While studying 'imperfective verbal adverbs' (IVA), I came across another construction for saying, '+ing'. Which is.... better?

  1. читающий книгу
  2. читающий
  3. работающий
  4. ужинающий

or using preposition 'за' +instrumental case;

  1. за книгой
  2. за чтением
  3. за работой
  4. за ужином

I'm aware that the IVA can replace 'который' constructions.

I get a sense that the 'during' meaning of 'за' may be slightly different in meaning with the IVA meaning of '-ing' verbs. Or not?

Also, having just discovered words like чтение, слушание, мышление, etc... (Are there many?) it seems the IVA construction may not be too common....?

With the latter being able to be applied on nouns and the former being applied to imperfective verbs, maybe the overlap is not as large as it may seem?

Is there a difference in passive/active? Etc?

  • 2
    in Russian verbal nouns which end with -е/aние very often sound awkward, there's a group of such nouns which are in active use, those which aren't most likely sound awkward, also often a plain noun functions as verbal noun, е.g. просмотр instead of смотрение which is awkward and it may take some resourcefulness to pick the relevant noun in the flow of speech Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 16:04
  • 2
    the functions of the two are different, за+noun is an adverb which describes static circumstance while participle is adjectival as alexsms has noted and describes the actor in action instead of in a state, they're not interchangeable, what за+noun can be replaced with is adverbial participle which ends with -ая, e.g. За ужином мы беседовали на разные темы = Ужиная, мы беседовали на разные темы Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 16:32
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    grammatically the sentence Будучи ужинающими , мы беседовали на разные темы is valid, however stylistically it's totally not, that's why nobody speaks in this fashion, not least because there're other more neat vehicles to express this idea Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 18:17
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    thank you, to summarize then, 'за+noun' <-> 'adverbial participle'. Also, IVA <-> 'который' construct. Hadn't got to adverbial participles yet :)
    – nate
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 22:24
  • There is no way to answer "which is better" without context. "While [verb]-ing" usually goes better as "За [noun]".
    – Alexander
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 17:43

1 Answer 1


Participles are a more flexible way, they work oftener, I guess a lot depends on style (за + inst. looks more literary), and these two ways are NOT interchangable, sometimes only one of the two is possible.

I guess it's easier for a learner to think of Russian participle as an adjective - a bit more difficult than a common adjective though (but very often it's about describing a person or thing), e.g. отходящий корабль (a leaving ship) - in such cases за+inst. is not possible.

за+inst. - is also about describing, but through action, situation, and seems more literary. E.g. Она застала его за книгой (She found him reading, i.e. she found him with a book). I think the emphasis here is on describing the situation, act itself.

Easier to think maybe - if you want to describe a person use participle - this situation is often the case in everyday language acts, so maybe participles are used more often.

As you encounter more Russian texts and contexts you'll see these are different linguistic situations.

  • I think this is the, to me, subtle difference I thought I was seeing... not subtle to others of course haha
    – nate
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 22:22

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