Старые привычки дают о себе знать, да?

I wonder if this is a commonly used expression to convey the idea of "Old habits die hard"? If an automatic translator is anything to go by, however, it doesn't seem to turn up any example of this phrasing.

In Russian, is it more like "Old habits are letting their presence be known / rearing their ugly heads"?

  • 1
    What is the idea of "old habits die hard"?..
    – Abakan
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 11:53
  • 1
    @Abakan Oh, it's an English idiom, meaning something like: "Как сложно избавиться от старых привычек раз и навсегда -- найти в себе силы их убить!". Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 12:17
  • От старых привычек трудно избавиться.
    – V.V.
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 4:17

6 Answers 6


Yes, your translation is OK. Another one idiom (among translations you found) which is commonly used is

Привычка - вторая натура

The following is also often used, but has a little bit different meaning:

Горбатого могила исправит

This expression describes a person with negative qualities, who don't want to correct the behaviour. It could be applied to negative habits too.

  • 4
    I'd add here that your second expression is insulting. The English original is much more neutral. So it should be used quite carefully.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 16:03
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    "Натура" here would be an archaic word for "природа". Meaning not the biosphere around us, but someone's or something's essence, nature (sic), virtue.
    – Arioch
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 11:54
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    That being said, the first idiom does not carry the wish to "kill an old habit", the idiom, if anything, is a bit (mostly it is neutral, but a bit) leaning to reinforce the habit, to see it as a way to organize world, to do some required if boring mundane activity. However, if the TS's idea actually is not to condemn that old habit, but to explain his behavior, puzzling others, without decrying that behavior nor the habit, then that idiom seems to be a perfect match.
    – Arioch
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 11:56

There's another idiom which in some cases could be used to denote an unhealthy fixation on old habits or cravings:

Как волка ни корми, он всё в лес глядит.

Which roughly translates into "No matter how well you're gonna feed the wolf, he'll always keep glancing at the forest." or much more liberally, "You can take the wolf out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the wolf."

However, it will always have negative connotations and often imply relapsing into a former, inferior, state while neglecting other people's good will and attempts to change one's nature for the better.

Thus, it will be applicable to e.g. a paroled thug disillusioned with the hardships of an honest life and contemplating their return to crime, or to a struggling chain smoker whose significant other has been desperately trying to transition them to vaping to no avail, but it won't apply to a jogger who fractured their arm and had to take a break from their daily routine.

At any rate, it will almost certainly be perceived as something offensive if you tell that to someone straight out. Unless you both know each other well and you're confident that the recipient can take a joke!


  • 2
    this has a similarity but a tangential one. It does not talk about some arbitrary habit trained, but more about something inbred, something fixed. Another idiom of a kind would be "маленькая собачка - до старости щенок"
    – Arioch
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 11:52
  • @Arioch Agreed! A more English-friendly way to express the meaning of this idiom would be "You can take the wolf out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the wolf."
    – undercat
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:14
  • well, that latter idiom is originally about a maiden and a village, and using the play on homonym words, it is rather risky and may be quite insulting.
    – Arioch
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:16
  • @Arioch I'm sorry, but I don't understand which idiom are referring to.
    – undercat
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:23
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    @Arioch Could you provide a link indicating that it was originally a Russian idiom though? I always thought it was an adaptation of the English "You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy" which has been in use for over 100 years and has taken dozens of various forms.
    – undercat
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:34

There's also "старого коня [or пса] новым трюкам не научишь" (you can not teach an old horse/dog new tricks). Although it conveys a more pessimistic feeling of impossibility (e. g. they don't die hard - they don't die, period).


Волк каждый год линяет, да обычая не меняет.

English equivalent: The fox changes his skin but keeps his knavery.


Why just not say:

старые привычки не умирают

I think it's well used expression.


I also like this one, it can be used in this context: "Охота пуще неволи". It's not used as often, but it really should be.

  • 10
    The meaning is not even close, it's completely different.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 15:20
  • @Abakan go on, what does it mean? Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 8:30
  • @Wilson It means your wish (охота) to do something forbidden or disadvantageous is stronger (пуще) than your fear of any possible punishment or harm.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 8:40
  • @Abakan I disagree with this interpretation. Imho, "неволя" here means a someone's order, i.e. it is about the contrast between "will" and "duty", and a will is stronger. But anyway, it is wrong answer.
    – Dmitriy
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 10:42
  • @Dmitry Perhaps you are both correct. I would think along "я неволен сделать что-то", like "it is prohibited for me to do...". So, there both exist an order (a prohibition) and some implied punishment for crossing that prohibition.
    – Arioch
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 12:46

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