I've been struggling with a lot of the verbs of motion. From my knowledge, both of these words mean "to leave." What makes them different? DeepL suggests that I say "мы покинули город" instead of "мы уехали из города."

3 Answers 3


The main difference is that "уехать" requires physical movement and can mean other things, while "покинуть" doesn't necessarily require physical movement.

Apart from "to leave", "уехать" can convey other meanings depending on the preposition following it.

  • "Уехать на дачу" = "To go to country cottage" (in the context of vacation).
  • "Уехать на Марс" = "Depart to Mars".
  • "Уехать в город" = "To move to the city" for good or not - that depends on the context.

As for the sense "to leave":

A уехал из(от) B

A sentence such as this one can be used to convey that person A moved far away from B. Most often, B designates some location like a city, but it may also designate another person or persons like one's parents or relatives. In the latter case, the preposition should be "от".

  • "Я уехал из аэропорта на такси" = "I left the airport by taxi".

Grammar-wise, B must be in the genitive case.

A покинул B

This sentence can mean the same as above:

  • "Сноуден покинул аэропорт на такси" = "Snowden left the airport by taxi".

But it can also convey that person A is no longer involved with person B, location B, company B, group B, event B, or thing B. That often implies physical movement, but not necessarily. It may also imply that B is left to its own devices.

With that in mind, "покинуть" can be used with abstract, intangible things that don't move in the physical sense, like inspiration, joy, sorrow:

  • "Боль моя, ты покинь меня" (song lyrics) = "My pain, leave me!"

Examples that illustrate no physical movement required:

  • "Я покинул компанию" = "I quit the company". The crux here is that I no longer work for the company, rather than that of having physically moved out.
  • "Пользователь X покинул чат" = "User X has left the chat." The main point is that user X is no longer in that web chat.
  • "Делегация Х покинула заседание ООН". Although this implies physically leaving the meeting hall, the crux here is the party represented by X has canceled their participation in the meeting (maybe to express their protest or offense). The gist is: "we're not part of what's happening there".

"Покинуть" is also the verb of choice if the context implies an emergency. That doesn't require getting far away from a sinking ship, etc, only steering clear of danger. In some cases a few meters may be enough:

  • "Покинуть тонущий корабль" = "Abandon a sinking ship"
  • "Покинуть горящее здание" = "Leave a burning building"
  • "Покинуть зону радиационного заражения" = "Leave a radiation contaminated area"

Grammar-wise, B is the direct object and is in the accusative case.


Покинуть is a transitive verb. That is, it can affect an object. In Russian grammar, the object is in the accusative case without a preposition. Уехать is a non-transitive verb. It cannot affect an object (accusative case without a preposition).

So I can leave (=покинуть) my city, my family, my friends, my community, my wife, my dog... And I can only leave (=уехать) some place.

Я покинул дом, семью, друзей, общество, жену, собаку. -- Я уехал из города, из дома, из Москвы.


They are interchangeable to an extent, especially in older texts, but nowadays покинуть has a more specific meaning of "to leave for good, to abandon":

  • Одна из таких легенд гласит, что в XIII в. английский рыцарь ― святой Винифред, покинув свою прекрасную родину, пришёл в дикую лесистую Германию чтобы проповедовать германцам слово Божие. [Н. Ю. Феоктистова. Новогородняя ёлка // «Первое сентября», 2003]

  • Эта способность появилась у них ещё триста миллионов лет назад, когда они покинули моря и реки, где жили их далёкие предки, и пустились завоёвывать сушу. [Кто заснул первым? // «Знание -- сила», 2003]

  • Её доброжелательно рецензировали, мягко указывая на захолустное происхождение автора. Стасик решил покинуть Чебоксары. Ему хотелось расправить крылья. [Сергей Довлатов. Заповедник (1983)]

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