There is a russian joke the optimist is that who says "Ждать, пока чайник закипит" and pessimist is, in turn, a person who'd prefer to say "Ждать, пока чайник не закипит".

Those two form are opposite grammatically and are identical in this context. For example, we can also say "пока стану миллионером" and "пока не стану миллионером".

My question is - are both variants indeed equally accepted, how this phenomenon of loss of negation is called? Is it typical for Russian, or for other Slavic languages as well?

6 Answers 6


These are different conjunctions.

Rosenthal et al., Справочник по правописанию, произношению и литературному редактированию, §209.2:

Различается употребление в придаточных предложениях времени союза пока и сложного союза пока не

Употребление в этих значениях союза пока вместо пока не придает высказыванию разговорный характер, например:

Они говорили до поры, пока келейник принес самовар... (Горький)

Пей, Григорий Пантелеевич, пока почернеешь... (Шолохов).

The literary norm prescribes to use пока не in your sentence.


In serbian there's similar phenomena, though I think negative one is more popular / natural sounding.


"Ждать, пока чайник не закипит" is more common form of usage. "Ждать, пока чайник закипит" sounds strange. "Ждать, пока" without "не" means continuous action. It means "wait during some event".


I don't think those are interchangeable like you suggested.

I would always say

  1. Пока стану миллионером, скорее состарюсь and
  2. Буду работать по выходным пока не стану миллионером,

but never say

  • Пока не стану миллионером, скорее состарюсь or
  • Буду работать по выходным пока стану миллионером.

In general, I would put only future event that I believe will happen before I become millionaire in a statement after Пока стану миллионером, but only something continuous that will keep happening until I become millionaire in a statement before or after пока не стану миллионером.


You can say "ждать пока чайник кипит" but not "ждать пока чайник закипит". "Пока" means "while".

  • well, de-facto it is often said so. Live speech sometimes ignores many aspects of correct syntax, grammar etc. See also, Quassnoi's quote: "пока почернеешь... (Шолохов)." "Почернеешь" is perfect as well.
    – shabunc
    Sep 10, 2012 at 14:01
  • @shabunc I think it is a different thing - "пока дождешься", "пока почернеешь", "пока он придет" "пока он придет пройдет много времени", "пока дождешься - с ума сойдешь", "пока чайник закипит пройдет несколько минут". I think in THESE cases you cannot use "пока ... не".
    – Anixx
    Sep 10, 2012 at 14:53
  • 3
    Compare "пока дождешься - с ума сойти можно" and "пока меня не дождешься - не начинай". You cannot change "пока не" to "пока" and back in these sentences.
    – Anixx
    Sep 10, 2012 at 14:55

To add something to other answers:

Also one can say «пока чайник закипал». For example:

Женя ждал, пока чайник закипал.

Here the sentence, although looking similar, is significantly restructured. It is a complex sentence and it no links the waiting to the boiling of the kettle in any way, apart from the synchronisity. We do not know what is being waited for, we have no guarantee that the waiting will stop after the kettle boils.

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