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How would a Russian speaker be likely to say "mow the lawn" or "cut the grass" in Russian? (I'm thinking about the lawn associated with a regular house, not a mansion or a park.) Usually, I can find a decent answer to these questions by checking Tatoeba, Reverso Context, and Pons, but in this case, I'm not finding a clear winner. Several questions:

  1. Is there a difference between лужайка and газон? Do Russian speakers also tend to use трава in this context?

  2. I see the verbs косить and стричь. Can these verbs be used interchangeably with the nouns I mentioned in item (1)?

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    Do you ask how a common Russian citizen will attempt to express oneself in English (not how should one explain oneself)? Given that most people aren't exceptionally good at any foreign language, but widely use hand-held computers with dictionaries and auto-translators, a common person is most likely to literally, word-by-word translate a Russian phrase. E.g. a commonly used "подстричь траву" would likely be converted to: "trim grass". – Paul May 24 '19 at 10:55
  • @Paul: Sorry, my question was how a Russian would express the meaning in Russian. I edited the question to remove the ambiguity. – Alan May 24 '19 at 15:07
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You have to understand that in Russia and ex-USSR people usually live in large apartment buildings. Yes, even in very small towns. Percentage of population living in private houses is rather small, and people who live in private houses are usually (though not always) either rather poor (villagers, people living on the outskirts of towns and cities) or rather rich (people that have built large houses in upscale gated communities, corrupt politicians and cops). Mowing a lawn is really not a part of life for vast majority of the people, it's simply not something you would even think about.

So you can use косить or стричь and лужайка or газон pretty liberally, as only people who deal with that stuff professionally might ever correct you. The terminology regarding grass upkeep is simply not a part of everyday vocabulary.

Лужайка is a more of a general term for a small grassy area, usually natural, while газон implies a lawn that has been deliberately designed, implemented and (in theory) is well maintained. Proper газон will for example involve some drainage system in place.

А grassy clearing in the woods or a park will be лужайка, not газон. As for the back or front yard lawn I personally would use лужайка, rather than газон. Газон to me is a type of lawn that city maintains in squares and boulevards. At the same time if your house has a well kept lawn that has a clear shape, and deliberately seeded grass, газон would also sound totally fine.

So the main difference is whether the grass grows naturally or has been seeded and whether the lawn undergoes a regular maintenance (that involves more than just mowing).

The verb that's usually used for the actual process of mowing is косить. Lawnmower is called газонокосилка In Russian. Стричь is used as well, especially when implying a very deliberate lawn care. Also as a noun стрижка is used, as in стрижка газонов. Косить траву, косить газон, стричь газон, косить лужайку all sound correct to me.

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    While the answer is correct in terms of language, your first paragraph reveals that you left Russia a while ago :) Things have radically changed throughout the last 15(ish) years, countryside houses are being built en mass by families with an average income and the sound of lawnmowers is now a common thing in the countyside (to the point of being a nuisance, really). – tum_ May 19 '19 at 8:30
  • @tum_ Ditto, the omni-present lawnmower humming sound on saturday's morning is a typical social problem. Even those who don't have a summer cottage suffer from this curse even in their city appartments: a municipal maintenance crew armed with pertrolium trimmers would start mawing early in the morning. – Paul May 24 '19 at 10:59
  • I can't agree about everyday vocabulary. It's quite contrary to what you stated: the "professional stuff" usually consist of low-wage immigrants with very low speech skill, whilst most urban citizens are quite aware of the modern culture of grass-trimming. In fact, the most widely used word for this context is триммер, which is a blunt calque of "trimmer" - the rotary device used for trimming. On the other hand, people really don't care much about those words difference. Nobody would care correcting. – Paul May 24 '19 at 15:30
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Стричь траву is a very common expression for private households (which have become quite common even in urban areas as @tum_ mentioned). I think it's often траву, because газон is associated with municipal parks and roads, while лужайка is usually part of a forest. Косить траву is still used often, but is becoming less clear if used for technically modern households, because коса is a manual tool with a blade.

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Russian speakers would often ignore the differences and use all those words interchangeably indeed. You're quite safe combining them randomly, but should be aware of the reasons of such disregard.

  1. The knowledge of agriculture, nature and geology has dropped significantly. In big cities many people couldn't explain how potato grows and simply wouldn't survive in the country without food delivered to stores. Some can't explain the difference between a "rock" and a "mountain". You shouldn't expect that everybody actually understand what луг (meadow) or поле (field) precisely mean. They might just misusing it.

  2. Many Russian people love to toy (tinker, fool) around with the words. We often do it just for fun. One can deliberately use an archaic form of a word, a synonym in the wrong context, a metonymy, etc. Thus if a person uses the phrase: "вчера подстриг свою лужайку", it is entirely possible that he is aware of the word's true meaning (one doesn't trim a wild meadow, mind you) and is just being casual with you.

When you participate in a formal conversation, you should familiarize with the real, proper meanings of those words, lest you appear uneducated or inadequate.

Газон - can be literally translated as "lawn". It's the safest, default, straightforward option for a lawn-mowing discussion. (I disagree with the @AR. answer about this word's usage frequency and modern habits; in my urban experience it's a basic, very common word. To educated Russians it means any plot of seeded soil, regularly maintained for aesthetical reasons, often with flowers. It doesn't matter who in particular is responsible for the maintenance; it might be personal or public.)

Трава - is the "grass", all and any of it. It's a very general, broad and therefore flexible word. Use it with discretion, as you would go about any abstract concept. Трава is less dull than газон.

Лужайка - the hypocorism (!) of the луг, i.e. "meadow". One normally can't confuse a maintained, confined lawn with a vast, uneven, overgrown area outside anyboby's property. Avoid using it in the meaning of "lawn" in the formal speech. The hypocorism version лужайка is even less appropriate, as it is considered funny. It might even be recognized as an obscene joke - this hypocorism is commonly used as a slang for "pubic hairs". It could also be used to jokingly exaggerate the lawn size of a rich person (or humiliate if the lawn is laughably small). This option is quite risky for unprepared wielder.

Стричь - a straightforward version. It litterally means "trim" and is widely used.

Косить - also widely used, usually preferred, but comes with a subtle notion (rarely seen by anybody). Semantically it means: "detach and preserve the surface parts of a grass for agricultural use". Harvesting crops, basically. Note that trimming of a decorative lawn usually pursues the goal of removing (shortening) the herbs; the removed top part might get reduced to a pulp in the process. This is totally unacceptable when it comes to "mowing" and "harvesting". People who aren't affiliated with agricultural business don't care. Some country people would probably shun from using косить in the lawn-mowing discussion themselves. Overall it is safe to use.

Good pairs:

  • Стричь газон
  • Стричь траву
  • Стричь лужайку (hee-hee)
  • Косить траву

Other pairs sound strange to me:

  • Косить газон
  • Косить лужайку (the speaker likely says about harvesting a meadow for agricultural use)

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