What is the difference between "ну" and "значит" in usage? Can they be used interchangeably? I believe they both mean something similar to "so" or "well" in English


In the following explanation, translations are not at all word by word translations, and each translation relies on the context of the discussion used in the answer.

"Значит" translates to "means".
It is used however in some cases as a start of a told explanation, like this:

Значит так: я пойду за детьми а ты жди мастера

which would translate roughly to:

Ok, so I will pick up the kids and you wait for the repair man.

Sometimes, similarly, the same word can be used to ask for a confirmation on the explanation:

Значит я пойду за детьми?

So, I will pick up the kids?

Indeed, the usage of the word "значит" does in some cases coincide with the english "so". But when you try to replace "well" in the same sentences, it won't work. "so" gives a command tone to the sentence, while "well" is kind of unsure.

well, maybe you will go to pick up the kids and I'll wait home?

this does translate to something like this:

ну может ты пойдёшь за детьми и я подожду дома?

If you substitute the word, you'd have to change the tone of the sentence as well.

Another case of "ну" is for answering the same kind of question:

ну ладно, поеду

well OK, I'll do it

or answering a stupid question:

ну используй мозги, придёшь к ответу

well, use your brains, and you'll come to the answer

As you can see, in both languages, the given examples would not support word substitution without slightly changing the meaning.

  • 1
    Great explanation. One thing though: "well" is much more decisive than "so." In fact it's usually used by the person who comes up with a plan where there is none. "Well (since nobody else has a game plan) I'll pick up the kids and you wait for the plumber." On the other hand, "so" shows trepidation and seeks confirmation: So I'll pick up the kids and you'll wait here (is that the idea?). Again thanks for clearing up the Russian usage of ну анд значит! – CocoPop Oct 29 '14 at 3:40
  • Interestingly enough, in the States we use "well" authoritatively, as I described above, whereas in Britain they tend to use "right" in the same situation. – CocoPop Oct 29 '14 at 3:44
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    Note: "Значит так, ..." sounds like an order. "Значит так, делай что я говорю и не спорь". – Heavy Oct 29 '14 at 8:35
  • At first I didn't understand the question, but then it got me thinking. The answer is just a result of me thinking in written form. I guess "so" relates to an explanation. Either demanding or giving one. The same with the russian word "значит". I know both languages intuitively more than knowing each word's objective usage cases, and I gave it my best shot. – AlexanderMP Oct 29 '14 at 20:10

In its usage as a filler word, значит generally signifies that the speaker is pursuing a particular train of thought, i.e. that they're on track and know what they're going to say next, even if they have a momentary difficulty. Ну, on the other hand, is largely the opposite, an expression of looking for a thread to follow. You can think of значит as reflecting the mental equivalent of consulting one's notes, whereas ну is like flipping through the notebook to find the right page.

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