39

One of the prepositions I never learned in Russian courses is про, which I only met later when communicating with native speakers or when reading. Is it possible to give a good rule of thumb about when it is better to use про instead of о for someone who can't hear that one way sounds better? For instance, below are some sentences with про that I received in emails from a native speaker.

1) Ты правильно написал про русский язык.

2) Я решил купить книги, про которые думал на прошлой неделе.

3) Почему ты спрашиваешь у меня про очки?

4) Да, про это место я тоже читал.

If I were writing these, I would have used о + prep. case each time instead of про.

  • 2
    You would also notice a variant "за" + Acc. for the same meaning, which is strictly prohibited in official Russian but widely used in so-called "Odessa dialect" and used by some people as expressive colloquial form, e.g. "И шо ви мине имеете сказать за эту бумагу?" (шо - что, ви - вы, мине - мне). (It is usually explained as Yiddish influence.) – Netch Nov 9 '12 at 7:38

10 Answers 10

23

While these prepositions are effectively the same, there is a slight semantic difference between them. Compare:

  1. Я думаю об очках
  2. Я думаю про очки

In the first case there is some generalization, I'm thinking about glasses as a category. In the second case I'm thinking of the particular glasses.

This difference is usually hardly seen, even by native speakers. It can be completely ignored in colloquial, but plays some role in stylistics of writtings.

Disclaimer: I'm not a linguist, this is only my personal opinion based on my feeling of the language (and my wife's feeling too).

  • 3
    I think if you had this disclaimer in your profile more people would have read it and be aware of it. – Trident D'Gao Jun 14 '12 at 22:44
  • @bonomo Yep, done. Thank you for suggestion. – iHunter Jun 15 '12 at 10:59
  • @1453 I'm not sure the suggestion is helpful. There are many profiles of people with >200 reputation with only 3-4 views. – Artemix Jun 16 '14 at 18:20
19

There is a couple of cases when the difference between the two words is significant.

  1. Читать про себя vs. читать о себе. The first one can mean both "to read silently" and "to read about oneself", while the second one can only mean "to read about oneself".
  2. Это не про меня (can mean either, very colloquially, "this is not for me / this is too much for me"; or "this is not about me") vs. это не обо мне ("this is not about me" only). Note also the use of обо instead of о in front of a one-syllable мне.
  • 4
    It should be noted that 'это не про меня' is extremely colloquial. – kotekzot Jun 14 '12 at 16:44
  • @kotekzot: True. Edited the answer. – texnic Jun 14 '12 at 16:48
  • Where did you get these examples from? – Trident D'Gao Jun 14 '12 at 19:15
  • @bonomo: I don't exactly know how to answer your question :) Saying "I invented them" would sound strange about these phrases, wouldn't it? Why do you ask? (Thanks for your question BTW, you made me find a mistake in my answer---I've lost one meaning in the second example while writing it.) – texnic Jun 14 '12 at 21:08
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    Also, there is specific meaning of "о" + prep. as possessive, now kept only in idiomatic clauses: "Конь о четырёх ногах - и то спотыкается". It can't be replaced as "про" + Acc. – Netch Nov 9 '12 at 7:43
11

I think "про" implies certain narrative or a certain concrete thought.

Я думала о тебе - I thought about you

Я думала про тебя, что ты алкоголик - I thought about you that you're a drunkard. ("о" is bad here)

Мне рассказывали о тебе - I was told about you

Мне рассказывали про тебя ужасные вещи - I was told bad things about you.

I would also say that whеn referring to a person not introduced before, you better use "про".

Девушки рассказывали про своих молодых людей - The girls were telling about their boyfriends (this kind of implies that you did not know about them before or at least they are not familiar to you)

Девушки рассказывали о моем молодом человеке - The girls were telling about my boyfriend

but when there is narrative

Девушки рассказывали плохие вещи про моего молодого человека - The girls were saying bad things about my boyfriend

Девушки рассказывали про плохое поведение моего молодого человека - The girls were telling about the bad behavior of my boyfriend

In general if you learn something new and concrete, you usually use "про".

