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I am currently learning the Russian language, and was quite intrigued by how they treat articles (they basically disregard/imply them). However, the word "is" is not stated to be an article, yet seems to be implied. The only potential word for "is" I can find is when I ask Google Translate and it returns 'является'.

This is strange, for example: to say "the ball is red" we would say 'мяч красный'. Notice how this does not have 'является', it actually directly translates to "ball red" yet is (or can be?) translated "the ball is red". I would like to know the exact usage rules regarding "is", when (or if) 'является' is (or should be) used, etc.

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    The word "is" in Russian is "есть", not является. – Anixx Apr 5 '15 at 11:19
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    Russian doesn't "disregard" articles, it lacks them. I remember as a child starting to learn English, I noticed how "the" was the most frequent English word, but couldn't for the life of me understand what it's for, and explanations only confused me further. Why is it not enough to just name a thing? For a while I ended up thinking it must be a kind of mandatory filler word, and thought that "Give me the ball" meant something along the lines of "Give me, like, ball" which you were grammatically required to say. – Nikolay Ershov Apr 5 '15 at 11:51
  • An interesting question is why did Russian have "is" and then lose it. – VCH250 Apr 9 '15 at 5:09
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    Why Russian had "is" is not really a question. Just because of common root with other languages. Why it (almost) lost it, well, it seems there are no answer on this except 'because "is" is not needed anymore'. – Matt Apr 9 '15 at 10:30
  • And your answer is the kind that you would get zero for on a test. Which languages does Russian share roots with; did Russian always have "is" and when did it lose it? It's a really interesting topic to me. Of course I could search around on the internet, but the people here seem to know everything about everything, so you know, well... ))) – VCH250 Apr 9 '15 at 19:30
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In fact, there's no such phenomenon as English articles in Russian at all.

The issue, opposite to yours, is also faced by Russian people who start learning English, since a complete sentence always must contain a verb in English. But verbs aren't necessary in Russian, especially if they mean "to be". However, I think verbs with other meanings can't be skipped. You can use "явлется" in your phrases to replace "is" and it's fairly understandable, but it would seem unnaturally complicated for a native speaker. For example, "ball is red" should be translated as "мяч красный" instead of "мяч является красным". From my point of view, in your speech you can always omit the verb translating a sentence from English into Russian if it's "to be". Possible exceptions are scientific and juristic topics which use more formal language, for example "this law is of great importance for the country" can be translated as "этот закон является очень важным для страны".

UPDATE:

As @CocoPop remarked, actually there are phrases that contain "есть" meaning "to be" which cannot be skipped. They are rather idiomatic constructions, therefore they don't conform common rules. For example, "работа есть работа", where "работа" can be replaced with another noun depending on context. I.e. "друзья есть друзья" or "семья есть семья" are also possible. These phrases can be used as a justification of some actions you wouldn't want to commit, but you have to do. Say, you have a choice between watching a match with your friends and going on a picnic with your relatives. If you want to spend time with your friends, but you're a family man, you can say "семья есть семья" and go on the picnic.

Another phrase is "как есть" which means "as it is". Examples: "прими меня таким какой я есть" means "take me as I am"; "Оставь как есть" means "Leave it as it is", i.e. "don't alter it".

  • Alright, so "явлется" is really only used when trying to be polite/formal. Otherwise you can leave it to be implied for something like a casual/informal conversation. I assume this is because when you're being formal it sounds more professional to say "everything", while casually it would seem awkward and unnecessary. Very interesting, thank you for your help! – Colbi Apr 5 '15 at 7:44
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    @ColbiAppleby, it'd be more accurate to say является is used for official/technical settings (law, science,...) rather than polite/formal ones. If you're talk to someone not familiar to you, it doesn't mean you'd start throwing является into your speech a lot. – KCd Apr 5 '15 at 12:08
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    @KCd Ok, so even if it's someone I've never met it would be strange to start adding "является". So "является" is only used for professional settings, I can see how this is similar to a few cases in English. When we are being casual we often shorten terms or use slang, but in a professional setting it's better to not use slang and use complete terms. Thank you for the clarification! – Colbi Apr 5 '15 at 15:44
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    @ColbiAppleby, you're obsessing too much about the idea of "complete phrases." The sentence Он студент is complete. Nothing feels like it is missing. Don't try to overanalyze this. More than 98% of the time the present tense form of "to be" is not explicit. You can go through your first couple of years of learning Russian without meeting a need to use являться. Don't worry about explicit versions of "to be" until you actually meet them in your courses or reading. (I saw являться systematically when I started reading Russian math books, where it shows up a lot since math writing is technical.) – KCd Apr 5 '15 at 23:31
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    @CocoPop, thanks for helping improve my answer. I'll update it soon. – Ivan Apr 6 '15 at 16:27
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Russian does have an imperfective verb meaning "to be" (быть) and it even can be conjugated:

я есмь

ты еси

он, она, оно есть

мы есмы

вы есьте

они суть

, though in modern language personal forms (except for the 3rd sg., and, more rarely, 3rd pl.) are only used in grand style rhetoric (which in Russian heavily utilizes Church Slavonic constructs).

