Get the lowdown on long and short–form adjectives in Russian

In the Russian language, qualitative adjectives* often possess two forms: a long one, and a short one. A qualitative adjective is used to describe a feature, or quality, of a noun (that is, a person, place, or thing). The difference between long and short-form adjectives in Russian isn’t particularly complex. In general, they both possess the same meaning in terms of the definition of the adjective. However, there are times where they diverge in meaning, or differ in terms of their temporal application (that is, the duration of time for which they apply to the subject).

If you apply the rules below, you can’t go wrong(!)

When is a long adjective used in Russian?

The long form of a Russian adjective is used…

1. To describe permanent, constant, or general characteristics of a person, or an object. (Long duration)

Consider the following examples.

He is a good person. – Он хороший.

A long adjective is used because the subject’s character, something which generally remains stable, is described.

If you wish to use describe a non-permanent characteristic of a person using a long form, you’ll need to insert an adverbial time-marker, such as сейчас – now, сегодня – today.

For example:

He is a cheerful person. – Он весёлый.

He looks cheerful. – Он весел. (He looks happy right now – short adjective)

He looks cheerful. Он сейчас весёлый (He looks happy right now – long adjective with an adverbial time-marker)

To describe a person as ‘холодный’ ( the long form of the adjective for cold) carries the connotation that they are cold-hearted.

Using the short form adjective ‘холоден’, clarifies that the person feels cold (temporarily, as a result of the ambient temperature). However, the dative case would ordinarily be used to describe a person’s physical state such as temperature in the form of an impersonal passive construction. That is to say that in Russian, the language regards the subject as being the recipient of the feeling; the feeling is ‘transferred’ to the subject. Hence the following construction:

I am cold. – Мне холодно* (Literally: to me, cold )

*This is the neuter form of the short adjective.

Further examples of permanent, constant, or general characteristics of a person, or an object are provided below:

Our hotel guests have unrestricted access to the internet. – Гости нашего отеля имеют свободный доступ в интернет.

In my opinion, mathematics is a difficult subject. – На мой взгляд, математика – сложный предмет.

He is a happy child. – Он счастливый ребенок.

2. As an attributive adjective , appearing before a noun, in order to describe it. Short adjectives are generally not used in this position.


For example:

She is a beautiful woman. – Она красивая женщина.

He would make a horrible boyfriend. – Он был бы ужасным парнем.

I have incredible friends. – У меня невероятные друзья.

My brother has an ugly car. – У моего брата ужасная машина.

The appearance of a long adjective in the predicate position (i.e. after the linking verbs быть* and стать) would be awkward for a native speaker of Russian. However, that is not to say that it is unheard of, or ungrammatical.

For example:

I am very hungry, but I can’t eat anything because I am fasting. – Я очень голодна, но я не могу ничего есть, потому что я постюсь.

3. In informal conversation in the spoken language.

Short adjectives can easily sound like relics from the past as they are more commonly used in literary works from the 19th century for example.

For example:

Tanya is very sociable. – Таня очень общительная. (In general)

My grandparents are very kind. – Мои бабушки очень добрые. (In general)

When is a short adjective used in Russian?

The short form of a Russian adjective is used…

1. To describe temporary characteristics of nouns. That is, the reliability of the description provided by the adjective may be limited in some way, or dependent on external factors – e.g. something may be beautiful, but only – or more so – during a particular season and something may be useful, but only if used correctly etc. (Temporally limited duration)

For example:

He is a very busy man. – Он очень занятой человек.

I was very happy to hear from my relatives from Australia last night. – Вчера вечером я был очень рад услышать от своих родственников из Австралии. (Short adjective, because the emotion is temporally limited – the subject experienced a fleeting sense of happiness)

She is very lazy in class. – Она очень ленива в классе. (Short adjective, because the laziness is temporally limited; the description specifically concerns the subject’s character in the classroom)

She is very lazy. – Она очень ленивая. ( Long adjective, because no conditions are attached to the subject’s laziness; it is expressed as a general character trait)

2. In the predicate, after the linking verbs быть* and стать, irrespective of the tense (past, present, or future).

For example:

The meeting was very important. – Встреча была очень важна.