If you love a man and just want to say that you are thinking about him and being with him, you say

Я думала о тебе - I thought about you

But if you thought what to do with him (or with your relations) then you would use "про"

Я думала про тебя... Я думаю, нам лучше расстаться. - I thought about what to do with you (with our relations). I think we better part ways.

"о" implies intimate thoughts about a person while "про" implies some distance.

Я думал про тебя. Я думаю, мы найдем применение твоим способностям даже не смотря на то, что других сотрудников уволят. - I thought about [what to do with] you. I think we can make use of your talents, even though other coworkers are going to be fired.

Я думал о тебе - тебе будет нелегко после смерти матери. - I thought about you. I think it will be difficult for you after the death of your mother.

  • An interesting idea. I somewhat get what you mean with the first two example sentences, but with subsequent I do not sense any difference between o and про at all, so I, personally, am not convinced. Of course, I'm no philologist, but I am native speaker, and I've grown to trust my gut feeling when it comes to language. My gut tells me there's no semantical difference between the two prepositions. – Violet Giraffe Jun 29 '12 at 8:27
5

In your examples both "про" and "o" sound quite right. I think it's a question of style than grammar. Personally, I would go with "o" in these examples, because it sounds more natural and noble (which isn't necessarily more appropriate) to my ear. Sometime you choose "про" over "о", because it is easier to articulate in a given context.

5

Generally, either о/об or про is fine. Про is considered to be marginally colloquial, whereas о/об is more formal. Some people may perceiving a slightly negative connotation if про is used. There would be nothing wrong with using о/об instead of про in either of your examples.

You may already know this, but об must be used instead of о if the following word starts with a vowel, much like a/an in English, so it would be "о русском языке", "об очках".

  • Yes, I knew about об as the variant for о. While you're telling me that о/об and про are both fine, what I was looking for in an answer was some guidance about the cases where про definitely sounds better to native speakers, and why that would be the case. For example, I was told by the person who wrote my first example that об русском языке did not sound as good as про русский язык. – KCd Jun 14 '12 at 4:33
  • Are you fairly friendly with that person? It could be that he feels the less formal про is more suitable to the tone of your exchange, or it could be an idiosyncrasy. I don't believe there are any hard rules in this case. – kotekzot Jun 14 '12 at 4:40
  • @KCd: об русском языке is wrong simply because it should be о русском языке (б is added in front of the words starting with vowels), in which case it would be absolutely correct. – texnic Jun 14 '12 at 16:51
4

Про is more related to some facts while о is more descriptive:

Ты правильно сказал про русский язык.

This refers to a particular fact about Russian language probably referred in previous discussion. I would expect context of comparison with some other language here.

Ты правильно сказал о русском языке.

This refers to a general fact about Russian language. I would expect a pretty general sentence here, something like "Russian language is very complex".

2) Я решил купить книги, про которые думал на прошлой неделе.

This means that you were thinking about possibility to purchase these books. If you said о this would mean that you were thinking about the books in general.

3) Почему ты спрашиваешь у меня про очки?

Again this sounds like you already discussed the glasses and this is continue of this topic. The topic is about a specific fact about the glasses. If you used о it would be a general fact about the glasses:

- Ты носишь очки?
- Почему ты спрашиваешь меня про очки?

vs.

Дикари никогда не слышали об очках.

4) Да, про это место я тоже читал.

The same: I read some specific facts about this place. If you read something general, then Я читал об этом месте would be better.

The same logic can be applied to other examples above:

Мне говорили про тебя ужасные вещи.

The accent is on the facts the speaker heard.

Мне говорили ужасные вещи о тебе.

The facts are not too important, the accent is on the person. This is more general sentence.