It's worth noting that an average Russian speaker does not even perceive the personal forms, except for 3rd persons', as verbs at all, but rather as parts of several idioms (ой ты гой еси, добрый молодец; аз есмь царь etc).

Russian, like Hebrew and some other languages, uses a so called zero copula in present. This means that no words are used to link a subject with predicate in present: phrases like я русский ("I am Russian"), она красивая ("she is pretty") etc. only have the subject and the predicate.

However, for the past and future actual copulas are used, also forms of быть: я был молодым ("I was young"), вы будете старыми ("you will be old").

The forms of быть might be used as a copula in present for emphatic puproses: они и есть победители ("it's them who are the winners"). In spoken language, 3-rd person singular form (есть) is used for all persons and numbers.

Also, since Russian has proximal possession (i.e. "to have" in Russian is expressed as "to be at someone/something"), 3rd sg. of быть (есть) can also be used to translate "to have":

У меня есть собака / I have a dog

Есть ли жизнь на Марсе? / Is there life on Mars?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Quassnoi Oct 13 '18 at 14:45
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The word "to be" in Russian is "есть", not "является". "Является" is better translated as "constitutes".

The verb есть is the cognate to English verb "is". In some cases it has the form быть/буду/будет/был etc, all cognates to English "be".

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    @Colbi Appleby there is also a word есть meaning "to eat", it is cognate to the English word "eat" and "edible". The words have the same form in Russian, but they derive from different sources: one from PIE e̯ed(s)ti "eats", the other from PIE e̯esti "is". – Anixx Apr 5 '15 at 16:25
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    @ColbiAppleby, using "есть" for "is" is rather obsolete. It can be encountered in Russian texts belonging to 19th century and earlier. Again, people can understand this, but it's definitely uncommon in the current language. However, future forms of "есть", for example "буду", are ok. Also, I'd argue that "является" has close meaning to "constitutes". For such cases when something is told to be a part of something else, "составляет" is more appropriate. For example, "protons and neutrons constitute the atom nucleus" is translated as "протоны и нейтроны составляют атомное ядро". – Ivan Apr 5 '15 at 17:06
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    @Anixx, sure. Sorry for not expressing my point clearer. I didn't want to say that currently "есть" doesn't have the meaning as "is". Instead, I meant that if one is going to use "есть" as "is", one should just omit this verb in the overwhelming majority of cases. So, it's implied but very rarely said explicitly. – Ivan Apr 5 '15 at 19:18
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    @Anixx That is a brilliantly-worded sentence, but I do not thing it is illustrative. That is because the writer is using "constitutes" in a provocative manner. Strictly speaking the Presidium constituted the head of state while the president is the head of state. The writer playfully says that the US president "solely constitutes the head of state". This is analogous to expressions such as "one-man band" or "army of one". It is a rhetorical device which powerfully underscores this incongruity between the two systems of government. – David42 Sep 9 '16 at 20:10
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    The problem with saying that является is better translated "constitutes" is not just that in many cases this does not work as a translation. The more serious problem is that most of the time "является" is and should be translated "is". The questioner needs help to understand when he should translate "is" using a dash, when as "есть" and when as "является". – David42 Sep 9 '16 at 20:34
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The Russian word for "is" is "есть". The infintive form is "быть" (to be). Modern Russian speakers do not generally write or pronounce it when it is used as a linking verb. Rather than "Он есть мой брать" they would say "Он мой брать". They do write and pronounce "есть" to assert that something is present or to ask whether it is present. For example: "У меня есть брат. У тебя тоже есть брат?"

Present Tense Forms

Present tense forms of "быть" other than "есть" are so seldom needed that they are all but forgotten. A few places where they are still encountered:

In the Bible:

Иисус сказал ему: Я есмь путь и истина и жизнь.

Jesus said to him: I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6)

In discussions of philisophy. Here is an except from Nina Guchinskaya's translation of Martin Heidegger's 1935 lecture "Introduction to Metaphysics":

Но сегодня говорят «мы». Нынче эпоха самоутверждения масс, а не личностей. Мы есмы. Какое бытие называем мы в этой фразе? Мы говорим также: окна суть, камни суть. Заключает ли это высказывание («мы есмы») в себе утверждение наличности множества «я»? А как обстоит дело с «я был» и «мы были», с бытием в прошедшем? Ушло ли оно от нас? Или мы есмы как раз то, чем мы были? И не станем ли мы как раз тем, что мы есмы?

But today we say "we". This is the era for self-afirmation of the multitude rather than the individual. We are. To what sort of being do we refer by this phrase? We say also: The windows are. The stones are. Does the utterance "We are" imply that there is a multiplicity of "I"? And what about "I was" and "We were", what about existence in the past. Has it left us? Or is it that we are that which we were? And is it not that we will become that which we are?

