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I recently came upon the following:

Он занят.

As I usually do when I come across a verb I'm not familiar with, I look it up to find out what the infinitive for it is. I usually use Wiktionary and this time was no different. What confused me is what I found at Wiktionary, an image of which you will find below:

As you can see, "занят" is not listed (because it is not a conjugation of a verb). So then, I got to thinking that "занят" was an adjective, but the closest adjective I could find was "занятой." I decided to take a look at its declension chart, thinking that perhaps "занят" might be a short form of "занятой." As you can see from the chart, I was wrong:


I was a bit confused looking at that chart because it says, "no short forms" at the top, but clearly one is shown for the feminine. Is this correct, and if so, are there many adjectives in Russian that only have a feminine short form?


By this point, I was even more puzzled by this word, so I set it aside and came back to it later. This time around, I stumbled upon another similar adjective that also means "busy" -- занятый. And this time, I found the word in the declension chart:

So now I know that "занят" is one of those past participles that can be used as an adjective, but still one question remains: What is the difference between "занятый" and "занятой"?

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There are quite a few similar adjective pairs in Russian: ра́звитый/развито́й, запа́сный/запасно́й, вре́менный/временно́й, etc.

Both запа́сный and запасно́й mean the same thing, 'spare'.

Вре́менный means 'temporary' and временно́й means 'temporal', 'time-related'.

Занято́й means 'busy' and за́нятый means 'taken' or 'borrowed'.

  • Ме́сто за́нято. - The seat is taken.

A lot of people use заня́ть, за́нятый to mean 'lend', 'lent' but this meaning is new and is not recognised by dictionaries.

Most adjectives ending in -ой don't have short forms: голубо́й, делово́й. That's why Wiktionary says занято́й has no short forms. But that's not quite true. Being close to за́нятый, занято́й sort of borrowed short forms from за́нятый and thus to say 'I'm busy' you would use:

  • Я за́нят, if you are a man and
  • Я занята́, if you are a woman.

The conjugation table for заня́ть is not complete and only lists the full form of the past participle: за́нятый. The short forms are: за́нят, занята́, за́нято, за́няты, just like for the adjective.

Since most words forming an -ый/-ой pair have similar or related meanings, one may wonder how did занято́й and за́нятый get to mean such different things, 'busy' and 'borrowed'? If you look close enough, you may see that the archetypal meaning of all -нять verbs is 'to take', with the various prefixes denoting more concrete ways of taking:

  • снять - to take off,
  • подня́ть - to pick up,
  • поня́ть - to understand, to grasp the meaning of something
  • заня́ть - to borrow,
  • приня́ть - to accept, etc

So when we say:

  • Он за́нят рабо́той.

Literally we say 'he is taken by work' which just means he is busy working.

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    While both answers are good, I have to give the green checkmark to you, Sergey, for your thoroughness and ability to communicate intricate details well. Your answers continue to impress me and whenever I see that you've taken the time to answer something, I automatically know it's going to be good. Спасибо for taking the time to answer this one. You provided details on these two words (and others) that I would never have thought to ask. Immensely helpful. – Lisa Beck Sep 15 '17 at 23:32
  • I'm pretty sure one is from the noun--занятие, and the other from the verb--занять--that's all. – VCH250 Sep 16 '17 at 3:27
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Answering purely from my language feeling.

  • занятый is occupied. As in, he has a lot of things to do now.
  • занятой has a feel of colloquial or regional speech, but also a a feel of permanency. He is always occupied.
  • Consider also that there is a further way of saying it: он занят.

As for infinitive, занять means not only being occupied, but also "to loan". You might want to look up if the subject is "alive", i.e. does it answer the question "who" or "what".

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    it's also "to borrow", not only "to loan". Also занятый can mean "borrowed, lent". Like "занятая сумма денег" – Dmitry Koroliov Sep 15 '17 at 2:58
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    also, I think, the word "busy" should be added to the "occupied" translation variant – Dmitry Koroliov Sep 15 '17 at 3:02
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    Also, занятый can apply to inanimate objects, e.g. Занятый дом, while only a person can be занятой. – mustaccio Sep 15 '17 at 14:58
  • "feel of permanency" - I would put it a bit different way. "Занятый" refers to some specific and singular task or actor, like Perfect Tenses. When/if this situation expires, the object gets freed. Like, I took a seat in the train, but when the ride is over I stand up and leave. It is like a definite article. There is something you can "point a finger" to. "Занятой" is like indefinite article and indefinite tenses. It is not necessarily permanent, but it is a generic condition, a pattern, maybe a repetitive thing. It is not that one is busy with THE something, but a thing or a-nother or ...etc – Arioch Sep 20 '17 at 9:26

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