Beyond “To Be”: An Introduction to Russian Positional Verbs

In Russian, describing the location and position of objects goes beyond merely using the verb “to be” as we do in English. Russian has an extensive vocabulary of verbs that provide more nuanced detail about where exactly something is and how it is positioned in space.

In this article, we will explore the main Russian verbs of position, examine how they are used in sentences, and see how they differ from their English translations. Gaining fluency with these verbs is key for being able to accurately describe scenes and objects in Russian.

The verb висеть in Russian

Main Verbs

Russian has four major verbs that are used to describe the position and orientation of objects. Each verb provides a distinct definition:

Стоять – To stand

This verb indicates that something is in a vertical or upright position, supported by a base or standing on its own. Some examples:

Книга стоит на полке. – The book is standing on the shelf.

Мальчик стоит у окна. – The boy is standing by the window.

Пассажиры стоят в очереди. – The passengers are standing in a queue.

Сидеть – To sit

This verb describes something that is in a seated, resting position with support underneath. For example:

Кошка сидит на ковре. – The cat is sitting on the rug.

Я сижу за столом. – I am sitting at the table.

Девочка сидит на корточках. – The girl is sitting on her haunches.

Лежать  – To lie down

This verb indicates something that is reclining and horizontal. Some examples:

Книга лежит на столе. – The book is lying on the table.

Платье лежит на кровати. – The dress is lying on the bed.

Собака лежит у ног хозяина. – The dog lies at its owner’s feet.

Висеть – To hang

This verb describes something suspended from above. For example:

Часы висят над камином. – The clock is hanging over the fireplace.

Ключи висят на крючке у двери. – The keys are hanging on a hook by the door.

Платье висит в шкафу. – The dress hangs in the closet.

Пиджак висит на стуле. – The jacket is hanging on the chair.

It would be a big oversight to forget about another important verb – находиться (to be located/found).

Находиться is a more general verb used for location:

Где находится вокзал?
Where is the train station located?

Музей находится в центре города.
The museum is located in the city center.

Unlike precise positional verbs like лежать and стоять, находиться simply denotes presence somewhere without specifying position.

In fact, it should have been the starting point, but the issue is that this verb is rarely used in spoken language. Perhaps because people found it challenging to pronounce regularly, they eventually chose to do away with it.

Essentially, it is the closest analogue to the present tense form of the verb ‘to be’ in English.

Еда находится на столе. – The food is (located) on the table.

But in everyday speech, we would simply say: “Еда на столе.” or “Еда лежит на столе”.

While находиться is a valid and useful verb, in everyday speech Russians would opt for simpler constructions (omitting the verb) or precise positional verbs when describing location. Находиться is more common in written language and formal contexts.

Russian positional verbs

See Also: The Verb БЫТЬ in Present, Past and Future Tenses

Uses and Examples

The Russian positional verbs are used extensively when describing locations, orientations, and arrangements of objects. Their specific meanings allow for detailed scene-setting using language.

One of the main uses for these verbs is as alternatives for the English verb “to be” when describing object positions. In Russian, you would select a positional verb based on the orientation:

Kнига лежит на столе. – The book is lying on the table.

Kнига стоит на полке. – The book is standing on the shelf.

Contrasting лежать and стоять

Лежать indicates the object is positioned horizontally, while стоять means it is vertical. So a book lying flat on a table лежит, but a book upright on a shelf стоит.

Other examples:

Тарелка стоит на столе. – The plate is standing on the table.

Машина стоит возле дома. – The car is standing next to the house.

Кресло стоит у окна. – The armchair is standing by the window.

Бумага лежит в ящике. – The paper is lying in the drawer.

Мяч лежит на траве. – The ball is lying on the grass.

The choice of positional verb provides greater detail than just “is” in English.

See Also: Prepositions of Place in Russian

Metaphorical Uses

Russian positional verbs can be used metaphorically for abstract situations:

Тишина стояла над городом. – Silence lay over the city.

На нём лежит ответственность. – He bears the responsibility.

Его будущее висит на волоске. – His future hangs by a thread.

Каждый из нас стоит перед выбором: личные интересы или интересы республики. – Each of us faces a choice: personal desires or the desires of the Republic.

На нём лежит вина за произошедшее. – He bears the blame for what happened.

Проект находится на грани срыва. – The project is on the verge of failure.

Страна находится в состоянии войны. – The country is in a state of war.

Он находится в затруднительном положении. – He is in a difficult situation.

Экономика находится в упадке. – The economy is in decline.

Он сидит без работы уже месяц. – He has been unemployed for a month already.

Студенты сидят за учебниками – они готовятся к экзаменам. – The students are hitting the books – they are studying for exams.

