Discovering the Power of ‘За’ Prefix in Russian

Prefixes in Russian are morphemes that are added to the beginning of words to modify their meaning or create new words. They are a crucial part of word formation in the Russian language and can significantly alter the semantics and functionality of a word.

The prefix “за” is a multi-purpose prefix that can be used in various ways to modify the meaning of verbs.

Commencing an Action

When combined with certain verbs, the prefix “за” can indicate the beginning or commencement of an action. For example:

светить (to shine)засветить (to begin shining)

сиять (to shine/glow)засиять (to start shining, to begin radiating)

За окном засияло солнце, осветляя всю комнату. – The sun started shining through the window, illuminating the entire room.

сверкать (to sparkle, to shimmer)засверкать (to start sparkling)

играть (to play)заиграть (to start playing)

улыбаться (to smile)заулыбаться (to break into a smile, to start smiling)

смеяться (to laugh)засмеяться (to burst into laughter)

Комедия была такой смешной, что она не смогла удержаться и засмеялась. – The comedy was so funny that she couldn’t hold back and burst into laughter.

ржать (to guffaw)заржать (to burst into laughter, to start laughing)

грустить (to feel sad)загрустить (to start feeling sad)

Он загрустил, когда узнал о смерти своего друга. – He started feeling sad when he heard about the death of his friend.

плакать (to cry)заплакать (to start crying)

петь (to sing)запеть (to start singing)

Когда песня, которую она любила, началась, она запела вместе с исполнителем. – When the song she loved started, she began singing along with the performer.

кричать (to shout/yell)закричать (to start shouting, to burst out yelling)

Он закричал от радости, когда узнал. – He started shouting with joy when he found out.

молчать (to be be silent)замолчать (to become silent)

сомневаться (to doubt)засомневаться (to start doubting)

Когда она услышала его объяснение, она начала сомневаться в его словах. – When she heard his explanation, she started doubting his words.

звонить (to ring)зазвонить (to start ringing)

шевелиться (to move)зашевелиться (to start moving, to begin stirring)

засуетиться (to start bustling, to begin fussing)

говорить (to speak)заговорить (to start speaking)

Том, поднявшись со стула, заговорил. – Tom, having risen from his chair, began to speak.

беспокоиться / волноваться (to worry)забеспокоиться / заволноваться (to become worried, to start getting concerned)

Она забеспокоилась, когда от него не было вестей уже несколько дней. – She started getting worried when she hadn’t heard from him for several days.

гореть (to burn)загореться (to start burning, to catch fire)

Сухая трава загорелась, когда на неё попала спичка. – The dry grass started burning when the match fell on it.

интересоваться (to be interested)заинтересоваться (to become interested, to start showing interest)

Я заинтересовался этой книгой после прочтения отзывов. – I became interested in this book after reading reviews.

звучать (to sound)зазвучать (to start sounding, to resonate)

шуметь (to make noise)зашуметь (to start buzzing, to begin making noise)

Моторы самолетов зашумели, когда они начали взлетать – The engines of the airplanes started buzzing as they began taking off.

гудеть (to hum, to buzz)загудеть (to start humming, to begin humming)

жужжать (to hum, to buzz) зажужжать (to start buzzing)

скучать (to be bored)заскучать (to get/become bored)

дышать (to breathe)задышать (to start breathing)

жить (to live)зажить (to start to live)

дрожать (to tremble/shudder)задрожать (to start trembling)

кипеть (to boil)закипеть (to start boiling, to reach the boiling point)

Как только отвар закипит, выключите огонь. – Once the broth has boiled, turn off the fire.

кричать (to shout/yell)закричать (to burst out shouting, to start yelling)

орать (to shout/yell) заорать (to burst out shouting, to start yelling) [informal]

Он заорал от боли. – He burst out shouting from the pain.

вопить (to scream, to shriek)завопить (to start shrieking)

стонать (to moan)застонать (to start moaning)

реветь (to cry, to howl)зареветь (to start crying/howling)

выть (to howl, to wail)завыть (to start howling/wailing)

хрипеть (to rasp, to wheeze)захрипеть (to start wheezing)

дремать (to doze)задремать (to start dozing off, to begin to fall asleep)

думать (to think)задуматься (to ponder, to start thinking deeply)

Он задумался на минуту и потом дал свой ответ. – He pondered for a moment and then gave his answer.

кружиться (to spin, to swirl)закружиться (to start spinning, to begin swirling)

скользить (to slide)заскользить (to start sliding)

кашлять (to cough)закашлять (to start coughing)

бегать (to run)забегать (to start running around)

Когда дети услышали музыку, они забегали по всему саду, веселясь. – When the children heard the sound of music, they started running around the garden joyfully.

Радостные щенки, только что выпущенные на улицу, забегали вокруг своей матери. – Excited puppies, just let out onto the street, started running around their mother.

прыгать (to jump)запрыгать (to start jumping, to begin leaping)

пить (to drink)запить (to start drinking alcohol) [informal]

Prefix за in Russian

See Also: How to use the prefix по- in Russian

Completion or Achievement (Perfectivizing Verbs)

The prefix “за” can also be used to convert imperfective verbs into perfective verbs, indicating a completed or single instance of an action. It also can signify the completion of an action or achieving a certain state using imperfective form.

хотеть (to want)захотеть (indicating desire that arises or intensifies)

Я не хотел идти, но потом захотел. – I didn’t want to go, but then I suddenly wanted to.

