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I've seen both "лу́чший друг" and "вéрный товáрищ" used online to mean "best friend" and I was wondering which is more commonly used. Is the latter only used in specific contexts?

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    In my opinion in the everyday communication "лу́чший друг" is much more common. The other option, I suppose, is used to some extent in literature (especially of the USSR period) or in some official circumstances. I.e. you can hear now "вéрный товáрищ" if it is stated in some commemoration being proclaimed on some army event, for instance. You can hear it in a movie set in the Soviet times, when it is being said about a party member, once again officially. But we do not use it widely in the informal speech. – Dmitry Koroliov Dec 13 '16 at 18:32
  • It should be noted that the meaning is not really equivalent. In general, "друг" is, I'd say, half a step closer relationship than "friend". Just "друг" already means something that in English culture would be described as "best friend", or at least between that and "friend". English "friend" is, in practice, somewhat closer to "приятель". For this reason "лучший друг" is not as common a phrase as is "best friend"; I struggle to find a proper equivalent in English. In Australian, this would perhaps be "true/best mate". – Zeus Dec 20 '16 at 4:54
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I disagree with @V.V. on товарищ being outdated. While historical association with communism and Soviet period is indeed strong, word товарищ is used not only in ironical context. It's just that it's differ from what it meant at the Soviet period (sort of communistic analogue of sir or monsieur - by gender-agnostic) and is used in it's original meaning.

That is, "товарищ" is a buddy, a person you have nice relationships with, one you can rely on, but not necessarily friend. So I agree with @V.V. on "лучший друг" being the most relevant translation.

Other words and phrases worth two now:

  • Закадычные друзья - very closed friends, also закадычная дружба.
  • Друзья не разлей вода - idiomatic, for close friendship.
  • Корефан, кореш - slang words for close friend.
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Вéрный товáрищ has connotation of war circumstances or other difficulties. It means somebody who does not betray you or leave you in hard circumstances. Remains faithful despite the hardships. I would translate it "faithful comrade".

Лу́чший друг simply means best friend, somebody with whom you are in good mood and like to spend time.

It is possible that лу́чший друг betrays you and stops being лу́чший друг. On the other hand вéрный товáрищ cannot betray because the very phrase means somebody who does not betray.

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  • The best answer, imo. A very good explanation. – Andre Polykanine Dec 15 '16 at 15:19
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Лучший друг would be a better choice nowadays.Товарищ with or without attributes is not outdated but used less frequently. It is still used in historical background, books,films,etc. Though the word itself is not to blame for its political past, it is somewhat being avoided nowadays. Друг, друзья, приятель are the usual choice.

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One more point: лу́чший друг we usually use when we want to make stress on word лу́чший. Because we can have a lot of friends, but this one is the best one. This person is closer than other. I suppose this is important thing.

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