Больной лежит в больнице. – The sick man is lying in the hospital. (Not necessarily lying down – he’s just being treated in a hospital.)

The positional verbs allow Russian speakers to vividly render scenes simply by the choice of verb and adverbial phrases.

Action Verbs Related to Position

Russian also has several verbs that indicate the action of putting something into a certain position. These verbs are basically the same, just with the prefix “по-“:

Положить – to lay down, to place horizontally

Она положила книгу на стол. (She laid the book on the table.)

Поставить – to stand up, to place vertically

Он поставил вазу на полку. (He stood the vase on the shelf.)

Я поставил чемодан на пол. (He stood the suitcase on the floor.)

Повесить – to hang up, suspend from above

Мама повесила картину на стену. (Mom hung the picture on the wall.)

Посадить – to seat, to place in a seated position

Я посадил гостей за стол. (I seated the guests at the table.)

These verbs describe the action of putting objects into the positions described by стоять, сидеть, лежать, and висеть. They are very useful for describing scene changes and movement.

How to use the verbs лежать and стоять

Listed verbs can take different prefixes, and, as a result, acquire different meanings. Here are some examples:

уложить – to put down; to lay down to sleep

Она уложила ребёнка спать. (She laid the baby down to sleep.)

завесить – to hang with, cover

переставить – to rearrange

застояться – to stand too long

засидеться – to seat too long

залежаться – to lie too long

Besides the mentioned verbs, more general ones can also be utilized to signify placing something in a specific position: ‘поместить‘ (to place) and ‘расположить‘ (to position).

Компьютер поместили в клетку с шестью обезьянами.
A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys.

Она поместила книги в ящик стола.
She put the books into the desk drawer.

Нам нужно поместить это объявление в газету как можно быстрее.
We need to put this ad in the newspaper as soon as possible.

Я аккуратно достал его и расположил в самом центре комнаты.
I carefully took it out and put it in the center of the room.

Дизайнер расположил мебель в офисе таким образом, чтобы максимизировать пространство.
The designer arranged the office furniture in a way that maximized the space.

Поместить is more common in written language and formal speech, while not used as frequently in informal everyday speech. However, it is useful in situations when you need to indicate whether an object fits or does not fit into a physical space.

For example:

Этот шкаф не поместится в такой маленькой комнате.
This wardrobe will not fit in such a small room.

В этом рюкзаке помещается до 30 кг вещей.
This backpack can hold up to 30 kg of items.

See Also: Verbs of Movement in Russian

Располагаться and Устраиваться

There are two more very interesting reflexive verbs that are useful to know.

The verb “располагаться” in Russian is used to indicate the location or placement of objects, buildings, or entities. It is commonly used to describe where something is situated or positioned.

Четыре музея расположились в основных зданиях.
Four museums are located in the main buildings.

Here, the verb “расположились” is in the past tense (perfective aspect) to indicate that the action of positioning or locating the museums in the main buildings has already happened. The verb agrees with the subject (четыре музея – four museums) in number and gender.

You can also use “располагаться” in other contexts to describe the location of objects or places, for example:

Наш отель располагается у моря. – Our hotel is situated by the sea.

Белое море располагается на северо-западе России. – The White Sea is located in the northwest of Russia.

Additionally, “располагаться” has a second meaning that is more informal and denotes the action of settling in, making oneself comfortable, or even arranging things in a certain manner.

Examples:

Они расположились на диване.
They made themselves comfortable on the couch.

Пожалуйста располагайтесь, а мы приготовим апартаменты.
Please make yourself comfortable while we prepare the suite.

Устраиваться means “to settle in, get comfortable.” It also indicates arranging things around you how you like them. Examples:

Наливайте чашечку кофе и устраивайтесь поудобнее.
Make a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable.

Похоже твой папаша неплохо тут устроился.
Looks like your daddy’s got a nice place here.

This verb emphasizes getting comfortable by adjusting your position and surroundings.

Another common usage is in the context of finding a job or getting employment.

Он устроился на работу в большую компанию.
He got a job at a big company.

Я устроился туда осенью и уже дважды получил повышение.
I started in the fall and I’ve been promoted twice.

Conclusion

In summary, Russian’s extensive vocabulary for positional verbs grants speakers the ability to precisely describe the physical location and orientation of objects. While in English we might just say a book “is” on a table, Russian speakers can specify if that book is standing, sitting, lying flat, or leaning against something.

Mastering verbs like стоять, сидеть, лежать, and висеть and their various prefixes allows one to paint a detailed mental picture of the objects in a scene. The next time you want to describe the position of items around you in Russian, reach for these versatile verbs to take your language skills to the next level.

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