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И речи быть не может.

I understand that this phrase as a whole means "it's out of the question", but its sentence construction has me puzzled.

Q1. Does this separated phrase "быть ... может" come from "может быть / perhaps"? If so, why this word order?

Q2. Does this Russian sentence literally translate as "And discussions, not maybe"? And does it somehow have the meaning of "out of the question"?

Об охоте не может быть и речи.

О переходе не может быть и речи.

Q3. I assume these two sentences mean "About something, it's out of the question", and I wonder they are the more standard word order of this expression? But still, I cannot figure out why the literal translation "Not maybe and discussions" is to be interpreted as "out of the question".

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A1. Both "быть может" and "может быть" indeed mean 'perhaps/maybe', although those phrases are completely unrelated to "и речи быть не может".

A2. The phrase does mean 'smth. is out of the question'. The literal translation would sound Yoda-style: '(About smth,) talk can there not be' :)

A3. "И речи быть не может", with the stress placed on "речи", sounds somewhat more categorical than "не может быть и речи", although the latter is strong as well. The emotional difference between the two can be approximated as follows:

Об охоте не может быть и речи - Hunting is out of the question.

Об охоте и речи быть не может - Under no circumstances can hunting be considered.

Also, you'll mostly encounter "И речи быть не может!" as a standalone exclamation, answering an earlier question or suggestion:

- Папа, я возьму твою скрипку? - И речи быть не может!

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    Well, the English 'can/cannot be' is in infinitive form as well. Literally, the phrase would translate as 'In no way can it be talked about [= considered]' – Vadim Landa Jan 16 '18 at 8:20
  • Is this "может" the 3rd person singular verb, not an adverb? If so, what is the subject of this sentence? The implied "it"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 16 '18 at 8:55
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    The whole phrase is an impersonal sentence, so "может" is the third-person singular 'can' that actually does not have an explicit subject. See e.g. auburn.edu/~mitrege/russian/tutorials/0065.html – Vadim Landa Jan 16 '18 at 9:02
  • Oh, I see. Regarding "И" and "речи": Is this "речи" the genitive singular, like "it can not be of discussion"? As for "И", should I interpret it as a conjunction "and", or is it more like "too/neither"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 16 '18 at 9:16
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    Yes, it's the genitive singular, but used differently due to the way Russian works :) In negating sentences, genitive is used instead of nominative: 'Об этом может идти речь', but 'Об этом не может быть и речи' (not 'речь'). 'На столе лежит яблоко', but 'на столе нет яблока'. – Vadim Landa Jan 16 '18 at 10:10
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Literally, об этом не может быть и речи translates as 'it even cannot be spoken of [not to say about doing it]' (и works like 'even' here). The phrase denies the slightest possibility of doing something and thus expresses a strong refusal. In your example sentences, it works like this:

(Not only shall not we go hunting,) it [hunting] even cannot be discussed.

(Not only shall not he cross the highway here,) it [his crossing here] even cannot be discussed.

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  • Hi. So "об этом не может быть и речи" literally means "About this, even a discussion cannot be/exist"? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 16 '18 at 10:54
  • Yes, it does mean that. – Alex_ander Jan 16 '18 at 11:11
  • @alone-Zee, And even talking of it is impossible - I think it makes sense in English. BTW, you can as well say "И даже речи быть не может", although даже usually just implied. – AlexVB Jan 16 '18 at 12:40
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First, и речи быть не может or не может быть и речи is an idiom. It means "out of question". See more here.

What follows is an attempt to parse this idiom and explain why did it get this meaning.

In such sentences, initial и does NOT mean "and". Being synonymous with даже, it makes "не" very strong. Example:

  • И слушать не хочу! - I don't even want to listen!
  • И спрашивать не буду! I am not even going to ask!

The structure of such sentences is и + verb or verb phrase in indefinite + не + хочу/буду/желаю/собираюсь/намерен etc.

"Может быть" means possibility. "Не может быть", therefore, means impossibility. For example, the title The World That Couldn't Be (a sci-fi short story by Clifford Simak) had been translated as Мир, которого не может быть.

Быть не может is similar to не может быть, but stronger. As is common in Russian, the order of words is changed to emphasize the last word.

Речь, in this expression, is used in it's old meaning of "talking". Today речь word is not used in this meaning, except for this specific expression.

Together, this translates to "I am not going even to discuss this" or "even to discuss this is absolutely impossible".

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    "И речи не может быть" is totally okay as well as "и разговора быть не может". – Abakan Jan 16 '18 at 13:29
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Q1. Russian has 2 expressions "и речи быть не может" and "не может быть и речи" which means the same thing and they are interchangeable. "быть ... может" and "может быть" are the same, but in a different word order.

Q2. "Быть ... может" and "может быть" in this situation means not "perhaps", but "possibility /probability of event/action/condition will be fulfilled".

Гончие заболели, поэтому об охоте не может быть и речи.

О переходе через перевал не может быть и речи. Ночью выпало много снега.

Q3. "Не может быть и речи" is a historically formed form of expression. More often it means "impossible". Literally the expression means that it's pointless to start talk because it's impossible (too difficult or forbidden) to perform action/condition and this will be meaningless talk.

P.S. Sorry for my bad English.


Вопрос 1. В русском языке встречаются выражения "и речи быть не может" и "не может быть и речи". Они взаимозаменяемые и означают одно и то же. "быть ... может" и "может быть"- это одно и тоже, просто изменён порядок слов.

Вопрос 2. "Быть может" и "может быть", в данном случае, имеют значение не "perhaps", а "возможность/вероятность того, что какое-то событие/действие/условие выполнится".

Гончие заболели, поэтому об охоте не может быть и речи.

О переходе через перевал не может быть и речи. Ночью выпало много снега.

Вопрос 3. "Не может быть и речи" - это исторически сложившаяся форма выражения. Чаще всего это выражение имеет смысл, слова "невозможно (impossible(too difficult or forbidden))". Если разбирать выражение дословно, то оно значит, что "не имеет даже смысла начинать разговор, о чём-то, потому что выполнить действие/условие невозможно/(слишком сложно) и об этом бессмысленно говорить".

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    The question was in English so please answer in English too. The OP's Russian skills might be not good enough for understanding the nuances of an answer in Russian. – Abakan Jan 16 '18 at 9:07
  • Yes, in English, please. :D It's been just a week since I started learning Russian. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jan 16 '18 at 9:10
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Here is a word-for-word translation:

      Не может быть и    речи    об    этом

There may  not be   even talking about it

This should answer Q1 and Q2.

Q3: the word order is not important.

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