One of the first things you may want to know when learning a language is how to say “thank you.” If you’re brave enough to learn Russian and are ready for the challenge despite the number of grammatical cases, then welcome to the world of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, the Trans-Siberian Railway, and some of the friendliest people you’ll meet at a latitude higher than Cornwall and Vancouver.
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Something Old, Something New
The most commonly used Russian word for “thank you” is “cпасибо” (spasibo). The word has three syllables, spa-si-bo, and the middle syllable is stressed.
Originally, this was the phrase “Spasi Bog,” meaning “Let God save you.” The word “spasibo” emerged somewhere around the seventeenth century, but it was not accepted by language users for a long time. In nineteenth-century Russian literature, characters never use it and prefer “благодарю” (blagodaru) instead.
Even if you’re not Alyosha Karamazov or Anna Karenina, you can still use “благодарю” today. This is another result of combining two words. “Blago daru” means “I give you good.” “Благодарю” has four syllables, bla-go-da-ru, and the stress falls on the last one. As you can see, Russian is not a fixed stress language, and the position of stress in a word is highly unpredictable. For further examples, we will use capital letters to highlight the vowels in stressed syllables.
A Big Thank-You
Speaking of unpredictable things, our word order is not fixed, either, unlike most Germanic languages. For example, if you want to say “Thank you very much!” you can choose between “Большое спасибо!” (Bolshoe spasibo!) and “Спасибо большое!” (Spasibo bolshoe!). The meaning is the same, but some Russians find the second option more emotional. “Большое” means “big” and has three syllables, with the stress falling on “sho.”
Something to Remember
If you want to take notes and practice these new words, here are three ways to say “thank you”:
Большое спасибо! (Bol-sho-e spa-SI-bo!)
The Most Common Reply
Please keep in mind that the “o” sound undergoes some reduction in fluent speech, especially when not stressed. It sounds more like “a” but is still written as “o.”
A universal answer to “Spasibo” is “Пожалуйста!” (Pozhaluysta!). This word has four syllables when written, but as the stress falls on the second one, the remaining two lose their full vowels in speech: Po-zhA-lsta!
One more option is to answer “Не за что” (Ne za chto!), which means “Not at all!” These words are almost glued to one another in speech: The first is stressed, and the last is changed from the voiced “ch” consonant to the voiceless consonant “sh.” The result sounds like “nEzashto!”
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