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I know that the particle же is used to remind someone of something they should already know. For instance, say my friend and I posted a nasty comment on someone’s Facebook, but then quickly deleted it. Then that person seemed angry with me a few days later and my friend suggests that it’s because of that comment. I could say to him: Она же комментарий так и не видела, to remind him that we deleted it before she could see it, which in English would be But she never SAW that comment. In English the stress on the verb saw has more or less the force as же in the same Russian statement, I believe.

Getting to the point of my question, I saw a sentence recently: Суп-то у нас того... испортился. Staying within the theme of the spoiled soup, let’s say my wife suggested that we serve our guests soup; I could potentially say Суп же у нас испортился, which would mean: But the soup (as you know) was RUINED. Again stress on the verb in English.

My question is: How does the use of -то in the sentence Суп-то у нас испортился change the semantics of the same situation as expressed with же. Does it, like же, also imply that the listener already knows about the soup being spoiled, or does it shift the sentential stress and focus onto the soup and make the whole statement a piece of news about the soup and what happened to it? In other words, what other underlying nuance(s) does it express that makes it different from же?

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  • I as native speaker mostly agree with @Victor Bazarov answer, but overall the difference is so subtle, I don't hear a big difference. What does make a big difference is the positioning of the particles. The last sentence (Суп у нас испортился же.) sounds awkward, so I'd focus on getting a feeling where to put them.
    – user1514
    Oct 15 '15 at 20:12
  • @CocoPop «же» in that statement strongly suggests you believe the listener knows the fact you point at but cannot put two and two together (or you allude to known information/fact to explain something else—partially interchangeable with «ведь» for this meaning, though «же» implies opposition rather than just an explanation). Unlike contrastive «-то», «же» in this use often implies you want to "correct" a listener's clearly faulty logic (and you believe that the listener already has all the necessary info).
    – Shady_arc
    Oct 17 '15 at 14:20
  • I'd say that "то" does not show too much of a character in your example, just gives some news about the soup in a colloquial manner. There are better examples out there :) Here, its meaning is somewhat dissolved in the sentence.
    – Shady_arc
    Oct 17 '15 at 14:23
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My question is: How does the use of -то in the sentence Суп-то у нас испортился change the semantics of the same situation as expressed with же. Does it, like же, also imply that the listener already knows about the soup being spoiled, or does it shift the sentential stress and focus onto the soup and make the whole statement a piece of news about the soup and what happened to it? In other words, what other underlying nuance(s) does it express that makes it different from же?

The particle (postfix) -то is used to emphasize the word, bring it to the listener's attention (unless it's part of special pronouns like "что-то" in which it qualifies the pronoun as indefinite).

In contrast with that, the particle же introduces the emphasis to the entire phrase, rather than a single word. You can place it almost anywhere in that phrase without a significant change in the meaning:

Суп же у нас испортился.
Суп у нас же испортился.
Суп у нас испортился же. -- Our soup has gone bad.

Compare the difference in meaning when the particle -то is placed after another word:

Суп-то у нас испортился. -- Our soup has gone bad (and not the bread).
Суп у нас-то испортился. -- Our soup has gone bad (and not theirs).

In both English sentences you'd stress the word I've put in bold. I am really not sure how you'd indicate the emphasis in direct speech in English without typographical tricks.

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  • Вы забыли ещё вариант: "у них же самих то-то и то-то" - же здесь усиливает них.
    – user1514
    Oct 15 '15 at 20:08
  • It would be perfectly fine to say "Суп-то у нас же испортился" (or even "Суп же у нас-то испортился" etc.), so these particles are not mutually exclusive and to me serve the same purpose.
    – mustaccio
    Oct 16 '15 at 1:10
  • @mustaccio These particles are completely different, to the point when they are never used instead of each other. However, precisely their difference allows for their use in the same sentence—they are just used for different purposes.
    – Shady_arc
    Oct 17 '15 at 13:48
  • @Shady_arc : so what, in your view, would then be the difference between "Суп-то у нас же испортился" and "Суп же у нас-то испортился"? I don't see any.
    – mustaccio
    Oct 17 '15 at 16:18
  • @mustaccio Is there evidence a native speaker would utter any of these two? It's hard to imagine a person really saying them in any situation. Why not "Суп же у нас-то же испортился-то" then? There is formal difference between them (the position of "то" changes the topic to which the attribution of preperty is assigned), yeah, but their analysis does not seem to be enlightening.
    – Shady_arc
    Oct 17 '15 at 17:59
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-то used to emphasize a single word; же / ж used to emphasize both a word, and a full sentence.

Obviously, you can't use -то to put an emphasis on the words such as кто, что, то etc. (because кто-то only means someone, and so on). But you still may say: кто же, что же etc.

And, of course, you may use them both to make a highly expressive phrase. E.g.: Это что же делается-то!

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