9

Context : We have math class every Thursday. The teacher said, "...в следущий четверг у нас не будет контрольной... ...будет через неделю"

To me "через неделю"(1) means in seven days. I asked some friends and they explained that he meant "after 14 days".

Then I asked my English teacher (a native Russian with a PhD in literature) about it. I didn't give her the context, I just asked her if the expression (1) can be somehow understood as "in 14 days". She said no. In summary, apparently nobody remembers it can actually mean that, until I give them the context. (2)

Questions.

Why is that so (2)? like some kind of sneaky grammar rule that everybody learns in school, but then forgets about it.

How often does (1) create a misunderstanding among native speakers?

In the given context, can "неделю назад" mean "14 days ago"?

PS: This was not clear to me

Update I added the wrong link, feel free to check again

2
  • 2
    Can you give more context? Could the teacher have meant "через неделю" respective to next Thursday, like "there will be no test next Thrusday, the test will be one (more) week later", i.e. a week later than the next Thursday?
    – Petr
    May 6, 2023 at 15:18
  • 1
    A comparable ambiguity certainly happens in English, and can cause confusion between native speakers: if on Friday I say something will happen “next Monday”, that can mean either in 3 or in 10 days from now. I guess many languages have similar wrinkles in these phrases.
    – PLL
    May 7, 2023 at 8:52

6 Answers 6

7

How often does (1) create a misunderstanding among native speakers?

This comes up in my life quite often. For example, whenever I'm on a train with someone and they say "Выходим через остановку", I feel the urge to clear things up with:

  • Ты имеешь в виду «на следующей»?
  • Нет, через остановку.

That usually does it. But if I'm given the directions "Сядь на «Курской» и выйди через три остановки", I have to make really sure what they meant if I don't want to end up in the wrong station. Because it could mean either:

  • Проедь три остановки и выходи на четвертой, or
  • Проедь три перегона между остановками и выходи.

Those will get me to different stations.

This meaning of через is quite common when speaking about recurring events or station stops and it's distinct from the meaning of "через <time span>".

It's very similar to one of the spacial meanings of через which is over: Перепрыгни через ручей = Jump over the creek. Imagine you jumped over three narrow creeks in one long jump. In practice that would mean you jumped four distances between creeks:

creek jumping

If there was a fourth creek, you'd be right in the middle of it. That's the kind of thinking that makes "через три остановки" mean "skip over three stops and get off at the fourth".

So when your teacher said, "На следующей неделе не будет, будет через неделю", what they meant was:

  1. We are in week 1.
  2. Let's skip the whole of next week (week 2).
  3. This gets us into week 3.

"Через неделю" does not create any ambiguity here because, as your teacher said previously, it's not next week, so it must be the week after.

Why is that so (2)? like some kind of sneaky grammar rule that everybody learns in school, but then forgets about.

Often, when we see or hear or read something, we give it just enough thought to find one interpretation and then take it as the only one fathomable.

For example, when we look at the spinning ballerina, we can only see her spinning in one direction, although with some effort we can make our brain see her spinning in the other direction.

Or, when you read or hear "Time flies!" your first thought would probably be "Yes, it does" and not "What on Earth do flies have to do with time?"

Similarly, when you give people the phrase "через неделю" they think of the most common interpretation, "in one week". It's only when you show them the context, they go, "Oh, it's the other через!" Yes, через has at least these two meanings, "in" and "skipping".

I'm not sure if this psychological phenomenon has a name. Let's call it "Slepov's first interpretation law". Or just laziness.

In the given context, can "неделю назад" mean "14 days ago"?

No. I might be falling victim to my own law, but I can't think of a context where it would mean that.

1
10

Let's denote your next week's math class as M. And this Thursday's math class as N.

The M will come in 7 days (relative to N). Something that will come in week after M will come in 14 days after N but only in 7 days after M, i.e. in a week.

So according to this, your teacher said the following:

"Контрольная работа не будет проведена на занятии M.
Контрольная будет проведена на занятии через неделю после М."

So to answer your question, I'm no philologist, but that's what it looks like when native speakers hear the full phrase, which is:

"...в следущий четверг у нас не будет контрольной... ...будет через неделю"

We implicitly reconstruct the original phrase to the complete version of it, which is:

"...в следующий четверг у нас не будет контрольной, она (контрольная работа) будет через неделю [... после занятия в следующий четверг]

I don't know if it's correct to generalize and say that this extends to all phrases, like the one you stumbled upon, but in that particular situation, the following is true:

If you encounter some relative time construct in Russian, like "через неделю" or "через пару дней", it's meant to link it to (and thus count from) the last event mentioned before the relative time construct.

So in your case, the last mentioned event is your next week's math class, so you start counting a week from that point, but relative to your class on Thursday, it'll be in 14 days, i.e. two weeks.

P.S: I realize that the combination of my poor English coupled with my subconscious love of over-explaining things, as well as my use of the variables, may ultimately confuse you instead of help you, so feel free to ask if you're still unclear on any of this.

