Even though, theoretically, there are no articles in Russian, can один sometimes work as the indefinite article?

At least I've seen "одни" ("a few ones") which is similar in usage to "unos" in Spanish - the plural of the indefinite article.

For example, "Schopenhauer wrote a biography [not the only one] in Greek".

If I say "Шопенхауер написал биографию на греческом", there's no way to tell whether it was his single biography or one of many.

As such, is it OK to say "Шопенхауер написал одну биографию на греческом" to make clear that it was "a biography" rather than "the biography"?

  • 2
    "Шопенхауер написал одну биографию на греческом" would sound like "Schopenhauer wrote one of his biographies in Greek" (I don't know if it matches your intended meaning).
    – Alexander
    Jul 16, 2018 at 22:50
  • "one of his..." - that's right, that's what I was looking for! Спасибо!
    – swrutra
    Jul 17, 2018 at 7:52
  • 2
    @swrutra Please note, it's "Шопенгауэр"
    – Vitaly
    Jul 19, 2018 at 13:05

3 Answers 3


There's no such thing like articles in Russian, whether definite or indefinite. However, in some specific phrases it de-facto acts very similar to indefinite article.

Compare following two sentences:

Этот анекдот мне рассказал один мужик.


Этот анекдот мне рассказал мужик.

Both sentences are completely valid, however native speaker will perceive the second one as incomplete - it's implies that there's somebody very specific (мужик) but it's not clear who exactly. You can even hear something like мне один мужик один анекдот рассказал.

As a side-note - there's a theory which is backed up by a lot of data actually that this is exactly how indefinite articles evolve - they usually are derived from numerals.


Sometimes, один is translated as "a/an", or "a certain" (link).

Шопенхауер написал одну биографию на греческом

(Shopenhauer is transliterated as Шопенгауэр. "h" is often transliterated as "г".)

Here, одну as a is too easily confused with одну as one. It would be understood as "Shopenhauer wrote one biograhy on Greek" (rather than two or more). Один as a is used in sentences where such confusion is unlikely, i. e. мне это сказал один знакомый, я это прочитал в одной книге etc.


Sometimes (not too often), один really just adds the same sense of indefiniteness as articles a/an/un/uno/una/un' do.

Один мой друг живёт в Канаде. (A friend of mine lives in Canada. /I have a friend living in Canada./)

It's not about 'friend count', it just prevents from false conclusions about 'my only friend / FFL' which are possible in case один is omitted here (Мой друг живёт в Канаде).

As for your example, the word один is useful in a Russian translation, with the following word order:

Шопенгауэр написал на греческом биографию одного человека.

It keeps the original's (Schopenhauer wrote a biography in Greek) measure of indefiniteness (no ideas if it was the only biography he wrote), while the literal version with direct replacement of the article (Шопенгауэр написал одну биографию на греческом) has an extra emphasis on на греческом and leaves unnecessary questions: was he a prolific biography writer who wrote one of those in Greek / was it just one / could it be an autobiography?

It is true that some forms of Spanish and Italian indefinite article even coincide with the word meaning 'one' but in the function of article they just express indefiniteness, so unos doesn't mean 'ones', it means 'some' (items in plural). In English, a/an tend to mean 'one of the specified kind', not simply 'one'.

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