When to use «раз, два, три» instead of «один, два, три»?

I know that `один, два, три` is equivalent to `one, two, three` in English. But, I've also heard `раз, два, три` used in multiple Russian songs from different artists, and I've seen this in several places online.

German has `zwei` & `zwo` for the number two, with `zwo` used primarily to make the #2 more easily distinguishable from the #3 (`drei`) when multiple numbers are being communicated simultaneously.

However, it's not clear to me whether this is the case with `раз`. I wouldn't expect that there's much of an issue with people confusing `один` and `два` for one another.

So, I have the following questions:

1. When should `раз` be used instead of `один` (and vice versa)?
2. What are the rules for the usage of `раз`?
• You mentioned German, but don't forget that in German there are 2 words that mean "one": "ein" and "eins". "Eins" is used when you count objects, exactly the same way as the Russian "раз", while "ein" is used when you say how many things there are, just the same way as the Russian "один". And Japanese has 2 distinct sets of numerals, one set for counting objects (hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu, ...), the other one for saying how many (ichi, ni, san, ...). Jun 5, 2013 at 0:49

1. РАЗ, -а (-у); мн. разы, раз; м. I. числ. колич. =Один (при счёте). Раз, два, три... Раз, два и готово (о том, что делается, совершается очень быстро). Раз, два и обчёлся (об очень малом количестве кого-, чего-л.). II. в зн. сущ.

Instead of «один» it's used only when counting. When you are counting objects aloud you will normally say «раз, два, три, …». While «один, два три, …» is also perfectly fine (though, sounds kinda officially), «раз» is used more often.

I'm not sure what is the reason, but my guess is that it is simply shorter («два» and «три» both have just one syllable, but «один» has two, so it's more difficult to pronounce in everyday life).

• I'm always a little amused about rationales for how Russian works that depend on making something easier to pronounce (e.g., во Франции is used instead of в Франции because the first way is "easier"). With consonant clusters in words like взгляд or мгновение, ease of pronunciation doesn't come across like a top priority. :)
– KCd
Jun 6, 2013 at 1:19
• @KCd Lol, good point =). You are right, those series are difficult to pronounce, that's why no one pronounces them ;). In both cases «г» is almost swallowed and sounds somewhere inbetween «к» and French «r». Also in case of «в Франции» the issue is not difficulty of pronounciation but the fact that «в» before «ф» оглушается (becomes unvoiced?), so you get [ф францы], and those [ф ф] of course merge into a single sound. As a result you simply won't distinguish «в». Jun 6, 2013 at 6:17
• Причина использования "раз" - необходимость считать быстро и ритмично, например, при беге, в марше ("раз-два, раз-два!"), в счёте в музыке, поскольку "один" состоит из двух слогов и затрудняет счёт. Аналогично барабанщик Mike Portnoy в одном из своих видеоуроков рекомендует при счёте до восьми вместо seven проговаривать sev.
– КуЪ
Jun 11, 2013 at 9:53
• @KCd Perhaps because `г` in these words is reduced during a fast speech and even omitted (unconscious, of course). It doesn't affect much ability to recognize the word. Jun 24, 2014 at 13:37

Один, два, три is usually used when counting items, things.

Раз, два, три is usually used when counting events (say, time in seconds, ticks) or actions.

In the later case one can interpret it as being a contraction of

[один] раз, два [раза], три [раза]

etc, literally [one] time, two [times], three [times]. So counting objects rather than actions starting with раз is somewhat incorrect, yet sometemes used colloquially. Counting actions rather than items starting with один also sounds weird although if the action has masculine gender (like in прыжок, отжим), one can assume один be related to it.

• So, if the action has a masculine gender, is it most appropriate to use один, or is раз acceptable as well? Jun 13, 2014 at 18:40
• @Александр for actions and events раз is always more acceptable. For counting objects один/одна/одно (depending on gender) is more acceptable. If using один/одна/одно for actions it is recommended to mention the action by name: одно приседание, два, три, ... Still раз will be shorter and more convinient. Jun 13, 2014 at 18:49
• В первом классе нас очень сильно ругали за «раз, два, три». Учительница постоянно повторяла, что если сказать «раз», то обязательно говорить «два раза, три раза….» Jun 25, 2014 at 10:50