Fresh (non-salt) water is also called sweet in English. Surprisingly, the word sweet is also used in some Slavic languages.

To be precise:

  • in Polish, woda słodka
  • in Czech, sladká voda
  • in Croatian (as well as in Serbian and Bosnian, may be with different spelling), slatka voda

Also, there are some Slavic languages where literally питьевая means "пресная" (it worth to mention that the same we can tell about above-mentioned languages, it's just that this expression are not 100% interchangeable)

For example, in Macedonian, питка вода. Though in Bulgarian, which is close relative of Macedonian, it is said прясна вода. In Ukrainian one should say прісна вода, in Belorussian, прэсная вада. But the two last examples are not that surprising, since both Ukrainian and Belorussian belong to the same subbranch of Slavic languages that Russian belongs to as well.

The question is: Has it ever existed expression "cладкая вода" in Russian, with that very meaning. If yes, when and how it loose battle to "пресная вода"?

UPD: here is an excerpt from Church Slavonic dictionary:

сладкїй - cладкий; весьма приятный; добрый, кроткий.

This does not give any hint.

  • 1
    We never use Сладкий as synonym for Пресный. For Bulgarians "свежий" its "прясный" или "пресный" - So its funny how they (after swimming in the sea) offer "пресную рыбу" But its not case for Russian. Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 9:27
  • 1
    Found that they are synonyms dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/dic_synonims/134583/…
    – hazzik
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 11:22
  • 2
    "Сладкая вода" in religious texts is a calque from the Hebrew exprtession for non salty water "מיים מתוקים".
    – user244413
    Commented Feb 21, 2016 at 18:37

7 Answers 7


In some Russian dictionaries "пресный" and "сладкий" are listed as synonyms, but now I'd rather hear "пресный" in meaning "не сладкий", i.e. as antonym of "сладкий". I think these words were used as antonyms long time ago and only within some specific context.

P.S. The most common meanings for "пресный" are: without salt (water), tasteless (food & drinks); While "сладкий" means: with sugar (food or drinks) or pleasant (about something else).


Olga, sorry for not being useful with my previous answer, but I've dug a bit more and found that there are mentions of "сладкая вода" in religious texts:

«25. [Моисей] возопил к Господу, и Господь показал ему дерево, и он бросил его в воду, и вода сделалась сладкою.» — Ветхий Завет, Книга Исход, Глава 15.

«17. воды краденые сладки, и утаенный хлеб приятен» — Ветхий Завет, Книга Притчи, Глава 9.

«12. Не может, братия мои, смоковница приносить маслины или виноградная лоза смоквы. Также и один источник не [может] изливать соленую и сладкую воду.» — Новый Завет, Книга Иакова, Глава 3.

«11. Течет ли из одного отверстия источника сладкая и горькая [вода]?» — Новый Завет, Книга Иакова, Глава 3.

«9. Сладкие воды сделаются солеными, и все друзья ополчатся друг против друга; тогда сокроется ум, и разум удалится в свое хранилище.» — Ветхий Завет, Третья книга Ездры, Глава 5.

The phrase "сладкая вода" was used in the meaning: не горькая, не солёная, приятная на вкус вода.

The phrase "пресный хлеб" is antonym to "квасной хлеб", but I've not found any other use of word "пресный" in the Bible, so I can conclude that "пресная вода" is younger phrase than "сладкая вода".

The most common meaning of "пресный хлеб" is — unleavened or with leavening agents; but you can find another meaning — containing not salted water.

I still cannot answer your question about how and when "пресная вода" won over "сладкая вода", but I can suggest that "пресная вода" has it's origins from cooking unleavened bread.

I can only suggest you to search through old sources for occurrences of "пресная вода" to find out how and when.

