The Coordinating Conjunctions
Russian conjunctions are similar to those in English. Their function is to conjoin various parts of sentences in such a way as to tell the relationship of those parts. Conjunctions are small function words that conjoin nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases and the clauses of compound sentences, like and, or, but in English. Coordinating conjunctions indicate certain relations between clauses of equal status in a compound sentence, such as inclusivity (A and B), exclusivity (A or B), and contradistinction ([not] A but B). Subordinating conjunctions mark relations between a primary and a dependent or subordinate clause, such as causality (A because B), purpose (A so that B) and result (A if B). A and B must belong to the same class, e.g. two nouns, two adjectives, two verb phrases or two clauses. Conjunctions do not agree, decline or conjugate (Hurray!) The relative pronoun который, which is also a conjunction of sorts, does agree (which is why it is called a 'pronoun' rather than a conjunction).
The Inclusive и and да "and"
The Russian particle и may be used either as an adverb or as a conjunction, so beware! In the following sentences it functions as an adverb meaning either "too" or "also", or "even", as in "even more".
Пришёл и этот высокий мальчишка с загаром.
The tall guy with the suntan came, too.
Маша сказала и Саше об этом.
Masha even told Sasha about it.
The particle и is used as often as an inclusive coordinating conjunction. As such, it may coordinate virually anything: two or more nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases or clauses.
Я видел Машу и Петю.
I saw Masha and Petya.
Михаил Степанович был богат и счастлив.
Mikhail Stepanovich was rich and happy.
The conjunction и may be doubled, и . . . и, in order to express the sense of the English compound conjunction "both . . . and". In this sense, и . . . и has an antonym: ни . . . ни "neither . . . nor".
И Соня и Боря читали об аварии в газете.
Both Sonya and Borya read about the accident in the paper.
Ни Соня ни Боря не читали об аварии в газете.
Neither Sonya nor Borya read about any accident in the paper.
Я и увиделся с ним и говорил с ним потом по телефону.
I both saw him and talked to him later by telephone.
Я ни увиделся с ним ни говорил с ним по телефону.
I neither saw him nor talked to him by telephone.
Occasionally you will still hear Russians using the inclusive coordinating conjunction unaccented да in colloquial speech. Да is used mostly by older speakers and is generally disappearing in the language.
Щи да каша, пища наша.
Shchi and kasha are our staples.
Сосны лишь да ели/Вершинами шумели. (Пушкин)
Only the crowns of the pine trees and fir trees rustled. (Pushkin)
The Exclusive или "or"
Russian also has an exclusive coordinating conjunction или "or" excludes one of the clauses it conjoins as a possibility. It offers a choice rather than including all items in the list it conjoins (as does и and да) and behaves otherwise very much like English or.
Андрей купил телефон или телевизор?
Did Andrei buy a telephone or television set?
Серёжа купил или продал пейджер?
Did Seryozha buy or sell a pager?
This conjunction may also be doubled, или . . . или, to mean "either . . . or".
Поставьте пиво или в холодильник или на балкон.
Put the beer either in the refrigerator or on the balcony.
Лина едет или в Голландию или в Париж.
Lina is going either to Holland or to Paris.
Дина или быстро работала или кто-то помог ей.
Dina either worked fast or someone helped her.
The Compounds like то...то "first...then"
This conjunction indicates an alternation of things, states, and actions. Remember that both of these particles are unaccented and so are pronounced [ta]. The closest correlate of this conjunction in English is first . . . then, as the following examples demonstrate.
То Таня, то Лена дразнили бедного Володю.
First Tanya then Lena would tease poor Volodya.
Лена то дразнила, то утешала бедного Володю.
Lena would first tease then comfort poor Volodya.
Весной там то холодно, то жарко.
In the spring it is first cold then hot there.
Similar to то...то is кто...кто, "some...others".
В наше группе кто читал, кто слушал радио.
In our group, some read, others listened to the radio.
В моей семье кто играет на рояле, кто на скрипке.
In my family, some play the piano, others, the violin.
The Contradictory а & но "but"
Russian, like German, has two conjunctions corresponding roughly to the English conjunction but: a and но. The first of these, a, is used when the subordinate clause contradicts the main clause.
Это не Ваня, а Толя.
That isn't Vanya but Tolya.
Он продолжал стоять, а жена села.
He continued to stand but his wife sat down.
The conjunction но is used in all other situations, as exemplified in the following table.
Это не Ваня, но он очень похож на него.
That isn't Vanya but he looks a lot like him.
Он продолжал стоять, но был очень усталнй.
He continued to stand though he was dead tired.
Finally, да is sometimes used in the sense of но:
Я давно хотел написать тебе, да позабыл адрес.
I've been meaning to write you for a long time but I forgot your address.
Now You Try a Few
In the following exercises, see if you can type the correct conjunction for each of the compound sentences in the blank space provided (just а, и, но, and или. Click the gloss button for the correct meaning of each sentence and the button to the right to see if you typed in the correct form. The first one has been completed for you as a pattern.
Notice that all the clauses, nouns, verbs, etc. connected by conjunctions are semantically equal in the sentences introduced thus far. That is, the clauses are 'coordinated' by the conjunction. Compound sentences may also be 'subordinative', comprising a main clause and a semantically dependent, subordinate clause. Subordinating conjunction is restricted to clauses; there are no subordinatively conjoined nouns, verbs, or adjectives. Subordination is therefore a purely syntactic phenomenon. It is to the conjunctions of this type of compound sentence that we turn now (by clicking the right arrow below).