  • Thanks. In the last pair of examples (про тебя and о тебе), I don't understand how the first version with про is stressing the specific facts heard; your other examples have про directly attached to the specific object of interest (очки, язык), but here про is attached to ты instead of вещи. – KCd Nov 6 '12 at 23:34
  • You are right. This close to "Говорить про очки / говорить об очках", but with some additional info what exactly was said (ужасные вещи). The idea is the same: "про" means a more specific fact while "о" means something general. – Maxim Makarenko Nov 6 '12 at 23:54
  • May be this would help. Image a girl met a boyfriend after some time: - Мне говорили про тебя ужасные вещи. Скажи, что это неправда (i.e. you did not do that). - Мне говорили ужасные вещи о тебе. Скажи, что с тобой все в порядке (i.e. YOU are ok). In the second case the facts are not as important. – Maxim Makarenko Nov 7 '12 at 0:00
  • What would you consider the difference between Я думал про тебя and Я думал о тебе, or Это фильм про Чебурашку and Это фильм о Чебурашке? – KCd Nov 8 '12 at 0:47
  • <code>Я думал про тебя</code> are suitable words in boss-employee communication. This sounds more like "I was thinking about some facts about you [probably about us]". This sounds closer to <code>Я думал о твоей ситуации</code> (I was thinking about your issue). <code>Я думал о тебе</code> sounds like personal communication. I was thinking about you in general. E.g. would it be a good wife/husband for me. – Maxim Makarenko Nov 8 '12 at 18:06
3

I am a native Russian speaker, and I've struggled to understand the difference between these prepositions and scope of their usage as well. It seems that про is formally incorrect in Russian. It is the analogous Ukrainian preposition that seems to have made its way to some regions of Russia.

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    A native speaker with whom I discussed my question (and who could not explain the difference between про and о/об in a clear cut way) disagreed with the possibility that про is in any sense formally incorrect as part of Russian. – KCd Jun 15 '12 at 1:35
  • @KCd: And my Russian school teacher (who is very competent) supports my understanding. Like I said, it's quite a vague topic. Also, what's the criteria of formal correctness? – Violet Giraffe Jun 15 '12 at 7:51
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    Мне говорили плохие вещи про тебя. Is it incorrect? Lol. You cannot use "о" here. – Anixx Jun 29 '12 at 0:36
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    @Anixx: Can't you? "Мне говорили плохие вещи о тебе." – Violet Giraffe Jun 29 '12 at 8:18
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    It's probably a Ukrainian thing to think that "про" is incorrect in Russian because it sounds very Ukrainian. But there are good proper examples in other answers. – Sergey Nov 12 '12 at 17:15
0

A side note. О/об might be a bit more formal, compare with typical titles of scholary works:

  • корчевании корней", "К вопросу о корчевании корней".
  • But never "Про корчевание корней".

A reasonable English translations would be "On lorem impus", "Revisiting lorem ipsum", maybe even "Towards lorem ipsum".

-1

I think, that there is still small difference between usage of о and про To generalize:

  • I use о, when describe some general properties of the object, or class of objects
  • I use про when speak about some action, incident, particular quality of the object.

This can be demonstrated on the examples, provided by the author:

You wrote: "Russian language is one, which is very difficult to study."
I answer: "Ты правильно написал про русский язык."
You wrote: "15% of people on earth speak russian language, which is also very beatiful"
I answer: "Ты правильно написал о русском языке."

You ask: "Have you ever worn glasses?"
I answer: "Почему ты спрашиваешь у меня про очки?"
You ask: "Do you know, where can I buy glasses?"
I answer: "Почему ты спрашиваешь меня об очках?"
  • I believe you're giving the exact same answer (in examples) as is already provided, however your explanation isn't very clear. Please refrain from reposting existing answers unless you expand or explain them better. – Aleks G Nov 8 '12 at 11:38
-1

Ooohhh! Thats easy!

and few more examples

  • про стул*_*
  • о стул*Е*
  • 1
    Welcome to Russian.SE. While your answer is legitimate, it does not seem to provide any new information in addition to that already contained in other answers. Please refrain from reposting others' answers unless you want to expand on them. Also, please ensure that you're actually answering the question asked. Here, the OP is interested in when/why each of the forms is used as opposed to examples of them. – Aleks G Nov 8 '12 at 20:44
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    I agree with Aleks G. This answer is not addressing the question I asked. – KCd Nov 8 '12 at 22:21
  • 1
    It seems that you have misunderstood the question. It is not the question about the form of the noun that should be used with one or another preposition. This question is about differences in meaning that these prepositions have. – Olga Nov 8 '12 at 22:22

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