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I'm very new to Russian and 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 said, I'm just starting out.

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    sometimes it's to eat, sometimes to have and sometimes to be . Depends on context
    – Tebe
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 14:02
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    er ist, er isst Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:42
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    "Есть!" is also used in military rapport meaning "Aye aye, Sir!" This usage was copied phonetically from English "Yes".
    – Vitaly
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 17:57

3 Answers 3

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

These verbs are not cognates (that means that they're not connected etymologically), they just happen to be homonyms in that one form and only in Russian, and not even in its most closely related languages, Belorussian and Ukrainian. Before the spelling reform of 1918, they weren't even homographs; they were spelled есть "(it) is" and ѣсть "to eat", using historically different root vowels.

The Russian language exhibits a phenomenon called "proximal possession". A common way to express the 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, to address your question, the word ест does not mean anything other than "(he) eats". However, its infinitive form, есть "to eat", does indeed have a homonym with the meaning "have", although 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 vegetables in his fridge.

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    Other Slavic languages generally developed a difference in quantity or shift at the "е".
    – IS4
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 12:04
  • @IllidanS4: good point, thanks, will add that
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 12:10
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    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. Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 14:44
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    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
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 15:03
  • Are есть and есmь the same?
    – Day
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 16:09
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The form ест ((s)he eats) is always third person present 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 of

a) the infinitive form of есть (to eat) and

b) the third person present singular copula verb есть ('to be', but also used as 'to have' in 'A has B'-type structures.

So, in fact, you have to distinguish between all three (unless you also want to know why in certain structures of the 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's the difference between the phrases 'У меня есть машина'; 'У меня - машина' and 'Машина - у меня').

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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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