She became very angry. – Она стала очень злой.

*Быть is not used in the present tense in Russian. However, you should nonetheless use the short form of the adjective.

3. More commonly, in formal, literary works and songs.

For example:

It is no accident that Titian’s velvet is dark red and its brown tint is like rusting blood. – Недаром темно-красен бархат у Тициана и коричнев его отлив, как ржавеющая кровь.

The Space Of Euclid, K. S. Petrov-Vodkin

4. With the following pronouns: это* – it, this, or that , всё – always, all the time, only, just, что, одно, другое, то.


*The demonstrative pronoun это always requires the neuter short form.

For example:

That is understandable / makes sense. – Это понятно.

It is very difficult. – Это очень трудно.

It is a sustained trend. – Этот тренд устойчив .
Everything
was clear. – Всё было ясно.

5. When the adjective is not followed by a noun.

For example:

She is a beautiful woman. – Она красива. ✅ (Correct use of a short adjective; no noun follows)

She is a beautiful woman. – Она красива женщина. ❌ (Incorrect use of a short adjective; it He’shappy because we are going to the park now. – Он счастлив, потому что мы сейчас идем в парк.(right now).

Ты болен? – Do you feel sick?

I feel sick. – Я болен.

Ты больной? – Have you lost your mind?

6. Immediately before an infinitive verb.

For example:

She studies hard to get good marks. – Она усердно учится, чтобы получить хорошие оценки.

It is too late to go to the concert now. – Уже слишком поздно идти на концерт.

He is always ready to help. – Он всегда готов помочь.

She is far too young to drive a car! – Она слишком молода, чтобы водить машину!

My grandparents are too old to work. – Мои бабушка и дедушка слишком стары для работы.

I am too tired to do my homework. – Я слишком устала, чтобы делать домашнее задание.

7. In fixed expressions and turns of phrases.

For example:

I’ll be brief. – Буду краток

Her Instagram account is popular. – Её счет в Инстаграм популярен.

He is a known blogger. – Он известен как блогер.

Business isn’t going well. – Плохи мои дела (Literally: Bad my affairs go)

I agree. – Я согласен (masculine) / согласна (feminine).

You’re mistaken. – Ты неправ (masculine) / неправа (feminine). вы не правы (formal / plural).

The parents of the children at the school are very unhappy with the new protocol. – Родители детей в школе очень недовольны новым протоколом.

Are you busy? – Вы заняты?

Are you free? – Вы свободны?

Lunch is ready. – Обед готов.

Life is full of opportunities; be ready to grab them when they arrive. – Жизнь полна возможностей; будьте готовы схватить их, когда они прибудут.

8. When followed by prepositions.

For example:

I am ready for a challenge. – Я готов к вызову.

Your bag is similar to my bag. – Твоя сумка похожа на мою.

He is well-acquainted with the new system. – Он хорошо знаком с новой системой.

I don’t agree with him. – Я не согласен с ним. / Я с ним не согласен. (The sentence may also be rearranged so that the preposition с does not immediately follow the short adjective)

He is really good at science. – Он силен в науке . (Literally: he is strong at science)

9. When the subject is defined by one of the following words: всяк , подобный .

For example:

It’s every man for himself on the battlefield once the bullets run out. – Всяк человек за себя на поле боя, как только кончаются пули.

I bought a similar bag last week. – Я купил подобную сумку на прошлой неделе.

10. To describe an action typically expressed by a gerund in English, where a noun would be used in place of the gerund in Russian and would be followed by a long adjective which describes the noun.*

For example:

Living in the middle of the nowhere can be lonely. – Жизнь в отдалённом районе может быть одинокой.

Reading is my favourite pastime. – Чтение – моё любимое занятие.

Smoking cigarettes is bad for you. – Курение сигарет вредно для здоровья.

*As a side note, if the English gerund were to be expressed by the infinitive in Russian, an adverb would be used instead of a long adjective, as the adverb answers the question Как? – What is it like living in the city centre?

For example, a sentence we encountered above would change as follows:

Living in the middle of the nowhere can be lonely. – Жить в отдалённом районе может быть одиноко.

