My book on Russian claims that in phrases like здесь нет телефо́на the нет is a contraction of не and есть .

Is this etymologically true?

(I realize that it is translated as such, but this is not my question.)

  • @Heather I am not talking about usage, and why you are "sure it should be explained better in the book later" is absolutely mysterious to me. I would not ask this here if it were in the book.
    – user32021
    Feb 26, 2014 at 7:52

4 Answers 4


Currently no Russian speaker feels that word нет is compressed form of не есть. The нет and есть are thought as antonyms. However looks like long ago (over 600 years ago) the connection between them existed.

According to Vasmer's dictionary, the etymology of нет:

народн. не́ту, др.-русск. нѣту (РП, Владим. Моном., Лаврентьевск. летоп.) и нѣтъ (Лаврентьевск. летоп., Договорная грам. Димитр. Донск. 1372 г., Полоцк. грам. 1399 г.; см. Соболевский, Лекции 94 и сл.). Из более старого *не ѥ ту; см. Соболевский, там же, 249; Преобр. I, 218, 596; Цв. Тодоров, "Slavia", 14, 519 (где о -ту, с литер.); ср. также тут (см.).

So, before 14th century it had a form *не ѥ ту (asterisk means that the written form is reconstructed).

On the other hand the word есть etymologically has a prototype in Old Slavonic:

ѥстъ, редко ѥ

Etymology of тут by Vasmer is connected with Old Russian word ту:

др.-русск. ту - "там, туда, тут"

So looks like the word нет before 14th century was expressed as:

*не ѥ ту = не есть тут, не есть там, не есть туда

  • "не" is close to "not".
  • "нет" is close to "no".

I always used that simple rule teaching English to Russian children.

And yes, "нет" was sometimes the contraction of "не"+"есть". The old form was "несть", and it can be met in classic Russian poetry of XIX Century. But nobody feels that connection anymore, it is too hidden, in contrast to Slovenian, for example, where it is obvious even now. But Slovenian and Czech languages are the most conservative Slavic languages.

  • By the way, несть still survives in a set expression, несть числа.
    – ach
    Mar 11, 2014 at 13:21
  • @AndreyChernyakhovskiy This expression can be now used in poetic text only, sorry. Or you yourself should be a very poetical person :-)
    – Gangnus
    Mar 11, 2014 at 14:13
  • I don't think so. It is a fairly emphatic word, of course, but certainly not poetic.
    – ach
    Mar 11, 2014 at 14:20
  • @AndreyChernyakhovskiy The fact that poetic expression appears in prose, doesn't make it less poetic.
    – Gangnus
    Mar 11, 2014 at 14:53

I will try form better than in comment.

It will be there is no phone in this case because of "there is".

In case of "there is / there is no" - specific phrases "нет" will be both is no.

But in other cases it's not, for example when "нет" is an answer to "yes/no" question.


I assume every complete sentence needs a verb. when you say "здесь нет телефо́на", "нет" acts like a verb. so it makes a total sense that it is indeed a contraction of "not" and "to be", very much like "there is no phone". unless in Russian somehow "нет" is recognized as a verb.

  • Well no, that is the point. Russian sentences can omit the present tense of "be", so it is impossible to tell from just looking at it, whether "is" has been omitted or contracted.
    – user32021
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:56
  • when you say "omit" you mean that they had to be there, right? :) yes, it is common and correct to omit the verbs, but that was exactly my point: these sentences are incomplete. Feb 26, 2014 at 22:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.