1
9

Через X can mean "skipping X" or "skipping every X":

  • ― Товарищ, товарищ, ― говорил он тихонько, ― проснись, послушай: мне через остановку сходить, занимай для детей мою полку, слышишь… [В. Ф. Панова. Валя (1959)]

  • Низоралом во-первых не нужно каждый день, а через день. [Красота, здоровье, отдых: Косметика и парфюм (форум) (2004)]

  • Леонтий распорядился, чтобы он держал пар, зажигая через полчаса на пять минут форсунки, и ушел наверх. [С. Т. Григорьев. Красный бакен (1923)]

This pattern is confusing even for native speakers, so usually, in the recurring sense, this meaning is clarified using через X на X+1: я работаю через два дня на третий or я работаю день через два. Both these sentences mean "I work on every third day". However, it's not required.

So, через неделю means "skipping one week" or, more precisely, "not next week, but the one after that".

But what exactly does "next week" mean? "A week" can mean two things: the absolute interval from Monday to Monday, or a relative interval from any point in time to seven days after that point in time.

This is, probably, the source of the confusion.

Out of context, most people parse через неделю in the relative sense: we take the interval of time from now till seven days from now, skip it, and we get через неделю. English "in a week" only works this way.

But there's another way to parse через неделю, that is to treat it as an absolute interval, the same way as через урок or через смену work. Parsed this way, it would mean "skip the week starting the next Monday". If the conversation is happening on a Monday, that would mean "14 days from now" indeed.

Normally, неделя is a relative interval. День, on the other hand, can be both, but usually the absolute, as opposed to the word сутки, which is always relative. Перезвоните мне через день would, most probably, mean "call me the day after tomorrow", although not necessarily. Перезвоните через сутки would unequivocally mean "call me in 24 hours".

There is no similar counterpart for the word неделя, so usually people specify the day of the week: через четверг, which would mean "the Thursday after the next one".

1
4

"через неделю" can be translated as "skipping a week". In fact, it's the same preposition that you would use for literal skipping, i.e. "перешагнуть через ступеньку" = "skip a step"

Let's say it's Tuesday evening right now

Mo Tu|We Th Fr Sa Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su Mo Tu We Th

"skipping a week" can refer to (1) skipping a week's worth or time (7 days):

     |--------------------|
Mo Tu|We Th Fr Sa Su Mo Tu|We Th Fr Sa Su]Mo Tu We Th

or (2) skipping a calendar week

     |------------------------------------->
Mo Tu|We Th Fr Sa Su[Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su]Mo Tu We Th

This ambiguity is indeed awkward and Russian speakers would often help you resolve it by putting a heavy emphasis on the word "через", "чEрез неделю" when they mean (2) skipping the calendar week. Case (1) is considered the default and the emphasis is, as usual in Russian, on the noun.

As for "неделю назад", "назад" doesn't have the "skipping" connotation that "через" has, so "неделю назад" always means "around seven days ago".

2
  • This response is the clearest. As a non-Russian, this instantly answered this question for me. Great job!))
    – CocoPop
    May 8, 2023 at 18:05
  • 1
    This one is also elaborating on the second part about неделю назад, I kinda missed it in my answer too. +1.
    – Quassnoi
    May 8, 2023 at 19:40
3

Context : We have math class every Thursday. The teacher said, "...в следущий четверг у нас не будет контрольной... ...будет через неделю"

"через неделю" literally means "seven days later" - always - no exceptions.

BUT seven days later counting from what point in time, depends on the context.

According to the context you provided, it's super obvious that the reference point for "через неделю" is that test that was planned for next week and then cancelled ("та самая запланированная на следующий четверг контрольная, которой не будет"). SO it's simply seven days after that test for next Thursday that was cancelled. That's it.

Then I asked my English teacher (a native Russian with a PhD in literature) about it. I didn't give her the context, I just asked her if the expression (1) can be somehow understood as "in 14 days". She said no. In summary, apparently nobody remembers it can actually mean that, until I give them the context.

That one was really funny. If you ask English professor can "a week later" mean "14 days later" (or "in 14 days") - they will probably answer "no" either.

But if you provide them context like - "There will not be a test next Thursday - a week later will be." - then probably they would change their mind, right?

(I have no idea who downvoted the other answer by άνθρωπος and why - obviously not Russian speakers - that answer states essentially the same thing and is correct - maybe not very convincing and/or too informal?.)

AMENDMENT:

Some of the other answers state that the literal meaning of "через" is "skipping" - that's also true and makes sense in general. Also this "skipping" thing may mean either skipping some discrete amount (like skipping several steps) or some continuous amount (skipping 1.5 kilometers/miles, skipping 1.25 seconds). This doesn't contradict the meaning "a week later" ("seven days later") but rather confirms it.

Actually, it's also true that "через неделю" may sometimes mean "skipping a week" in the discrete sense of calendar week (Monday to Sunday for Russian speakers) - BUT there should be something in the context that points to that meaning. Example: "На следующей неделе наша [еженедельная] встреча отменяется, продолжим через неделю." - "Next week's [weekly] meeting has been cancelled - we'll resume the week after.". In addition to the fact that this usage is rare and clearly indicated in the context - even if you misinterpret this as "seven days later" — in the majority of cases, you'll think of the same date, so no problem really.

Generally, in Russian, as in most other languages, the simplest non-contradictory interpretation (that makes sense) is probably the correct one.

1
0

No grammar, just look at the context:

В следующий четверг контрольной не будет

The first point: next week's Thursday won't be "day X".

The second point: "day X" will be after (через) 1 week from "not day X" = 2 weeks.

1

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.