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When are bird legs called ноги and when are they called лапы?

I can see that it is different for different birds, ноги for a stork, лапы for a sparrow. Sometimes you can use both word for the legs of the same bird, for instance, куриные ножки and куриная лапа, but there is a difference.

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    куриные ножки means drumsticks and thighs, not the thing at the end with claws – A-K Jul 17 '12 at 2:01
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If you look up "ноги аиста" and "лапы аиста" on Google you will find both forms. Looking closely, there is a difference in usage - a common attribute for "ноги" is "длинные" (long), a common attribute for "лапы" is "когтистые" (clawed). And this is a good hint for the difference between the two words: "ноги" actually means "legs" whereas "лапы" means "feet". So these words are related but no synonyms.

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    In my humble opinion, both words refer to legs. – FireAphis Jun 30 '12 at 5:13
  • I guess I was too hasty to accept this as the full answer for the question. It is possible to say "натереть ногу" meaning "to get a blister on one's feet". – Olga Jun 30 '12 at 9:15
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    @Olga: We are still talking about birds, right? A word can have absolutely different meanings in different contexts, I wasn't performing an extensive study here. When talking about humans "нога" can mean both a leg and a foot, using "ступня" for a foot is relatively unusual. – Wladimir Palant Jun 30 '12 at 9:35
  • I am not actually looking for an answer "what is correct, лапа or нога"?, because I know that both are acceptable when talking about birds. I am trying to understand the difference between the denotations, so that I can explain to myself why in some cases it is weird to use one word or another. It seems that in case of a bear, лапа is preferred, and in case of a horse it is нога. But since it can be both for birds, I was thinking that bird's legs combine both features of нога and features of лапа. ФAnd I was hoping that people can help me identify these features. – Olga Jun 30 '12 at 12:05
  • And the words can actually be used as synonyms in case of "попугай поджал лапку \ ногу". – Olga Jun 30 '12 at 12:08
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Technically speaking, лапа is just an animal leg. So birds have лапы.

However, according to the comments, the OP is about the language feeling, so I'll elaborate in that direction. Let's compare different uses:

нога человека

лапа as a gentle address to a beloved one

лапа as a reference to a very thick, unattractive leg

нога аиста

гусиная лапа

tigers, cats have лапы

giraffes, horses have ноги

еловая лапа

I risk to suggest that лапа is used whenever one wants to emphasize the soft nature of a leg. Fur-covered legs give the feeling of softness and are thus called лапы. A leg is likely to be called лапа if it is thick and short, thereby imitating softness. That's why storks have no chance of having лапы, unlike, say, sparrows.

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The main difference is that "ноги" is legs in general and "лапы" are either legs or feet of an animal. So, technically you can use always "ноги", and it will be correct. It might feel incorrect in some cases for a native speaker, but only because it is much more common to refer to, for example, dog's legs as "лапы", and not because it is wrong. As a general rule I'd advise to use "лапы" when talking about animals, unless these are hoofed animals. For hoofed animals "ноги" and "копыта" are more common.

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  • Aren't you curious to learn why something feels incorrect? – Olga Jun 30 '12 at 9:20
  • @Olga, absolutely! That's why I am here :) In our particular case, I think, there isn't much hiding behind those feelings. It's just that one word may be more common than anther in specific situations in the colloquial speech, so the less common one might sound less natural, but still absolutely acceptable. My remark about the "feeling" was targeted mainly at non-native speakers and meant "don't feel discouraged to use both". – FireAphis Jul 1 '12 at 13:31
  • Копыта (hooves) can't be used interchangeably with Ноги (legs), the former is a part of the latter. – kotekzot Jul 3 '12 at 21:46
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Usually, you should use лапы (or лапки) when talking about (especially small) birds (i.e. куриные (утиные, гусиные) лапки) (may be there are some exclusions, when the speech is about some big birds, like аист), but birds are not the only case...

мишка косолапый - this is about bears legs...

There is a beautiful Russian cartoon - "Крылья, ноги и хвосты"

Also, лапы are used in plural more often then лапа

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it depends on the context, but лапы are simply an animal's feet.

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  • Please elaborate, many people have already said that "лапа" is just an animal feet, but there is more to that, obviously. – Olga Jul 17 '12 at 9:40

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