The Wiktionary and the non-existent lingvo entry for еле-еле don't shed light on its meaning. I usually misstrust (at least a little), when two words are marked as synonyms. In this case еле-еле must be different from елe. Isn't it?

  • 2
    Words are duplicated to emphasize their emotional load: 'девушки красивые-красивые', 'небо синее-синее', 'бежать быстро-быстро'. Sometimes the second word in pair receives the prefix 'пре-': 'репка большая-пребольшая', 'небо синее-пресинее'. Duplication is most often met in children's speech, tales, poetry etc. However, 'еле' is most often used duplicated.
    – ach
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 15:41

4 Answers 4


As @mr_tron pointed out, the meaning is very little, however best English equivalent I can think of is barely:

Он еле-еле дышал.
He was barely breathing.

Он еле-еле ехал.
He was barely moving.

Depending on the context, some other words of similar meaning can be substituted, all around the same meaning:

Он еле-еле победил.
He barely won. (This doesn't sound very good.)
He won by a tiny margin. (This sounds better in English.)

The meaning of word еле is exactly the same, although you could argue that repeating the word twice emphasises its meaning:

Он еле дышал.
Он еле-еле дышал.
He was barely breathing. (Both versions.)

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    Ah! I understood him/her wrong! I thought "Это означает очень мало" was referring to the role of the word in the sentence – that it could be neglected or so. So his/her answer should be "Это означает очень мало".
    – c.p.
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 12:57
  • @c.p. Yep, that's it.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 13:03

Это означает очень мало. Обычно относительно скорости или достижения каких-то результатов.


Он еле-еле ехал - ехал очень медленно.


Он еле-еле победил - победил с очень небольшим преимуществом.


It means "by a small margin" or "with little room to spare".


There certainly are cases when one of the usages is considered more appropriate than the other.

An example that comes to mind is "еле слышно" (more correct) vs "еле-еле слышно" (less correct (I think))

Or "он еле-еле двигал ногами" (more correct I think) vs "он еле двигал ногами",

although "еле двигался" seem to be OK

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