When a poetic or archaic effect is desired:

О, брат, где ты еси?

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (film title)

Avoiding "Is"

The word "is" is a favorite of English speakers. They have found ways to express all sorts of ideas by using "is" to attach labels to things are by declaring that they exist. For example:

The meeting is in that building over there.

To a Russian speaker this sounds odd. He might say:

Собрание проводится в этом здании вон там.

Notice that rather than declaring that the meeting is he has chosen a 'real' verb. He says that the meeting "is being conducted".

Another 'real' verb you can use is "представлять":

Терроризм представляет угрозу мировому сообществу.

Terrorism poses a thread to world society.

When to Use "Является"

You asked about "является". This is another 'real' verb which can be used instead of "есть" in certain cases. The word that comes after it is always in the instrumental case. The word "является" has no exact English translation. It literally means "to appear on the scene as" something. It conveys the idea that under the circumstances which exists, one person or thing acts in a particular role.

We can change change the last example to read:

Терроризм явлается угрозой мировому сообществу.

It is hard to translate this literally in a way that makes sense. This may be close:

Terrorism is on the scene as a threat to world society.

Though in English "is a threat", "poses a threat", or "constitutes" a threat, are good ways to express this idea, they are different expresions. None of them is a translation of "является".

For example:

Кто является директором этого завода?

Who is the director of this plant?

Он сообщил что сосед является террористом.

He informed that his neighor is a terrorist.

Russian speakers often use "является" instead of "есть" in these sentences because "is" here conveys something more than mere existence. A suit may simple be navy blue, but being a director or a terrorist involves more. They have to be on the spot and do what directors and terrorists do.

Conclusion

Most of the time the word "есть" should be ommited. It is sometimes used for emphasis or clarification.

Observe skilled Russian speakers. Note their use of 'real verbs' instead of forms of быть. Fight the urge to constantly say what things "are".

Watch for uses of "является". Get a feel for when people and circumstances are seen as "showing up" in a role.

  • I see my answer was voted down without comment. Can someone offer some constructive criticism? – David42 Sep 9 '16 at 13:27
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    Answer have some maybe useful points, although Мяч есть красный., it should be Мяч есмь/езмъ красный. if you wish mimic archaic style, not sure if I spelled it correctly and not sure I have correct liters for correct spelling. You can say(it is not correct, but it is better then your example) Мяч является красным if you intended to continue, why it appear to be red потому что сделан из красной резины. I guess it was last line someone read and after that downvoted. Overall answer needs some correction/rewriting, but not sure atm which, and I guess, demand them in this case is not wise. – MolbOrg Sep 10 '16 at 0:12
  • @MolbOrg Thanks for your comments. Your are right, the last example is not very good. I have changed it a little to make it clearer that "Мяч является красным." is probably not what you want to say. "Мяч есть красный." is correct. The form "есмь" goes with "я", so I could say "Я есмь человек." Quassnoi gives the full conjugation in his answer. – David42 Sep 12 '16 at 13:33
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    Do not pretend to be linguistically correct, as I'm not linguist, just try to transfer some sense. This example with human Я есмь человек. is actually good. Я есть человека разумный - sounds a bit incorrect, but would I use such sentence in some cases, yes I would - it is kinda Hulk speech me love jain. Мяч действительно красный. when insisting, or just by tone show it is finite statement no alternatives are possible. "Мяч pause кррррасссныйй pause" next stop is the fist fight. – MolbOrg Sep 12 '16 at 14:24
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    Way much more interesting answer now. That philosophy translation is a thing by itself, not a translation at its finest, but as sense is prior to the form in such things, they could bend the language as far as they can to express ideas and this way it is valid as it is and sense is expressed/transmitted well in that translation. I guess now it is interesting to read and for english ppl and for russians, at least I find it interesting as it is now. Содержит противоречия которые прямо взывают оспорить их, но в тоже время, красота неограненного алмаза, грань между мирами. – MolbOrg Sep 12 '16 at 16:19
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Nice question! Really :) Lots of misconceptions derived from assumptions. Think about it - why do you guys have to use "is" in English? Why cant you just say - "my sister dumb", or "this car red"? That's how it is said in Russian, no need to use extra words :) No such thing as "is" in Russian (actually there is, its called "есть", but it's never used in present tense). Past tense you should say "был/была..." as "was/were" and so on. Remember, verb's ending changes according to who you are talking about (male/female) and the tense you are referring to (past/present/future). I know lol, it complicates things a bit, but same rules apply to all Latin group languages (French, Spanish, etc...). Get used to it :) the world bigger than it seems. Cheers. (p.s. see how I just missed "is" ?) habit :)

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In russian language word "is" is often optional. I can say: Я Олег (I am Oleg) and Я есть Олег (I am Oleg). But second form is very rarely used. And "есть" in second sentences sounds redundantly

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