I know that the verb to use can be translated into Russian as использовать (with the accusative) or пользоваться (with the instrumental).

I wanted to ask if there's a difference in meaning/usage between these two verbs or if they're perfectly interchangeable.

  • Not even every native Russian speaking person has a good ear for these two words. I've just stumbled upon this: "Пудреница? Не знал, что ты используешь косметику." This is so wrong, it almost hurts my ears (my eyes, actually). Should be: "Не знал, что ты пользуешься косметикой." Another example of a "difficult" pair: *одевать and надевать. People use these two incorrectly all the time, even though there is an easy way to remember the difference: Надеваем одежду, Одеваем Надежду
    – tgspeters
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 17:23
  • 2
    @tgspeters I think your rules are highly artificial and do not reflect the common language and feeling.
    – Anixx
    Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 8:23

3 Answers 3


I'd say that where no special aspectual meanings are involved, "пользоваться" means to use something for the purpose it was intended for.

пользоваться словарем = use a dictionary to look up words
Ты пользуешься этой зубной щеткой? = Do you brush your teeth with this toothbrush? (Ex.1)

However, "использовать" doesn't really mean to use a thing for what it was intended for; it can be anything. For example, you can't just say:

*Я использую эту зубную щетку.

You should either use "пользоваться" or state what you're using the toothbrush for:

Я использую эту зубную щетку, чтобы чистить украшения \ для украшений. (Ex.2)

And under normal circumstances, it would sound strange to say:

Я использую эту зубную щетку, чтобы чистить зубы. (Ex.3)

This can only be said if the other person was actually asking what you're using the toothbrush for.

Actually, if you are asked what you're using your toothbrush for, (Ex.2) or (Ex.3) are the correct ways to express your thoughts (depending on whether you're using your toothbrush for jewelry or for teeth). Saying something like (Ex.1) would be wrong, because then your answer would stress the fact that you're using the toothbrush, not explain the purpose.

  • Excellent answer! I'd like to point out that in English, we also make this distinction to some extent, although not all native speakers know it or see it as such: (1) when we avail ourselves to something for its intended use, we make use of it; (2) when we avail ourselves to something for something that may or may not be its intended use, we simply use it: I used a toothbrush to clean the small parts of my engine. -vs- I made use of a specially-designed toothbrush that cleans below the gum line.
    – CocoPop
    Commented Oct 9, 2023 at 17:15

The word использовать usually refers to a specific incident:

Я использовал свой купон
I used my coupon.

Note that whatever you used in a specific incident doesn't necessarily disappear after you've used it, for example, you could say:

Я использовал умение красиво врать
I used my skill of lying artfully

After using such a skill, it doesn't disappear and you can use it again.

However it may disappear (or at least turn into something not suitable for the original purpose), in which case all (весь/вся/всё/все) is often added for clarification :

Я исользовал всю краску.
I used all the paint.

The word пользоваться refers to the ability to use something or the process of such usage (as in a prolonged action).

Я пользуюсь общественным транспортом.
I use public transport.


Я пользуюсь своей отверткой.
I use my screwdriver.

  • I'd agree with your answer if it weren't for the last sentence which is just wrong Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 16:56
  • @ArmenTsirunyan Thinking back about it, I don't think it's wrong, but possibly limited. I'm deleting that statement.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 17:11
  • An upvote from me, then :) Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 18:41
  • @CocoPop Please stop editing this answer. Your edits are not constructive and in part are grammatically incorrect in English.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:20
  • 1
    @CocoPop: your edits generally improve the posts. However, we should respect the authors' desire to use the punctuation they want, even if it contradicts style guides and your own sense of the language. If a post is extremely sloppy or incomprehensible and its author is being an ass about it, only then we can edit the post against their will. This post and this author are nothing like that. Thank you for understanding.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 23:34

They're not always interchangeable. The two words have the same root польз, therefore the prefix in the first one changes the meaning, as usual.

The first one can be used as a perfective, e.g.: использовать и выбросить or он использовал все гвозди.

The second one assumes prolonged or repeated action: пользоваться молотком для забивания гвоздей. The first one can also be used for this: для забивания гвоздей обычно используют молоток.

However, in some cases, only one verb sounds good, e.g.: Эту чашку можно использовать для чая? is fine, but it would sound strange if you said Можно этой чашкой пользоваться для чая?  Пользоваться really assumes a more mechanical kind of action, although one can say пользоваться свободой действий.

HTH :)

  • Fair, but you can just as well say попользоваться и выбросить.
    – sharptooth
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 7:14
  • 1
    @sharptooth: You right, of course, because you again add a prefix :)
    – texnic
    Commented Jul 4, 2012 at 19:58

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