помнить (to remember, to memorize)запомнить (to thoroughly memorize, to remember)

болеть (to be ill, to be sick)заболеть (to fall ill, to become ill)

Она заболела после контакта с больным. – She fell ill after contact with a sick person.

спать (to sleep)засыпать/заснуть (to fall asleep)

воевать (to fight, to wage war)завоевать (the result of conquering control through war)

бить (to hit)забить (to firmly drive in, to hammer in, to hammer until completion)

Он забил гвоздь в стену. – He hammered a nail into the wall.

платить (continuous action of making a payment)заплатить (the accomplishment of the action of paying)

Он заплатил за ужин в ресторане. – He paid for the dinner at the restaurant.

интересовать (to interest)заинтересовать (the specific action of captivating someone’s interest)

Этот фильм заинтересовал меня своим необычным сюжетом. – This movie intrigued me with its unique plot.

интриговать (to intrigue deeply, to captivate)заинтриговать 

твердеть (to solidify, to harden)затвердеть (to become hard)

путать (to confuse, to mix up)запутать (a more pronounced act of making a situation more complex)

Автор зашёл так далеко в своих рассуждениях, что запутал читателей. – The author went so far in his reasoning that he confused the readers.

путаться (to be confused)запутаться (to get tangled, to get confused)

Она запуталась в сложной инструкции и не могла понять, что делать дальше. – She started getting confused in the complex system of instructions and couldn’t understand what to do next.

бронировать (to make a reservation)забронировать (completing a booking, a particular moment of securing a reservation)

грузить (to load)загрузить (to fully load, to load completely)

давить (to press)задавить (to forcefully press or crush something)

Expressing Excessive or Intensive Action

The prefix “за” can intensify the action of a verb, suggesting excessive or intensified activity. It implies going beyond the usual or expected limit. For example:

мучить (to torment, to torture)замучить (to reach a point of extreme torment)

Он замучился от бессонных ночей и постоянного напряжения. – He was worn out from sleepless nights and constant stress.

пугать (to scare)запугать (to completely or or intentionally scare someone)

Они запугали свидетеля, чтобы он не говорил правду. – They scared the witness so that he wouldn’t speak the truth.

топтать (to trample)затоптать (a more forceful or specific act of stepping heavily and causing significant harm)

Дети затоптали цветы в саду, пока играли в футбол. – The children trampled the flowers in the garden while playing soccer.

клевать (to peck, to bite)заклевать (to thoroughly peck or bite something)

Голодная птица заклевала свою жертву до смерти. – The hungry bird pecked its prey to death.

When used with reflexive forms, the prefix за- can mean doing something passionately, fully immersing oneself in the process to the extent that you forget about everything.

работать (to work)заработаться (to work excessively, to become exhausted from work)

смотреть/глядеть (to look, to watch)засмотреться/заглядеться (to become engrossed/lost in looking)

слушать (to listen)заслушаться (to become absorbed in listening)

сидеть (to sit)засидеться (to stay longer than intended)

Он засиделся в офисе, забыв про обед. – He stayed in the office for too long, forgetting about lunch.

лежать (to lie)залежаться (to lie for a long time cause of becoming unused over time)

бегать (to run)забегаться (to run around busily or hurry)

гулять (to walk/stroll)загуляться (to go on an extended outing)

читать (to read)зачитаться (to become absorbed in reading)

Sometimes the meaning of such words may be different.

For example, “зажраться” is an informal and colloquial term with a negative connotation. It means being unsatisfied with simple things, such as food. For instance, if a person declines some food, someone might exclaim, ‘Он зажрался!’

It’s important to note that “зажраться” is considered vulgar and impolite. It is typically used in colloquial speech or informal situations.

Covering or enclosing

The prefix “за” can be used to indicate covering or enclosing something.

стелить (to spread, to lay down)застелить (to fully cover or occupy a surface with something)

Она застелила кровать новыми простынями. – She covered the bed with new bed sheets.

красить (to paint, to dye)закрасить (to cover up or conceal something with paint or color)

Он закрасил царапину на автомобиле. – He covered up the scratch on the car.

аcфальтировать (to asphalt)заасфальтировать (to cover up with asphalt)

кидать (to throw, to toss)закидать (to throw something repeatedly at, to bombard)

лить (to pour)залить (to pour something in a way that covers it completely or extensively, to flood)

Они залили зал водой. – They flooded the hall with water.

сыпать (to sprinkle)засыпать (to completely or intensively pour or fill with something)

Зимой снег засыпает улицы. – In winter, the snow covers the streets completely.

брызгать (to splash, to spray)забрызгать (to completely or extensively splashing, typically resulting in the coverage of an area with scattered droplets)

Он забрызгал окно краской, пытаясь покрасить стену. – He splattered paint on the window while attempting to paint the wall.

маскировать (to disguise)замаскировать (to fully disguise)

ржаветь (ongoing process of rusting)заржаветь (indicates that the object has become rusty)

вешать (to hang)завешать/завесить (to cover with a curtain, to drape over)

копать (to dig)закопать (to cover with earth, to bury)

плевать (to spit)заплевать (to completely spit something/someone)

городить (to fence) → загородить (to fence off, to cover with a fence)

пылиться (to dust)запылиться (to become dusty)

Words with such meaning are not always verbs:

заснеженный – covered with snow (adj.)

заросли (thickets) – a place covered with bushes/trees

These are just a few examples of various ways the prefix “за” can be employed in Russian. It is a versatile prefix that can modify the meaning of verbs to create new shades of expression. The exact meaning may depend on the context and the specific verb it is combined with.

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