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Looking in the dictionary, одолеть and преодолеть both share pretty much the same meanings. So is there any substantial difference between the two or are they interchangeable?

  • The thing is, the meanings do not quite match. "Одолеть" is focused on defeating, overpowering someone/something. Sometimes literally. "Преодолеть" (with its prefix пре-) is more like getting over to "the other side" despite all the difficulties. Overcoming these difficulties and moving on. Here the difficulties are never a person and are viewed as an obstacle rather than a rival to be defeated. – Shady_arc Jul 27 '14 at 15:58
  • Excellent explanation! – CocoPop Jul 27 '14 at 17:38
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"Преодолевать-преодолеть" is more widely used than "одолевать-одолеть" in the sense of "overcome". For example, "to overcome difficulties" is better translated as "преодолеть трудности" than "одолеть трудности".

However, the verb "одолевать-одолеть" has two meanings, that the verb "преодолевать-преодолеть" doesn't have. The first one is "to defeat smb":

Он меня одолел. He defeated me.

The second one is "to be possessed, overwhelmed by a feeling":

Его одолела тоска. He was overwhelmed by melancholy.

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  • Thank you Russian Teacher! That's exactly what I needed to know. – CocoPop Jul 27 '14 at 15:22
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    Thank you for your interesting questions that make me analyse my own language! – RussianTeacher Jul 27 '14 at 15:34
  • Here's another one for you: what does it mean when people say жить можно? I saw a Russian show with two guys coming out of a store after having bought all kinds of gadgets and one of them said that. – CocoPop Aug 11 '14 at 14:15
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    It is something like "We are going to live well now" (having all these gadgets. There's also another synonymic expression, "живём". – RussianTeacher Aug 18 '14 at 17:55
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одолеть = to win over somebody, defeat

преодолеть = to overcome (an obstacle, hurdle, etc).

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