In Mussorgsky's operas Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina it strikes me how often "да" (usually meaning "yes") is used as a substitute for "и" ("and"). Is that how they normally spoke in the late 19th century, or is it deliberate use of archaic/poetic language in the librettos? Would it sound odd in contemporary Russian?


  • 1
    and then there's да и like in youtube.com/watch?v=lp_xhM0GYbo
    – alamar
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 21:01
  • 1
    @alamar Let's just say, the choice of conjunctions is not the most significant challenge to my understanding of that tale :) It sounds beautiful, though.
    – ngn
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


19th century literature doesn't exhibit this feature consistently. To me it's obvious that it's a stylisation.

But usage of да as a conjunction apparently was and to this day to a certain extent still is a feature of regional vernacular dialects of Russian.

Касаткин (2005) отмечает частотность союза да в современном Северном наречии в соединительной и противительной функции, что подтверждается и на наших данных.

Йокояма О. Б. «Письма русских крестьян. Тексты и контексты» (a collection of letters by peasants of uyezd Serapulsky from the late 19th cent.)

Сочинительные союзы и и а чаще встречаются в южных говорах, чем в северных, где очень употребительным в качестве соединительного и противительного является союз да

Л. Л. Касаткин «Русская диалектология» (page 145)

In modern standard Russian there's a number of fossilized phrases where да has this function, e.g.

тишь да гладь

ты да я, да мы с тобой

вынь да положь

из огня да в полымя

Иван-да-Марья (botanical name)

In Ukrainian да in the form of та is a part of standard vocabulary alongside i/й (equivalent of the Russian и)

  • The Northern dialect theory sounds plausible - Mussorgsky was born near Pskov, which is within its areal. In the operas "да" doesn't appear vernacular. All social castes use it, including tsars, princes, the well-educated priesthood, scribes, diplomats (Shaklovity dictating his letter), it's even used in the inscription on the pillar in Khovanshchina's act 1.
    – ngn
    Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 17:19
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    @ngn my knowledge of Old Russian is very shallow, but it's my understanding that да conjunction was a part of its standard repertoire, because it's a very prominent feature of folk tales and although Boris Godunov setting isn't very ancient especially relative to the 19th century (and by that time the Old Russian must have already split into 3 major Eastern Slavic dialects eventually to become languages) i believe that would be the impression of how the language must have sounded back then which most likely stemmed from familiarity with the language of old manuscripts Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 18:54

You can still hear it in use quite often, but depending on context it sounds poetic, informal or forced archaic.

This is not easy to explain, but it can also be used to add a certain kind of emphasis. If you said,

Они ели омаров и красную икру.

That just sounds like a neutral statement. But if you said,

Они ели омаров да красную икру.

This gives it a kind of an emphasis on the type of the things listed, in this case imparting the idea that they were eating expensive/decadent things in general, rather than just those two specific dishes.


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