  • You don't answer the question. The question was not "Are пресный and сладкий synonyms now?", but "During the history of the Russian language, has "пресная вода" ever meant the same as "сладкая вода""?. Please, edit your answer, or I'll have to delete it.
    – Olga
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 13:40
  • Sergiy, Olga is right. Try to focus more on the point of the question. You're giving more emphasis about current status rather than the historical one.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Aug 3, 2012 at 21:54
  • @Olga, I hope my latest updates are more useful, but if you don't think so, you're free to delete my post. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 16:49
  • I wonder if 'сладкая вода' was ever actually used outside translated religious texts in Russian, or if the translators simply decided to stick with the direct translation and not fuss over meaning.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 19:26
  • @Sergiy, any way, this answer deserves an up-vote!
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 19:59

As mentioned by Sergiy, this meaning was used in Church Slavonic and I believe in Proto-Slavic too (as well as in most IE languages).

The earliest mention in Old Russian is I believe this PC excerpt:

И бѣ ту вода горка, и възропташа людье на Бога, и показа имъ древо, и вложи е Моисѣй въ воду, и осладишася воды

which is a loose citation of Exodus 15:25 translated into Old Russian from Old Church Slavonic (or maybe from Greek).

It's hard to say whether it's a proper translation or a calque, however, the author deemed it clear enough to leave as is (as well as did the authors of the Synodal translation).


I didn't encounter сладкая in meaning of пресная in Russian. Moreover, I cannot realize its using this way. Being applied to food or drinks, сладкая may be used to express вкусная (tasty, delicious), although its using in this meaning considered old-fashioned and outdated nowadays. Сладкая вода literally assotiates with lemonade.

  • 1
    Well, nowadays it is definitely not the case, the question is - have this ever been valid. You see, since in related languages there is such form, on of the following should be true: In Proto-Slavic there was something like сладкая вода; OR - in every slavic languages this term evolve separately.
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 6:46
  • You can also say "сладко покатать". But "пресно покакать" would carry a totally opposite meaning.
    – user259
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 17:07
  • @VladLazarenko I don't think 'пресно покатать' would carry any meaning at all.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 19:24

For my 24 years of speaking Russian I have never heard “сладкий” used as a synonym to “пресный” in day-to-day speech. Moreover, here is a clear meaning of these words:

About examples, written by Sergiy: I suggest it could be used in Old-Russian language, but it is never used today.

  • The question was actually about Old Russian, not about the current state of the language. Please change your answer accordingly.
    – Olga
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 16:13

In modern Bulgarian (which is profoundly related to Russian) there is a clear indication of such relation between "сладкий" and "пресный":

We have "сладководна риба" (freshwater fish in contrast to "морска риба" - sea fish) "сладководно езеро" (freshwater lake)

but never "сладка вода" (except in a very abstract context). The water itself is always "прясна вода" (either fresh water - good for drinking or saltless water body, depending on the context)


пресная - water with no taste (synonim for water - river water - not sea)

сладкая - water with sugar.


'Сладкий' and 'Пресный' are words with different origins.

  1. 'Сладкий' came from Proto-Slavonic root 'сол' via 'солодкий'. This means tastiness.

  2. 'Пресный' is from 'сыт' via 'пресыщать'. This means fullness.

There is supposition that the difference is between feelings of drinker. In one case drinkers usually felt tastiness, in another one drinkers felt fullness.

Updated. Initially the first point had an wrong root.

  • The existence of East Slavic солодкий contradicts (1), while (2) flies in the face of pretty much all we know about the evolution of Slavic languages. Amateur etymologies are fun, but serious ones are that much more fun at the cost of just a little more effort. Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:36
  • Where it contradicts? With сладкий -> солодкий -> соль? You are talking this way because you are know the modern Chemistry, that shows that the fresh water is actually water without sea salt. This fact had been known at Later Middle Ages around 14-15 century in Western Europe. Proto-Slavs don't know about salt in sea water. Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:48
  • At the same time Proto-Slavs consider salt as very important substance with extremely high price. And they might use similar term freshness from the salt. Commented May 22, 2019 at 12:51
  • And it's not funny at all to see linguists without knowledge anything outside of the box talking about special terms. Commented May 22, 2019 at 13:03
  • Salt is irrelevant (despite the fact that сладкий and соль are in fact related). My point is, the East Slavic pleniphony of "солодкий" ("сладкий" is Church Slavonic in origin) signifies the Proto-Slavic root *sold-, incompatible with the *sъ-lad- derivation you're suggesting. In other words, it can't possibly come from лад. Commented May 22, 2019 at 15:07

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