к моей проблеме.
(Thank you for attention to my problem.)

Спасибо за вашу любезность и внимательность.
(Thank you for your kindness and attentiveness.)

Пожалуйста, объясните мне, как пользоваться этим приложением.
(Please, explain to me how to use this application.)

С удовольствием помогу вам найти нужную информацию.
(I would be happy to help you find the necessary information.)

Понимаю, что это была ошибка с нашей стороны. Мы готовы исправить её.
(I understand that it was our mistake. We are happy to correct it.)

Извините за неудобства, мы стараемся найти решение.
(Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to find a solution.)

Присаживайтесь, пожалуйста.
(Please, have a seat.)

Удачи вам во всех ваших будущих начинаниях!
(Good luck to you in all your future endeavors!)

Хорошего дня!
(Have a good day!)

These sentences demonstrate how to incorporate polite words and phrases in various social situations, showcasing respect, kindness, and courtesy in interactions with others.

Polite words in Russian create bridges and foster meaningful connections. By incorporating greetings, polite requests, apologies, gratitude expressions, and employing proper etiquette, you can navigate social situations in Russia with grace and respect. Practicing non-verbal politeness, such as maintaining eye contact and observing cultural nuances,  further enhances your interactions.

In addition to using polite words and phrases, it’s important to convey politeness through your tone, body language, and overall respectful demeanor. Politeness goes a long way in establishing positive interactions with others and fostering a pleasant environment for communication.

Politeness and courtesy pave the way for smoother and more harmonious interactions.

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