My question is in the title of this post, and I do not know what else to say. I am just puzzled.

Okay, to avoid my post being put on hold for being too succinct, I will add a couple of naive thoughts of mine.

I originally thought that "моя дорогая Наташа" means something along the line, "Natasha, I know that you are not cheap and that I consequently have to pay a big price to continue getting nice treatment, attention, favors, and other things from you." Or maybe something like this: "Natasha, I spent so much time, effort, and money to make you my woman; you proved to be really expensive." But the very idea that people could talk to a woman in terms of her price seems nonsensical to me, as any normal woman would get offended.

Then it came to my mind that the Russians who call women "дорогая" may mix up price and value. But I cannot imagine someone mixing up them. Only most uneducated simpletons who completely lack common sense are capable of mixing up these fundamentally different things.

My naive thoughts seem both nonsensical and funny to me, so I am puzzled.

Could you explain?


Reading answers, I realized I had to better explain the source of my confusion and my motivation to ask the question.

Of course, I am well aware that when the adjective "дорогой" describes a person, it is usually perceived as "dear" and not as "expensive."

The source of my confusion is that when the Russians speak about material things, they use the adjective "дорогой" to say that the thing is expensive or pricey, and the adjective "ценный" to say that the thing is valuable or useful. For example, дорогой инструмент is an expensive or pricey tool (not necessarily useful), and ценный инструмент is a tool that is valuable or useful (not necessarily expensive). To make sure everyone understands me, "expensive" is about the price and means that you pay a lot to buy the thing, whilst "useful" is about the value and means that you derive a great benefit by using the thing.

What is beyond my understanding is why the Russians chose the word "дорогой" (which, as I explained, is about the price, not about the value) as the Russian word for "dear."

I never saw English speakers writing something like, "He has a dear car." Typing in Google the exact phrase "has a dear car," I get only 1 result. I know that English speakers can occasionally say, "The price is too dear," but in this phrase the word "price" is explicitly said. Anyway, English is not my native language either, and my question is about Russian, not English.

It is beyond my understanding how the Russians can use one and the same adjective, "дорогой," to say that a thing is expensive and that a person is dear. I know that many words have more than one meaning, but all meanings of one and the same word are logically connected unless we talk about homonyms. And I cannot see a logical connection between "expensive" and "dear." The latter two words cause very different emotions and associations.

Moreover, I found in Google that the expression "дорогой сотрудник" can mean a dear employee and an expensive employee, depending on the context. It is astonishing how one and the same Russian expression can be perceived in so different ways.

What adds to my confusion is that the Russian words for "price" and "value" have the same root (-цен-) and are, respectively, "цена" and "ценность." This is beyond my understanding.

In short, I feel there may be some fundamental differences between me and the Russians in how we perceive economic processes and interpersonal relationships. This was my primary motivation to ask the question. My primary interest is to better understand the Russian way of thinking.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Quassnoi May 27 '19 at 13:20

There's nothing special about Russian. In many European languages there's one word that can be used to state that something is highly esteemed and/or expensive.

French - cher means both expensive (une voiture chère: an expensive car) and dear ("Mon cher ami": "My dear friend"). I'm citing French first, because I always speculated that the usage of дорогой in a salutation might be related to French cultural influence. (However, I might be wrong: the etymology of дорогой seems to suggest that the relationship pre-dates French influence.)

Italian - caro. This word is used with both meanings.

Latin - carus. This word had already meant expensive in antiquity, but was also used to adress people ("Care amice": "My dear friend").

German - teuer. This word means expensive, but has also been used in salutations ("Meine teure Dame": "My dear lady"). Today I would be very surprised to find the word attached to a person (except for a prostitute) unless it's meant ironically or found in a classical text (19th century or older).

English - dear. That word is related to German teuer and hasn't completely lost its connotations of expensive.

Also, appreciated is not independent from price and esteemed from cost/value estimate.

