Да. Это была именитая компания, щедрая на праздники!

Surprised to hear my girlfriend use "была" as if it were a thing of the past, I said:

Постой... Почему ты говоришь в прошедшем времени?

In English, this is where I would have gone with something as concise as "Wait...'was'?", repeating the exact word she just said: "it was a ...". In French, German and Spanish, for instance, it would have been the same: "C'était?", "Warte ... 'war'?", "Espera... ¿'era'?".

I'm wondering if I could just as well have said the following? Or does this sound somewhat ambiguous in Russian?

Постой... «была»?

  • Постой... Почему (ты говоришь) "была"? Your version is OK but not well established in usage, its usage requires exaggerated interrogative intonation to emphasize "была" for it to be registered, the interrogative word relieves this requirement Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 15:13
  • @БаянКупи-ка By "Your version is OK but not well established in usage", which of my two phrasings did you mean: "Почему ты говоришь в прошедшем времени?" or "Постой... «была»?"? Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:09
  • i meant the last one.... and the phrase говоришь в прошедшем времени is customarily applied to people: почему ты говоришь о нём в прошедшем времени? implying is he dead/gone for good now? Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:11
  • and постой/погоди is a little bookish (to me), секунду/стоп/подожди are more colloquial Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:29
  • "Была?" There is always an option to repeat just the word or part that confused you as a question.
    – DK.
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 4:32

2 Answers 2


More native form of this question in Russian is:

Постой... Почему "была"?

  • Interesting. "Wait... Why 'was'?" is not how people would usually put it in English. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 15:26
  • Yes, but it is the most frequently used version in Russian. There is a more international form: Постой... Ты сказала "была"? It can be translated into English literally, but used a little less. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 15:32
  • Постой... Ты сказала "была"...(pause) can also be said not interrogatively but assertively prompting a reaction from the interlocutor Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:13
  • @БаянКупи-ка, This version has one drawback. It can mean that a person simply doubts whether he has heard correctly. Постой... Ты сказала "была"? may imply Постой... Ты сказала "была"? Я правильно тебя понял? while Постой... Почему "была"? always means "Почему ты сказала именно так?" Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:19
  • this form of inquiry is usually understood to imply Why? Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 16:27

Постой... Почему ты говоришь в прошедшем времени?

Is a good and precise way to put it in a written conversation.

Постой... «была»?

Is totally fine as well.

Oftentimes you simply repeat just the word(s) that confused you or expand it into a longer question. When speaking people (or is it just me?) tend to favor shorter phrasing. In the context of conversation there should be no ambiguity.

  • "Была?"
  • Почему "была"?
  • Как это "была"? (colloquial)
  • То есть "была"? (colloquial)
  • Что значит "была"?
  • Почему ты говоришь "была"?
  • Что ты имеешь в виду "была"?
  • etc etc

The other word in your question постой/wait/espera serves as a filler to bring more attention to the question and emphasizes that you are intentionally interrupting your girlfriend or any other interlocutor. To express the same in Russian it's similar to other languages, so you can use any of the options below (among others) before the question - all with their own degree of being colloquial-vs-epistolary and (in)formal, that being partially based on a speaker past experience too.

  • Эй! (colloquial, informal)
  • Эээ... (colloquial, informal)
  • Так! (colloquial)
  • Стоп! (informal)
  • Погодь! (colloquial, informal)
  • Подожди...
  • Извините, (formal)
  • Минуточку...
  • etc etc

Pretty much any combination and variation of the above would convey your question. You can repeat them as well to show your interest in the subject. Again, given the conversation there is no ambiguity.

  • "Была"? Почему это "была"?
  • Стоп, стоп, стоп! Подожди, почему ты говоришь "была"?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.