How do I form short adjectives?

The short adjectival forms in Russian, are derived from the stem of the long adjectival forms. For the masculine short form, the stem of the long form alone is enough, whilst the feminine, neuter and plural forms end in -а, -о and -ы/-и*, respectively.

Short adjectives only have to agree with the gender and number of a noun. They do not decline into the genitive , dative , accusative , instrumental , or prepositional cases, as long adjectives do. Long-form adjectives decline and must agree with the gender, number and case of the noun that they describe. Note that a number of short adjectives may lack a masculine form (e.g. pregnant), a feminine form, or even a plural form.

For example:

She is ill. – Она больна. (Short adjective, which agrees only in gender and number)

Соня подарила сестре синюю ручку. (Long adjective, which agrees in gender, number and case )

*Plural forms take the ending -и after the letters г, к, х, ж, ч, ш, щ, which cannot follow -ы.

Grammar pointers – be careful!

Interchangeability

1. Long and short adjectives are not entirely interchangeable. There are some instances where the use of a specific type of adjective is preferred. For example, although both ‘Я вам благодарен’ (short form) and ‘Я вам благодарный’ ( long form) are grammatically sound, you’d be hard pressed to find a native speaker using the long form. However, they are interchangeable when the adjective forms part of the predicate (that is, the part of the sentence which tells us what the subject is doing), or is a postpositive adjective (meaning it comes after the noun which it is describing).

For example:

She needs a light bright enough for her to read at night, but dim enough to allow her husband to sleep. – Ей нужен свет, достаточно яркий, чтобы она могла читать по ночам, но достаточно тусклый, чтобы муж мог спать. (Postpositive adjectives describing the noun ‘light’)

Вы and number agreement

2. The third person plural (the formal ‘you’ and also plural ‘you’) вы, requires the plural form of the short adjective desired. However, colloquially, where long adjectives are used as predicates, the singular is often employed and sounds more natural to the native ear.

For example:

You are so amazing! – Вы такой удивительный!

Long and short-adjective pairs

3. Not all Russian adjectives have dual forms. Generally, adjectives of colour, adjectives of time, adjectives representing materials (e.g. iron, wood), ordinal numbers and adjectives ending in–ский, –овой, –евой, –ной, –ный, and –ний, only possess a long form.

A fairly reliable (but not fool proof!) rule to abide by in order to determine if a long adjective has a short-form equivalent, is that if an adjective possesses a comparative form, it will also possess a short form.

Fleeting vowels

4. If a cluster of two or more consonants are present at the end of amasculine adjective’s stem (that is, the form of the adjective to which an affix is attached in line with grammatical gender, number and / or case, which cannot appear on its own), an -о/-е/-ё is inserted between the two final consonants.

For example:

English translation

Russian long adjective

Russian short adjective

bitter

горький

горек

close by

близкий

близок

difficult

трудный

труден

full

полный

полон

funny

смешной

смешон

harmful

вредный

вреден

ill

больной

болен

light

лёгкий

легок

long

долгий

долог

low

низкий

низок

narrow

узкий

узок

necessary

нужный

нужен

poor

бедный

беден

sweet

сладкий

сладок

thin

тонкий

тонок

useful

полезный

полезен

However, there is no fleeting vowel between the consonant clusters -с and -т.

English translation

Russian long adjective

Russian short adjective

clean, pure

чистый

чист

easy, simple

простой

прост

empty

пустой

пуст

fat, thick

толстый

толст

List of common Russian long and short adjective pairs

English translation

Russian long adjective

Russian short adjective

good

хороший

хорош

beautiful

краси́вый

красив

nice, cute

милый

мил

evil

злой

зол

calm

споко́йный

спокоен

close

близкий

близок

unrestricted, unlimited, free

свободный

свободен

happy, lucky

счастливый

счастлив

complex, compound,

complicated, intricate

сложный

сложен

burning hot, scorching, red-hot

раскалённый

раскалён

hot (having a high temperature), hot-tempered, heated, busy (of time)

горячий

горяч

cold

холодный

холоден

ice / icy (frozen water), icy (of a glance, or a voice, etc.)