Additional information from comments:

  • Interesting to note, this is not exclusive to the European branch of the Indo-European languages. For example, in Indo-Aryan Urdu, Qeemti is used for both expensive and precious depending on the context i.e. "Tum Qeemti libas pehne hue ho" (You are wearing an expensive dress) and "Tum mere liye qeemti ho" (You're precious/dear to me). Similarly in the Iranian branch, the word is Garan which is used for both expensive and precious.(by @NSNoob)
  • You could also add Polish or other slavic languages. In Polish, we use "drogi" the same way as "dear" and "expensive" (by @Adrian)
  • You can add Hungarian (also not Indo-European) to the list. We use "drágám" (meaning "my expensive somebody") to address our beloved ones (by @StupY; note: apparently borrowed from a South Slavic or a West Slavic language).
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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Quassnoi May 28 '19 at 15:50

дорогой/ая is not only expensive, it's also dear, the word has at least two meanings

Not only women are called дорогая in the sense of dear, men are addressed as дорогой as well, in formal correspondence or in formal settings, especially at solemn events.

Colloquially these words either appear in dubbed foreign movies as a translation for dear, its equivalents, including other languages, or other words of endearment, or are used sarcastically between native speakers. In everyday life people normally don't address each other with them sincerely, if ever.
Sarcastic or derisive attitude is often expressed with its derivative дорогуша, which is of common gender.

Addressing a women with дорогая in the sense of expensive can only occur by way of a pun, a wordplay.

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    @Mitsuko "I cannot understand how one can mix up value and price" - but if you speak English, then you should know that "valuable" often means "highly priced". There are different types of value. Monetary value (price), emotional value (love, friendship), scientific value, etc. etc... The exact type may be obvious from the context. This is not specific to Russian language; I have shown an example in English, and certainly many other European languages allow this. If there is no such overlap in your native language (Japanese?), this may be the cause of your confusion. – Ivan Milyakov May 27 '19 at 3:42
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    @IvanMilyakov: Another English word that comes to mind is "precious". e.g. "precious metals" = monetary value, but also often used for non-monetary value because of love. (Notably by Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but also by normal people.) e.g. "She is precious to me." – Peter Cordes May 27 '19 at 3:54
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    @Mitsuko "dear" can mean "expensive" in English too. e.g. "he paid dearly for his mistake", or in The Beatles' "When I'm 64," "We will rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight if it's not too dear" – Dmiters May 27 '19 at 5:19
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    @Mitsuko проститутка is a special kind of a woman who does have a price tag – Баян Купи-ка May 27 '19 at 10:25
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    @Mitsuko "I cannot understand how one can mix up value and price" -> People didn't always have money, thus didn't alwys put a price on things, but we alaways had a sense of value for anything, including other people. That "value" is just quite abstract and very subjective, so when you say to a women "дорогая", you say you value her a lot, not it terms of price, but in terms of how important she is to you. If you think about it, money can also be important to people, thus it doesn't seem that odd to use the same word to express those 2 "types" of feeling – ppetrov May 28 '19 at 14:34

Russians are people, and people like saying nice things to those they love, and comparing someone to something expensive (or, rather, precious) is a very nice thing to say.

It's quite a common metonymy across the languages of the world: English "dear", Italian caro, Greek ακριβός etc. all meant "precious" at some point (or still do).

The English word "expensive", by the way, does not convey quite the same meaning as "precious", because "expensive" assumes some kind of expense, "quid pro quo", while "precious" is more about the intrinsic value of something.

In modern Russian, дорогой means "expensive" in its direct meaning (not "precious", which would be драгоценный, a Church Slavonic cognate loanword), but at the time the figurative meaning was established, it meant "precious" as well.

Probably this is the source of your confusion.

As @Баян Купи-ка noted, you can still use дорогой in its main sense "expensive, pricey" when applied to people: дорогой адвокат, дорогая проститутка, дорогой визажист etc., but this refers to people who sell their services.

The figurative meaning can only be applied when addressing the person (дорогая Наташа, я очень тебя люблю!) or when adding a possessive pronoun: моя дорогая дочка вчера вышла замуж, pretty much the same as in English.

