I'm very new to learning Russian and I was wondering if the word есть has different meanings? I thought it meant eat, but then noticed it was being used in different contexts.

Forgive the simplicity of my question, as I say I am just starting out.

  • 1
    sometimes it's to eat, sometimes to have and sometimes to be . Depends on context
    – Tebe
    Apr 14 '17 at 14:02
  • 1
    er ist, er isst
    – Vladimir F
    Apr 14 '17 at 15:42
  • 2
    "Есть!" is also used in military rapport meaning "Aye aye, Sir!" This usage was copied phonetically from English "Yes".
    – Vitaly
    Apr 17 '17 at 17:57

There are two verbs in Russian which are homonymous in one of their forms: it's есть meaning "to eat" (infinitive) and есть meaning "(it) is" (third person singular present from быть "to be").

These verbs are not cognates (meaning they are not connected etymologically), they just happen to be homonyms in that one form and only in Russian, not even the most closely related Belorussian and Ukrainian. Before the spelling reform of 1918 they even were not homographs: they were spelled as есть "(it) is" and ѣсть "to eat", respectively, the spellings using historically different root vowels.

Russian language exhibits a phenomenon called "proximal possession": a common way to express a concept of "someone having something" is saying, literally, "at someone there is something".

У меня есть машина would mean "I have a car", or, literally, "there is a car at me".

So, answering your question, the word ест does not mean anything other than "(he) eats". However, its infinitive form, есть "to eat", has a homonym with a sense of "having" indeed, though it's not its primary meaning and it's only a homonym in one particular form.

Есть овощи полезно для здоровья // Eating vegetables is good for your health.

У него в холодильнике есть овощи // He has some veggies in his fridge.

  • 3
    Other Slavic languages generally developed a difference in quantity or shift at the "е".
    – IS4
    Apr 14 '17 at 12:04
  • @IllidanS4: good point, thanks, will add that
    – Quassnoi
    Apr 14 '17 at 12:10
  • 1
    They’re not cognate, but they are from two very similar roots, and Russian isn’t the only language where they end up with coalescing forms; you can get them mixed up in Latin, too. Apr 14 '17 at 14:44
  • 2
    A possible (but not serious) interpretation of "У него в холодильнике есть овощи" is "To eat vegetables in his fridge" (i.e. to sit in the fridge and eat vegetables).
    – Ruslan
    Apr 14 '17 at 15:03
  • Are есть and есmь the same?
    – Day
    Apr 14 '17 at 16:09

The form ест ((s)he eats) is always Thir Person Present Tense Singular from the verb есть and so forever shall it be. It is therefore very different from the form есть

(Yes, the Palatalisation (that nowadays unpronounced soft sign at the end of the verb) does matter in Russian phonetics).

But, again, the form есть is a homonym for

a) infinitive form of есть (to eat) and

b) Third Person Present Tense Singular copula verb есть ('to be', but also used as 'to have' in 'A has B'-type structures.

So in fact you have to distingwish between all the three (unless you will additionally want to know why in certain structures of A-has-B-type Russian speakers prefer to use this form and in other cases of the same structures they omit the verb completely, e.g. what is a difference between the phrases 'У меня есть машина'; 'У меня - машина' and 'Машина - у меня').


Есть есть?

Do you have something to eat?

Есть нет, есть пить!

There is nothing to eat, there is something to drink.

Есть blah, blah? You can translate as "Is there blah blah?" or "Do you have blah blah ?"

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