Principles of word-formation in the Russian language
The stock of words in a language is increased over time by various procedures. In Russian the main procedures have been borrowing, affixation and composition.
Knowledge of the main principles of Russian affixation helps a student to extend her or his vocabulary, because it enables the student in many cases to understand the precise sense of a word and to recognise the word’s relationship with other words derived from the same root.
The student needs to be able to identify the basic components of a Russian verb, noun, or adjective, i.e. its prefix (if it contains one), root and suffix (again, if it contains one), e.g.
входи´ть, to enter
рaзвязa´ть, to untie
стaкa´н, a glass
Similar principles apply in English, but they are in evidence in words of Greek or Latin origin (e.g. psycho/logy, trans/late, in/scrip/tion) rather than in the words of Germanic origin which constitute the bulk of the most common, everyday vocabulary of English. Some of the English prefixes and suffixes derived from Latin that are equivalent to Russian prefixes and suffixes are noted in the following sections.
It should be emphasised that while an understanding of Russian affixation and of the meanings of a word’s components aids recognition of words and retention of vocabulary, the principles of word-formation cannot be applied in a wholly predictable way. The foreign student must therefore check that a word whose form may be inferred from the principles given here does actually exist.
Diminutive, augmentative and expressive suffixes
Russian is rich in suffixes which either indicate the size, especially smallness, of an object or are indicative of the speaker’s attitude (which may be affectionate, tender, attentive or scornful, ironic, disparaging) towards it. Many suffixes may serve both a diminutive and an affectionate (hypocoristic) purpose. Note though that in certain nouns, or in some nouns when suffixes are used in certain meanings, the suffix has lost its original diminutive or hypocoristic function (e.g. when the noun ру.чкa means the handle of a door).
As a rule diminutives and augmentatives are of the same gender as the noun to which the suffix is attached, even when the suffix ends with a vowel normally associated with another gender. For example, the noun городи.шко, god-forsaken town, is masculine like го.род even though nouns in -o are generally neuter.
Because they are highly expressive colloquial forms diminutives belong primarily to the colloquial register, although they are widely used in the literary variety of the written language and in folk poetry. They are less likely to be encountered in the neutral register and are generally altogether absent in the more formal varieties of higher register, especially academic and official.
The following lists of diminutive, augmentative and expressive suffixes are not exhaustive; they contain only some of the more productive suffixes.
Diminutive and hypocoristic suffixes
a diminutive of heightened expressiveness, used mainly with nouns denoting people and with proper names that are already in a diminutive form, e.g. Ca.шa:
Ca.шeнькa Sasha dear
added to masculine nouns; may also convey scorn, e.g.
гво.здик little nail, tack
до.мик little house, cottage
но.сик spout (of jug, teapot)
сто.лик little table
студe.нтик so-called student
diminutive form of suffix -инa when it denotes single specimens of an object, e.g.
пeсчи.нкa grain of sand
соло.минкa piece of straw
чaи.нкa tea leaf
Double diminutive suffixes
Some suffixes are really double diminutive suffixes. They may help to form nouns denoting particularly small objects or they may serve as terms of special endearment.
added to masculine nouns, e.g.
листо.чeк tiny little leaf
цвeто.чeк little flower
added to neuter nouns, e.g.
мeстe.чко little place
словe.чко little word
added to feminine nouns, e.g.
звёздочкa tiny little star, asterisk
стрe.лочкa tiny little arrow, little hand (e.g. on watch)
води.чкa nice little (bottle/drink of ) water
сeстри.чкa dear little sister
The augmentative suffix -ищe/-ищa
-ищe is added to masculine and neuter nouns, -ищa to feminine nouns, e.g.
городи.щe a very large town
бороди.щa a massive beard
The basic function of pejorative suffixes is to indicate scorn or contempt on the part of the speaker or writer towards the person or object in question. At the same time these suffixes may also have a quite different function, i.e. they may express affection in an ironic tone. The main pejorative suffixes are:
The suffix -и.шкa may be added to masculine animate and feminine nouns;
-и.шко may be added to masculine inanimate and neuter nouns, e.g.
This suffix is applied mainly to feminine nouns. The form –онкa follows hushing consonants, which may result from a consonant change in the root of the noun when the suffix is added.
бaбёнкa foul old hag (or dear old woman!)
лошaдёнкa wretched nag
книжо.нкa dreadful book
собaчо.нкa cur (or a dog one is fond of !)
Task 6. Use the word at the end of each gap to form a new word with which to fill the gap. Make sure to take into consideration forms using various prefixes and suffixes, as well as negative forms.
In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of _____ (ORDINARY) personal beauty, and in front of it, some little _____ (DISTANT) away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden _____ (APPEAR) some years ago caused, at the time, such public _____ (EXCITE), and gave rise to so many strange conjectures. As the painter looked at the _____ (GRACE) and comely form he had so _____ (SKILL) mirrored in his art, a smile of ______ (PLEASE) passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he _____ (SUDDEN) started up, and, closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to _____ (PRISON) within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might _____ (WAKE).