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“Дорогой/ая” is literally translated as “worth a lot”. A direct meaning, “expensive” means “worth a lot of money”; but another, figurative meaning (“dear”) means “worth a lot [= is valuable] [for somebody's heart, for example]”.

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What is beyond my understanding is why the Russians chose the word "дорогой" (which, as I explained, is about the price, not about the value) as the Russian word for "dear."

The source of your misunderstanding is very simple.

[дорогой] speaking about a person is just a short version of the full [дорогой моему сердцу] [дорогая моему сердцу] [дорогой сердцу].

That's why [дорогой] is not about price in money.
It is about price in emotions.

[дорогая моя жена] = [дорогая моему сердцу жена]

This means, that if something bad happens to her, my heart phisically will suffer a lot of "emotional money" (not money in the pocket).

That's why for Russians every person and every thing is mesured not only in real money, but in "emotional money" too.

For example.

[дорогая картина]
means artwork cost over $100K

In Russian language when someone says in this meaning usuage say
[картина для меня дороговата]
([для меня], а не [мне])

[дорогая мне картина]
that is short version for [дорогая моему сердцу картина]
means artwork may cost just $10 bucks, but this artwork is made by my daughter and if something bad happens to this artwork, I spend 2-3 weeks in deep stress, recovering my heart from the loss.

In Russian language when someone says in this meaning usuage say
[картина мне дорога]
([мне], а не [для меня])

[полезная картина]
means usefull. For example, it hangs on the wall to hide the vault or maybe there is just a spot on the wallpaper and this artwork just hides it.

[ценная картина]
means people on art market are ready to pay for it good money.

[бесценная картина]
means masterpiece, that it is shame even to speak about price.
It does not mean artworks, which really has no price.
Priceless artwork means that it costs some crazy money.

[дорогой сотрудник]
means his salary very high for the company. This employee costs for our company a lot of money.

[дорогой нам сотрудник]
(that is [дорогой нашему сердцу сотрудник]) means we cherish achivements of this employee high and are proud, that the employee is a part of out company. We are very lucky to work with him and wish him to stay with us as long as possible.

[ценный сотрудник]
means we know how to make the most functionality and effectiveness out of this employee for our company. We think the employee has a great ratio on what we pay to him and to what income he generates for our company.

What adds to my confusion is that the Russian words for "price" and "value" have the same root (-цен-) and are, respectively, "цена" and "ценность." This is beyond my understanding.

I can not understand your confusion.
In every culture [price] and [value] are always different things, but their meanings is close.

[Цена] = [Price] = is result of the agreement between sides of the deal.

[Ценность] = [Value] is subjective functionality for a person who is going to use the object for the deal, which is priced.

[Дорогой] = [Expensive] = [high price]
[Дешевый] = [Cheap] = [low price]
[Ценный] = [Valuable]
[Полезный] = [Usefull]
[Функциональный] = [Functional]

I'm really surpriced that [цена] vs [ценный] is really difficult for you to differ them out.
Yes they have the same root [цен-] and so what?
These are different words and they have different, but still close meanings.

[-ость] is powerfull suffix and it always can help you to see the difference between [price] and [value].

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Long story short: your understanding of the meanings is backwards.

How so? First, to answer the question let's look at the etymology of each word:

Происхождение слова цена
Цена́. Близкие слова встречаются во многих языках нашей индоевропейской семьи: авестийское «каэна» — «возмездие», «месть», литовское «káina» — «цена». Видимо, и у нас древнейшим значением слова было «отмщение», «расплата», потом — «штраф-вира» за какую-либо вину и уже впоследствии — «стоимость».

Происхождение слова дорогой
Дорого́й. Общеславянское слово, образованное от той же основы, что и литовское dora — «хорошо, полезно», английское dear — «дорогой». Первоначальное значение — «хороший, полезный, годный».

