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I tried to form the English sentence "he is public enemy number one" and came up with «Он общественный враг номер один», but google prefers «Он враг общества номер один», which to me means literally "he is the number one enemy of the public." I am wondering which one is more correct/sounds more natural.

I realize now that this specific example may be slightly idiomatic (using "number one" as an adjective), so here is another:

What is the difference between «Я слуга народа» and «Я народный слуга» ("I am a servant of the people/civil servant").

Which one sounds more natural?

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  • Hm, to me I feel the same difference in the meaning in your English examples as in their translations. Do you think they mean exactly the same? It might be just me, but "public enemy" to me feels like "enemy of the public" rather than "[abstract] enemy that belongs to the public". Same with your second example.
    – Dan M.
    Aug 15, 2022 at 14:54
  • Is your question specifically about these two examples or about the general use/difference? If the latter, you should read on the types of adjectives in Russian first (relative, possessive, qualitative: russkiiyazyk.ru/chasti-rechi/prilagatelnoe/…) and check the examples of different relations between an adjective and a noun it was built from — it's a very complicated topic, so you will need to edit your question and specify. In both examples you mentioned, the versions with nouns sound more natural.
    – ALÖ
    Aug 15, 2022 at 21:07

1 Answer 1

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For these two specific examples, here are the best options:

  • "Он враг общества номер один"
  • "Я слуга народа"

I would never use "Он общественный враг номер один" because it can imply two different things:

  1. the enemy belongs to the public
  2. he is the enemy of the public

The first one doesn't make sense logically, but it does grammatically. The second one is what you actually mean. So because of this ambiguity, I would never use this phrase.

As a side note, a better translation of "public enemy" is "враг народа", which is a commonly known, historically-used term. "враг общества" is absolutely fine, but you would use it if you'd like to specifically avoid using the common expression "враг народа", which may have negative connotations for some people.

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