100 Must-Know Russian Words and How to Learn Them

Russian is one of the more difficult major languages to learn because of its crazy grammar (from the point of view of a native speaker of English). But grammar is only one piece of the puzzle. Another one is developing a good словарный запас (vocabulary) which means memorizing lots and lots of Russian words.

While there seems to be no easy way around memorizing grammar rules, growing your Russian vocabulary can perhaps be simplified. For example, you can concentrate on 100 most frequently used Russian words, learn those, and be well on your way to success. Ah, but which words to learn…

It depends on what it is you are trying to accomplish. Do you want to read Russian fiction, non-fiction, or newspapers and magazines? Or do you want to understand spoken conversations? If so, will those be formal, like newscasts or guided tours, or informal, between friends or at stores? Your lists will be considerably different in each case. Although there will be some overlap. You can put together your own “top 100” list using частотный словарь (frequency dictionary) here or look up existing lists, such as this one or the lists from this post.

So let’s get started. First, the words themselves. The lists below – 25 of each of the most used nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs (plus a bonus list) – are sort of a middle-ground between vocabulary for informal conversations (heavy on prepositions, adverbs, and verbs) and vocabulary for understanding news (more nouns and adjectives). Think of it as a well-rounded base. So here we go:

25 Most Used Russian Nouns

год (god) – year

человек (chelaVYEK) – person

время (VRYEmya) – time

дело (DYEla) – business, affair, matter

жизнь (zheezn’) – life

день (dyen’) – day

рука (rooKA) – arm

раз (ras) – one, once

работа (raBOta) – work, job

слово (SLOva) – word

место (MYEsta) – place

лицо (leeTZO)- face

друг (droog) – friend

глаз (glaz) – eye

вопрос (vaPROs) – question

дом (dom) – house, home

сторона (staraNA) – side

страна (straNA) – country

мир (meer) – world, peace

случай (SLOOchay) – occurrence, occasion, instance

голова (galaVA) – head

ребенок (ryeBYOnak) – child

сила (SEEla) – force

конец (kaNEtz) – end

вид (veed) – appearance, sight, view

25 Most Used Russian Verbs

быть (bit’) – to be Note on pronunciation: the sound “ы” is a hard sound. Pronouncing it incorrectly (too softly) will turn the word быть into an entirely different word бить (to hit)

мочь (moch) – to be able

сказать (skaZAt’)- to say

говорить (gavaREEt’)- to speak

знать (znat’)- to know

стать (stat’)- to become

хотеть (haTEt’)- to want

идти (eeTEE) – to go

иметь (eeMEt’) – to have

видеть (VEEdet’) – to see

думать (DOOmat’) – to think

сделать (zDElat’) – to do, to make

жить (zheet’) – to live

делать (DYElat’) – to do, to make

смотреть (smatRYEt’) – to watch

работать (raBOtat’) – to work

понять (paNYAt’) – to understand

пойти (payTEE) – to go

спросить (spraSEEt’) – to ask

дать (dat’) – to give

понимать (paneeMAt’) – to understand

получить (palooCHEEt’)- to receive

сидеть (seeDEt’) – to sit

оказаться (akaZAtza) – to happen

взять (vzyat’) – to take

25 Most Used Russian Adjectives

новый (NOviy) – new

большой (bal’SHOy)- large

должен (DOlzhen) – have to, owe (as in он должен работать – he has to work)

последний (paSLEdney) – last

российский (raSEEyskey) – Russian

русский (ROOskey) – Russian

общий (Obsh_chiy)- common

высокий (vySOkey) – tall

хороший (haROshiy) – good

главный – (GLAvniy) main

лучший (LOOch_shiy) – the best

маленький (MAlen’key) – small

молодой (malaDOy) – young

государственный (gasooDArstveniy) – state, public

полный (POlniy) – full, complete

советский (saVEtzkey) – Soviet

настоящий (nastaYAshiy) – real

старый (STAriy) – old

разный (RAzniy) – different

нужный (NOOzhniy) – necessary

белый (BEliy) – white

собственный (SObstveniy) – own

чёрный (CHOrniy) – black

основной (asnavNOy)- main

далёкий (daLYOkey) – distant

25 Most Used Russian Adverbs

ещё (yeSHYO) – more, too

уже (ooZHE) – already

очень (Ochen’) – very

можно (MOzhna) – may

надо (NAda) – need

нет (net) – no

тоже (TOzhe) – too, also

более (BOlehye) – more

конечно (kaNEshna) – of course

также (TAKzhe) – as well

вдруг (vdroog) – suddenly

почти (pachTEE) – almost

сразу (sRAzoo) – immediately

хорошо (haraSHO) – good

сегодня (seVOdnya) – today

совсем (savSEm)- completely

вообще (vaabSHE) – generally

больше (BOl’she) – more

вместе (vMEste)- together

например (napreeMEr)- for example

нужно (NOOzhna)- need

опять (aPYAt’) – again

снова (SNOva)- again

нельзя (nel’ZYA) – cannot, not allowed

особенно (aSObena)- especially

25 More Must-Know Russian Words

я (ya) – I

он (on) – he

это (Eta) – this

она (aNA) – she

этот (Etat) – this

они (anee) – they

мы (mi) – we

который (kaTOriy) – which

то (toh) – that

что (shtoh) – what

свой (svoy) – one’s own

весь (ves’) – entire

так (tak) – so

ты (ti) – you

все (vsye) – everyone

всё (vsyo) – all

вы (vi) – you

такой (taKOy) – such

его (yeVO) – his

себя (seBYA) – oneself

один (aDEEn) – one

как (kak) – how

сам (sam) – self

другой (drooGOy) – another

наш (nash) – our

Now, these lists are not specific to a particular delivery mode or literary genre. But they provide a good starting point.

So now you have 125 out of some of the most frequently used Russian words. Doesn’t seem like much. But each time you memorize a noun, a verb or an adjective, you have to also memorize its plural form. For each verb you will need to remember its past, present and future tenses. For each verb and adjective – their feminine, masculine and neuter forms.

For example, you’ll need to memorize дела (affairs) along with дело (affair); был, была, было (was), были (were) and будет, будут (will be) along with быть (to be); молодая, молодое, молодые along with молодой (young).

To make things more interesting, search for news articles that have these words in their headlines. Here are top 3 headlines for the noun работа (work):

В Якутии началась работа по трудоустройству выпускников.

Работа в Норвегии: слишком хорошо, чтобы было правдой.

Работа по нестандартному графику может сделать счастливее?

You can use Google Translate (or any other translation tool you prefer) to translate the headlines to get a better idea of how a word is used in the sentence. Also, search for some idioms, folk wisdom, and popular quotes that use your word. For the word работа these might include

поиск работы – work search

работа не волк, в лес не убежит – work is not a wolf, won’t run away into the woods

топорная работа – clumsy work

Try to imagine how you’d use the word in a conversation. Keep it simple:

My friend is looking for work – Моя подруга ищет работу

I like my job – Мне нравится моя работа

Today was a busy day at work – Сегодня был занятой день на работе

Sure, going through all the 125 words this way might take you a while. But in the end, you will learn some of the most useful and frequently used Russian words. Конечно, вы не будете ещё говорить по-русски, как русский человек, но вы уже сможете больше понимать. (Of course, you will not yet speak like a Russian, but you will already understand more.) Note: this sentence, although a bit awkward, uses only the word from the above lists.

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