(emphasis added)
As we can see, the original of the word "цена" (of which "Ценный" is derivative) is "retribution" or "recompense". Only later it came to mean (monetary) price. I think it's safe to assume the non-monetary meanings were acquired even later.
By contrast, the word "дорогой" always had a non-monetary connotation.
I hope from this it should be clear to you which meaning is more suited to express affection.

For more information, let's have a quick read through a Russian dictionary.


  1. Тот, кто мил, любим, близок сердцу.
  2. Употр. как обращение к тому, кто дорог, любим, мил.

  1. Стоящий больших денег, продаваемый или покупаемый по высокой цене (противоп.: дешёвый). // Высокий (о цене). // перен. Такой, которым дорожат.
  2. перен. Добытый с большими трудностями, ценой больших усилий, жертв и т.п.
  3. перен. Милый, любимый, близкий сердцу. // Употр. в составе ласкового обращения.
  4. перен. Являющийся достоинством кого-л., чего-л.; существенный, ценный.


  1. Имеющий цену, обладающий стоимостью, выраженной в деньгах. // Имеющий высокую стоимость; дорогой. // Имеющий объявленную ценность (о посылке, письме и т.п.).
  2. перен. Имеющий важное значение. // Такой, которым дорожат. // Очень нужный, полезный.

In fact, the definition of each word mentions the other. However, there are some differences to note:

  1. "darling" is listed as direct meaning of "дорогой",
  2. the meaning of "дорогой" is listed as "being sold for a high price", while the meaning of "Ценный" is listed as "having high monetary value". I hope you can understand the difference here.
  3. the figurative meaning of "Ценный" is: important, treasured, practically useful. Even figuratively it expresses only practical, not emotional or sentimental value.

It may seem similar at first, but there's an important nuance. For example, let's look at some words with a common stem with each word

цена: (monetary) price
ценник: price tag
ценности: (only plural) things of monetary value, e.g. cash money, jewellery, porcelainware, etc...
ценные бумаги: documents with high monetary value, e.g. bonds, deeds, wills, shares, cheques, contracts, etc...
ценить: to appreciate / respect (something or someone)
ценимый: valued, respected (I think this is the meaning you were trying to use in your question, but it is in fact a separate word)
оценка: valuation / evaluation; grade in an exam
ценность: a moral / human value
ценностный: related to, or having to do with moral values
драгоценность: treasure (as in pirate's treasure)
дорожить: to treasure, cherish
дорожать: to increase in price

I hope you're noticing a trend here. Even when the stem "цена" doesn't relate to monetary value, it relates to moral or practical value, or even respect, but never affection. That is exclusive to the stem "драг".
I think their respective derivative verbs (highlighted) are best indicative of that.

This begs the question: why is "дорогой" often also used to mean "expensive", instead of meaning "dear" or "cherished"?

To that, I couldn't find a definite answer, at least not immediately. Maybe somebody can educate us. In the meantime, I can provide my personal intuition.
This usage of the word likely comes from the phrase "добытый дорогой ценой" (acquired for a dear price). It can be used figuratively, meaning a great personal sacrifice. Or it may come from a time when currency wasn't so prevalent, and barter was used instead. People may have had to relinquish dear personal possessions in exchange for necessary goods or services. The meaning of the word as "expensive" could have originated as a shorthand for this expression.

Sorry to necro an answered question, but I think I provided valuable information not included in the accepted answer.

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  • Thanks a lot, this is really a very interesting answer. It was very interesting to read it. – Mitsuko Jul 4 '19 at 12:57

I wanna also add that Russian speakers use дорогой/дорогая when talking about a specialist that charges a lot for his/her services.

You can say - "Дорогой преподаватель/массажист/тренер/врач" meaning that they'll cost a lot to hire. It's a bit colloquial (I guess) but it's used pretty often.

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We don't call only women like that. It's a kind of a) sligthly outdated b) sarcastic expression to emphasize an importance of a person to us. Also common in business language.

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    "we" is a very dangerous word, quite often we can speak only for ourselves ) – shabunc May 28 '19 at 12:09

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