Sunday, February 23, 2014

Q&A: Russian Reflexive Verbs

Here is a question from my reader:

I was reading the document on verb prefixes, and it got me thinking about suffixes. For example, there are the words хотеть and хотеться, which both mean 'to want'. But what does the 'ся' say? What extra information does it give? I find it hard to know when to use which.

-ся is a short for себя, -self. This is why the verbs ending with -ся are called reflexive verbs.

For example, купаться, if I were to translated it literally, would mean to bathe oneself, i.e. to take a bath, while купать means to give a bath, to wash smb.

-ся may also indicate a mutual action: целоваться = to kiss (each other) vs. целовать = to give a kiss.

-ся may show that some action is immanent to smth. or smb. For example, собака кусается = a dog bites, it is natural for dogs to bite. -ся here doesn’t mean that a dog bites itself, it shows that biting is the dog’s attribute.

Finally, -ся is used with impersonal verbs. Хочется is an impersonal verb. Хотеть requires a subject. There should be somebody who wants. Хочется refers to ‘it’, impersonal something that makes me want something. For example, Я хочу тебя поцеловать. I want to kiss you. vs. Мне хочется тебя поцеловать. Literally, “it is pleased, desired to me to kiss you”.

Here is a little bit more about Russian impersonal verbs.

I hope my explanation helped. Good luck with learning Russian!

Photo by Steven Mueller