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

I wanted to ask if there is a difference in meaning / usage between these two verbs or if they are 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 Aug 2 '14 at 17:23
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    @tgspeters I think your rules are highly artificial and do not reflect the common language and feeling. – Anixx Aug 3 '14 at 8:23
6

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

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

But "использовать" does not really mean to use a thing for what it was intended to. It can be anything. For example, you cannot just say:

*Я использую эту зубную щетку

You should either use "пользоваться" or say, what are you using the toothbrush for:

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

And usually it would be strange to say

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

This can only be said if the other person was really asking, what are you using the toothbrush for.

Actually, if you are asked what are you using your toothbrush for, (Ex.2) or (Ex.3) are the correct way to express your thought (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 are using the toothbrush, not explain the purpose.

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5

Word использовать usually refers to a specific incident:

Я использовал свой купон
I used my coupon.

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

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

After using such 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 it's often used with clarification all (весь/вся/всё/все):

Я исользовал всю краску
I used all the paint

Word пользоваться refers to an ability to use or a process of such usage (as in a prolonged action).

Я пользуюсь общественным транспортом
I use public transport

or

Я пользуюсь своей отверткой
I use my screwdriver

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  • I'd agree with your answer if it weren't for the last sentence which is just wrong – Armen Tsirunyan Jul 3 '12 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 Jul 3 '12 at 17:11
  • An upvote from me, then :) – Armen Tsirunyan Jul 3 '12 at 18:41
4

They are 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 perfect, e.g.: использовать и выбросить or он использовал все гвозди.

The second one assumes a prolonged or regular 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 say Можно этой чашкой пользоваться для чая?  Пользоваться really assumes a more mechanical kind of action, though one can say пользоваться свободой действий.

HTH :)

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  • Fair, but you can just as well say попользоваться и выбросить. – sharptooth Jul 4 '12 at 7:14
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    @sharptooth: You right, of course, because you again add a prefix :) – texnic Jul 4 '12 at 19:58

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