Some time ago I did a homework in which I had to complete two-phrase dialogues by writing a meaningful response to a given question. No context was provided for the questions. One of the questions was,

За что тебе поставили четвёрку по сочинению?

I wrote,

За то, что я привела очень интересные факты и подробно обосновала свой вывод.

I got zero points for that question, but the teacher didn't mark any grammatical error of mine. He simply gave zero points. His style is to make students think and find own mistakes themselves.

But I'm at a loss as to what I could get wrong. The question seems to be very simple, "What did you get a B for the essay for?" I carefully checked my answer and see no grammatical error in it.

What's wrong with my answer?

  • 1
    The question means "why your mark is so bad?"
    – Anixx
    Commented May 22, 2020 at 2:05
  • In Russia, (not only) parents expect you to always have excellent marks and if you bring something lower, you need to explain yourself
    – user14833
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 11:20

5 Answers 5


Just to add more to the existing answers, generally grades in the Russian school system are viewed as "subtractive" rather than "additive". What I mean by that is, when grading, the teacher generally doesn't start with 0 and then add to the mark for every good thing that was done, but instead would start with the top grade, i.e. 5, and subtract from it for every mistake or inadequacy. Averages aren't given out in most cases. Usually 5 means there is nothing wrong with your work and you completed the assignment adequately and to the required standard. Anything less than that means there were shortcomings that need fixing.

Occasionally, when a task requires a lot of creativity for example, the teacher might choose 4 to mean adequate and 5 as "above and beyond", when the student really put in extra effort and outdid themselves. But this is rather an exception and 5 usually just means "you've done what was asked and completed the task with no mistakes".

So, without any extra context, За что тебе поставили четвёрку по сочинению? is assumed to mean "What mistake did you make to get 1 subtracted from your grade?" by default.

  • 1
    Why is the top grade called отлично then? As I understand, отлично means that you stand out in terms of quality of your work.
    – Mitsuko
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 12:57
  • 1
    Тhe word отлично implies that a kind of relative grading takes place, doesn't it? Если всем достается оценка отлично, то по сравнению с кем каждый отличился?
    – Mitsuko
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 13:03
  • 1
    @Mitsuko In modern Russian the link between отлично (as a mark given at school) and отличился is not felt. (It can easily be deduced, of course, but few people bother).
    – tum_
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 13:52
  • What @tum_ said. Отлично just means "excellent, great" in modern usage, something doesn't necessarily need to literally differ from others in order to be called отлично. In fact, there need not be any others at all, it could just be equivalent to "great job!"
    – Curiosity
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 21:06
  • @Mitsuko I believe that it might have really meant that the work is outstanding some time ago. But currently don't have too many grades to have one for extra-good work. We have “5 grades” from which 1 is almost never used and 2 is something like “nothing is done right”, so we're left with only 3 "positive" grades. And there just isn't enough room to reserve one as "better than expected".
    – Alissa
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 15:49

In fact, четвёрка is really "B", but also it is really не пятёрка, "not A". If your facts were really "very interesting" (очень интересные), and you really "detailed your conclusion" (подробно обосновала свой вывод), then why wasn't it пятёрка ("A")?

The way you completed that dialogue was grammatically correct, but what you wrote wasn't actually an answer to the question asked. As a result, the question still remains unanswered. Besides, your reply actually gives rise to new questions, like "If what you say is true, why not an A?" or "Do you mean it was the teacher's fault you didn't get an A? Was the teacher unjust to you?"

An adequate way to complete that dialogue was to write something like "My essay was interesting and with a sensible conclusion, but I did miss a couple of commas..."

  • 1
    Oh, I didn't see the question that way. Any positive grade is an achievement, and B is a good grade and above the average, so I interpreted the question as, "What did you write in your essay to stand out of the crowd? How did you achieve it?"
    – Mitsuko
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 16:33
  • Okay, your answer is corroborated by Sergey's answer, so it must be right, but I'm a kind of confused. What could be a response to the question, "За что работодатель платит тебе зарплату 500$ в месяц?"
    – Mitsuko
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 16:33
  • @Mitsuko - Anything can be an answer to the salary question, ranging from "Sorry, that information is classified" and "If I tell you, I'll have to kill you" and all the way to enumerating real responsibilities of an employee with such a salary, or even "I wish I knew".
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 16:57
  • 1
    @YellowSky : Ah, I now get it, thanks to your last comment.
    – Mitsuko
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 17:14
  • 2
    "Any positive grade is an achievement" - I see, your professor is indeed very strict ;)
    – Alexander
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 5:06

The question probably meant, "Why didn't you get an A for the essay?" and expected you to elaborate on what you did wrong.


The question за что implies "what did you do to deserve that".

The "that" here means something above or below the baseline, something you have to deserve.

This is similar to English "what did you get the B for" vs. "why did you get a B"?

Your teacher seems to have an implicit understanding that пятёрка (an A) is the baseline expectation, and четвёрка (а B) is below the baseline.

Hence, to "deserve" a B instead of an A, you would have to do something bad.

Your answer, on the other side, implies that the baseline is a C or even something below it, and you "deserve" a B by trying real hard.

Let's, for the sake of argument, assume that everyone knows you can't spell. Giving you an A is hence out of the question.

But you did an outstanding job of compiling the facts and drawing a conclusion for your essay, even though you spell корова with a ѣ (пишешь корову через ять).

Everyone would expect that you would get a C for your essay, as you usually do, but such a good job got you a B, which was really surprising!

This way, your answer would make sense.

So your teacher was expecting an answer listing bad things, which would explain why did you get a B over A.

Your answer gave a list of good things, which would explain why did you get a B over C.

Your answer is grammatically perfect, and there is a context where it makes sense.

It's just not a default context for your teacher.

  • There maybe a bit of a cultural difference that we see here. To me as a Russian native the question (in the absence of any context and intonation) can only be understood in the "почему не пятёрку?" sense. Otherwise, I would expect smth like "За что тебе только четверку..." or "И как тебе удалось четверку получить..." or similar.
    – tum_
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 20:27
  • @tum_ what if the question were за что тебе поставили пятёрку по сочинению?
    – Quassnoi
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 20:55
  • This changes it completely. Can only be understood as "How did you manage to get the top mark? I didn't expect you to get it".
    – tum_
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 21:05
  • 1
    And what if the question were за что тебе поставили 174,21 балла? — In this case any answer would do, since we don't know the value of those points. In case of the Soviet/Russian 5 (best) to 2 (fail) grading system, we do know what means what, 4 isn't the best, therefore using the words "very interesting" and "detailed" about a work which wasn't among the best ones poses a contradiction, such situation can take place, but in a possible reality where causal relationships are broken, for some reason.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 22:12
  • 2
    @Quassnoi As a native speaker, I would say the way the question is worded clearly implies a "what did you do wrong" as opposed to "what did you do right". Something like "за что тебе поставили пятёрку по сочинению?" just sounds wrong, the wording doesn't match the intent. I would feel similarly about "Why did you get an A on that multiple choice test?" It's an odd question, the answer is that I made no mistakes. Just changing that to a "How did you get an A?" has a different feel to it, one of admiration.
    – Egor
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 19:30

If it meaning that четвёрка is fine grade, respond may be like yours:

  • За хорошее описание событий;

  • За интересную историю про собаку.

But if it meaning that четвёрка is bad:

  • Ошибки в тексте;

  • Маленький объём получился;

I think in the original question it was meant that the четвёрка is bad. With such a question, it is often assumed that the четвёрка is bad.

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.