ледяной

леден

small, little, short, petty

маленький*

мал

big, large, great, important, grown-up, big, outstanding

большой*

велик

free

свободный

свободен

right (direction), right (correct), correct, right-hand, right-wing

правый

прав

busy

занятый

занят

irritable, angry, embittered

сердитый

сердит

ready, prepared

готовый

готов

*The long adjectives большой and маленький do not possess their own short forms, and use the short forms for великий (велик) and малый (мал) instead.

Russian adjectives without a short form

Many adjectives do not possess a short form. For the most part, these are adjectives formed from nouns which end in: -евой, ний, -ной, -ный,-овой and -ский. A number of these are listed below. At times, the reasoning behind this is quite clear. For example, русский lacks a short-form adjective because in general, there is a strong degree of permanency attached to possessing Russian heritage, or nationality, or origin, for the people or objects which the adjective describes. For adjectives ending in the suffixes -ск and -ян, no short form exists.

English translation

Long-form Russian adjective

Short-form Russian adjective

adult

взрослый

No short form.

autumn

осенний

barracks

казарменный

big

большой

bottom

нижний

branded

фирменный

bright red

ярко-красный

busy

занятой

current

нынешний

dark grey

тёмно-серый

evening

вечерний

external

внешний

extra

лишний

extreme

крайний

forever

всегдашний

heavy

тяжеленный

home

домашний

indirect

косвенный

internal

внутренний

late

поздний

light grey

светло-серый

literally

буквенный

little

маленький

local

здешний

lofty

высоченный

long time ago

давнишний

mental

мысленный

miserable

несчастный

near

ближний

neighbouring

соседний

non-resident

иногородний

not from around

нездешний

of that place, of those places, local

тамошний

old

давний

on it

оный

penultimate

предпредпоследний

plasma

плазменный

pre-war

довоенный

previous

прежний

promised

обетованный

reception office

приёмный

remote

дальний

sawmill

лесопильный

shitty

говённый

soil

почвенный

song

песенный

spring

весенний

straw

соломенный

summer

летний

tall

рослый

tavern

давешний

thick

толстенный

third party

сторонний

today’s

сегодняшний

top

верхний

weird

чудной

winter

зимний

worthy of

достойный

When the short and long form of Russian adjectives diverge in meaning

Long-form Russian adjective

Meaning

Short-form Russian adjective

Meaning

живой

lively, vibrant

жив

alive

хороший

good or kind (human nature), tasty

хорош

good (at a skill), handsome, beautiful

сильный

strong

силён

good (at a skill), talented, knowledgeable, strong

добрый

kind

добр

kind

великий

great

велик

too large

смешной

funny

смешон

laughable, ludicrous, ridiculous

ясный

clear

ясен

obvious, self-evident, clear

Бедный

miserable, pathetic, pitiful, poor

беден

poor (no money)

For example:


He is a good friend. – Он хороший друг.

He is handsome. – Он хорош собой.

He is good. – Он хорош. ( In the context of a prior conversation about the subject’s talents in a specific area, the short form adjective would be used)

She is pretty. – Она хороша.

The meal was tasty! – Еда была хороша!

These trousers are too big. – Эти брюки слишком велики.

He is a great writer. – Он великий писатель.

Note the expression below:

Будь добр,…. – Could you please be so kind as to…

If you’re ever in doubt as to which to use, stick to the long form; it is far more common and you’ll be understood.

Activities

Read the following text and think about which of the adjectives require a long adjective, and which of them require a short adjective. Consider the differences between the two types and whether each one possesses a pair in Russian, or not.

One day, Andriy and his friend Kirill went swimming in the sea. The weather was great for swimming; theblazing sun was shining brightly, as thecrystal clear waters crashed against the shore and a gentle breeze caressed their skin. There atmosphere was buzzing and the maniacal laughter of children running on the hot sand could be heard everywhere. The two friends dived into the sea and were delighted with the warm temperature of its salty waters. Hours later, when they had finally returned home, they were in a wonderful mood.

To practise constructing short form adjectives from the long form adjectives they are derived from, try this test over at Practice Russian.

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