Prefixes "раз, пере, до и.т.д." are easily understood when attached to other verbs. Or at least, there is some form of logic to them, but with "быть" they make no sense whatsoever.

For example:

What is the literal meaning of "раздобыть" "выбыть" "добыть" итд

The prefixes don't seem to add any physical or abstract meaning. I mean, I know what these words mean, but what would they translate to directly?

добыть— "to be to" "to be up to" ?? выбыть— "be out" ??

I looking for someone that knows english really well and can translate these words into something that captures the essence of the words—it doesn't have to be a real english verb; i know the real translations already.

4 Answers 4


As the verb "быть" retains the meaning of "being somewhere", just like "to be" does, it seems obvious how the variants "выбыть", "убыть", "прибыть" etc. are made. Yet the verbs "забыть" and "добыть" are more interesting.

As it was said "забыть" is not only "to forget" but also "to leave behind" and just "to leave" sometimes. E.g. "I left my umbrella at home" -> "Я забыл свой зонт дома" (unlike in English you are not obliged to say only "Я забыл взять свой зонт из дому" as Russian "забыть" fits for both "forget" and "leave"). Even more, "забыть" may also mean "to neglect". And from neglecting the things you need only one step more to forget them at all.

"Добыть" seems vague at first sight. Yet consider the synonym verb "достать" which is made just the same way: prefix "до" + another copula "стать". Unlike "добыть" the verb "достать" retains also the purely physical meaning: to take / to touch. So now we have the full chain: to touch -> to reach -> to get smth.

UPD. Now on "убыть". Let's take the imperfective form "убывать". What does it mean? Well, it's about diminishing (like "вода убывала и, наконец, убыла", i.e. some part of water flows away, so now we have less water or, maybe, no water at all). Consider also the phrase "Тебя не убудет" (i.e. you will not diminish; you won't lose the part of yourself -> it doesn't hurt you). So "true" meaning of "убыть" is to diminish or to descend (like убывающая луна) until disappearing completely (or until it's enough).

  • @ user4419802 what about убыть? also, we use "to forget" exactly like "забыть" there's no need to say, "взять свой зонт из дому"))
    – VCH250
    Aug 22, 2015 at 20:12
  • @CoreyRoberts-Reynolds Really? I used to think it's a kind of elliptical construction: I forget -> I forget [to bring].
    – Matt
    Aug 23, 2015 at 4:15
  • @ user4419802 Well, i always use it like "to leave". For example: "I forgot my book at home." etc. It can even mean something like "to lose". "I forgot my mind."
    – VCH250
    Aug 23, 2015 at 5:27
  • @CoreyRoberts-Reynolds Ok, then they are even closer. Moreover, it seems like "forget" is "for"+"get" too. So what's surprising in "за"+"быть"? On the matter of "убыть" I updated my answer.
    – Matt
    Aug 23, 2015 at 5:44
  • @ user4419802 Thanks))
    – VCH250
    Aug 23, 2015 at 19:15

The situation is very like to that with the prefixes added to the Latin verb sum, fui, esse 'to be':

absum, abfui, abesse — be away, be absent [away + be]

praesum, praefui, praeesse — be at the head of; be present [before + be]

Let us have a look at the Russian verbs:

добыть 'to get, to procure': до- 'to, up to, till' - "[make smth] be to [smb], be to [smth], get to [smth]"

выбыть 'to retire, to drop out': вы- 'out, away' - "be away, be out"

убыть 'to depart, to decrease': y- 'away' - "be away"

прибыть 'to arrive, to increase': при- 'up to, near' - "be near, be up"

забыть 'to forget': за- 'behind' - "be behind i.e. leave behind"

Generally speaking, in Russian many verbs with prefixes are highly idiomatic, and you cannot get their meaning by summing up the meaning of the prefix and the meaning of the verb, besides, most prefixes have many meanings, and some of their meanings can be present only in just a couple of words. All the forms of быть with prefixes are non-productive, you cannot add any prefix you like to that verb to construct the meaning you like, you have just to learn those verbs.

  • @ yellow Sky I disagree. I know a lot of Russian verbs and most of them make sense if you are flexible and know the basic meanings of the prefixes. It's just a matter of being open to new ways of describing your world and how you interact with it. In English one could say " i beneared the store" (I arrived)—the fact that we don't doesn't make that way of thinking wrong. That being said, you helped me with this verb, thanks))
    – VCH250
    Aug 20, 2015 at 1:54
  • @CoreyRoberts-Reynolds - I said 'many verbs with prefixes are highly idiomatic', not most, e. g. just try to figure out what common meaning the prefix y- has in the verbs уходить, указывать, and узнавать )) Besides, the English grammar is descriptive, which makes it possible to form verbs like 'benear', but the Russian grammar is descriptive, so the verb *недознавать 'to misknow' simply doesn't exist, although it would be pretty clear what it means if it existed, and you cannot create it at will.
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 20, 2015 at 2:44
  • @ yellow sky уходить, указывать, and узнавать—to go out (away), to point out (away), learn out ((away (more) than what you know now)). Seems ok) but I'm weird, so... )
    – VCH250
    Aug 20, 2015 at 21:37

Значение слова Быть:

  • существовать, иметься
  • находиться, присутствовать, состоять, иметь место
  • являться
  • поступать, вести себя

Значение приставок в русском языке: http://wordsland.ru/magiclanguage/prist.html


To further develop on what @yellow sky noted, the derivatives of быть can be easily understood when keeping in mind it's relationship with the notion of movement. I just want to illustrate with parallels from Spanish estar->есть, va -> будет (will be) but va also means идёт (goes), to go -> ir идти. The past tense of the movement verb ir serves as the past tense of estar: fui. Будущее =грядущее, настоящее <- стоять, былое <- прошедшее, all three tenses can be easily associated with movement or absent thereof.

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