I've known for a while what the word "совсем" means, but only recently did I realize that the meaning stems from the fact that: "совсем = с(о)+всем" (entirely=with everything).

This is probably fairly obvious for native speakers, but it took a long time for me to realize. The same is true of "сейчас = сей+час" (now=this hour/time). Also "нет+(genitive)=не+есть", "когда=кого+года", "всегда=все+года", and "если=есть+ли". There are other such examples which I am forgetting now.

Is there a list somewhere of such common words which are actually built up from small words whose meanings are easier to remember? I feel like this would be very helpful to those learning the language.

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    You can find such words if you search for "сложные предлоги" or "наречия".
    – V.V.
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 12:20
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    Yes, it's a term for compound words.
    – V.V.
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 13:40
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    @William Is it the same in English? круг/вокруг~round/around; another=an+other, never=no+ever, lone/alone, part/apart, etc.
    – Eugene
    Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 15:35
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    @Eugene I think you're right, this is something which should have occurred to me before (i.e. that the same phenomenon occurs in English). I've never understood what the prefix "a" is supposed to mean in apart, around, alone, ... Another and never make sense to me, although I think "not ever" might work better because then one also has "none=not one". Maybe also "altogether = all together", "although = all+though", and then even more obvious examples like "nothing = no+thing", "everyone", "cannot", etc. Commented Dec 4, 2016 at 7:51
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    Yes, and in English, it was written as "to-day" or "to-morrow" as recently as in XIX century. In 1858 edition of "Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow" printed in London by Herzen "если б" is spelled as "есть ли бъ". Etymology can be a funny thing!
    – bipll
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 22:51

1 Answer 1


Well, that could be trickier than you think.


Actually "нет" goes from "нету" which is "не [есть] тут" (not here).

"когда=кого+года", "всегда=все+года"

This is a doubtful theory. Usually they say that "всегда"="все+когда", but "когда" has a root of its own.

Is there a list somewhere of such common words which are actually built up from small words

Never seen it. But note that some prepositions are still written separately ("compound prepositions"): "в течение", "в связи" etc.

Some obvious examples of "single-word multi-root" prepositions which come to my mind: "вместо" (в+место = in place), "или" (и+ли), "ввиду" (в+виду = in sight), "вряд [ли]" (в+ряд = in a row), "наподобие" (на+подобие), "вроде" (в+роде), "вокруг" (во+круг), "около" (о+коло, cf. колесо), "вблизи" (в+близи), "навстречу" (adv.) (на+встречу) and so on.

  • yes these are exactly the examples I had in mind! I suppose I should specify my question to prepositions. But yes, it took me forever to realize that "или", "вокруг", and "вместо" and "вместе" were actually compound words, and others in your list I didn't even know until right now were examples "около, вроде",... Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 9:20

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