Russian Language Grammar

    Secondary Meaning

Certain Russian prepositions among the so-called original ones express a variety of relations. The richest in this respect are в, за, из, на, над, от, про, по, с, and у.

Other original Russian prepositions (без, для, etc.) and especially prepositions derived from adverbs usually keep their concrete, definite meaning. Among the secondary relations expressed with prepositions are:

   (a) Reason


усталый от работы

tired from work

мокрый от дождя

wet from rain

(A very productive type)


с радости

from joy

с горя

from sorrow

A less productive type; somewhat conversational or colloquial (In the four examples above, с may be replaced with от, but not vice versa.)


Не надо сердиться на него за это.

One shouldn't be angry with him for this.


сделать из жалости

to do out of pity (compassion)


опоздать из-за дождя

to be late because of (on account of) the rain


благодаря его помощи

thanks to (because of) his help

These last two prepositions indicate an outside reason. They are not interchangeable: when there is nothing to be thankful for, из-за and not благодаря should be used :


из-за плохой погоды

because of (due to) bad weather


отсутствовать по болезни

to be absent because of (on account of) sickness

по какой причине?

for what reason?

These constructions suggest an intrinsic reason, contained within the subject.

   (b) Purpose


сказать в шутку

to say in jest

оставить дома в наказание

to leave at home in the way of a punishment


ехать на охоту

to go hunting

пригласить на свадьбу

to invite for a wedding

материя на платье

fabric for a dress

мясо на завтрак

meat for lunch

In these last two examples, на has a slightly different meaning from для (see below). It suggests an amount of something, serving a definite purpose, and perhaps more than is actually needed. 



остановиться для отдыха

to stop for a rest

ящик для писем

mail box

подарок для неё

a present for her


умереть за родину

to die for the fatherland

бороться за мир

to fight for peace.

These constructions (with за plus accusative) are characteristic of strong feelings or purpose.


пойти за газетой

to go for a paper

поехать за кем-нибудь

to go and fetch somebody


обратиться с просьбой

to ask for a favor, to request

Constructions of this type are of limited usage.


лекарство от кашля

cough medicine


средство против морской болезни

remedy against seasickness

(In this example, против has a meaning similar to от in the example immediately above.)

   (c) Origin, source


телеграмма от отца

a telegram from father

привет от него

greetings from him


исключение из правила

an exception to the rule

узнать из письма

to find out from the letter


спросить у них

to ask (to inquire of) them

занять деньги у кого-нибудь

to borrow money from somebody

   (d) Connection 


пуговица от костюма

a button from a suit

ключ от чемодана

the key from the suitcase

   (e) Object or material with which something is made 


вырезать из бумаги

to cut out of paper

салат из огурцов

cucumber salad

   (f) Object with the aid of which something is performed


пить из стакана

to drink out of a glass

стрелять из пушки

to fire a gun


смотреть в бинокль

to look through binoculars


есть с ложки

to eat from a spoon

   (g) Manner


приехать на пароходе

to come by boat

играть на деньги

to play for money


называть по имени

to call by the first name

поступить по закону

to act according to law

говорить по телефону

to speak on the telephone


сидеть в молчании

to sit in silence

жить в бедности

to live in poverty

   (h) Extent


известный на весь мир

known all over the world

готовить на всю семью

to cook for the whole family


весь в крови

all covered with blood

лоб в морщинах

a forehead all in wrinkles


по всему свету

all over the world

   (i) Comparison, size, weight, distance

The last two examples belong to a limited class. 


величиной с дом

as large as (the size of) a house

подождать с минуту

to wait for about a minute


длиной в два метра

two meters long

весом в тонну

weighing one ton

жить в трёх милях от города

to live three miles from the city

в два раза больше

twice as large

квартира в три комнаты

a three room apartment


на пять лет старше

five years older

отойти на десять шагов

to move ten paces away

   (j) Occasion 


за завтраком

at lunch, during lunch

за работой

at work, while working


на свадьбе

at the wedding


при встрече

at meeting, upon meeting

   (k) Exchange, replacement, reward, payment


работать за товарища

to work for (instead of) a friend

расписаться за кого-нибудь

to sign for someone (in his stead)

медаль за храбрость

a medal for bravery

благодарить за помощь

to thank for help

принять за русского

to take (mistake) for a Russian

заплатить за билет

to pay for the ticket


купить на три рубля

to buy three rubles worth

продать на пять долларов

to sell five dollars worth

   (l) Specification, limitation


специалист по детским болезням

a specialist in children's diseases

товарищ по школе

a school friend


хитрый на выдумки

smart as far as inventions (tricks)


острый на язык



твёрдый в принципах

with strong principles (adamant in principles)

смелый в спорах

bold in arguments

   (m) Distribution      


выпить по стакану чая

to drink a glass of tea each

получить по рублю

to get a ruble each


разрезать на две части

to cut in two parts

разбить на куски 

to break into pieces

   (n) Limit, saturation


довести до слёз

to bring to tears

любить до безумия

to love madly

работать до изнеможения

to work until completely exhausted