TO BE’ OR NO ‘TO BE’

Iwas teaching for Expedia the other day… A complete beginner group comprising a lovely multicultural bunch with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and adorably humorous attitude to learning something utterly different to what they do in their job. Talking about jobs…

As we reached the module on professions, studying relevant vocabulary didn’t quite live up to my expectations as all 7 of them named one single occupation – ‘маркетолог’ (a person working in the marketing department). ‘Я – маркетолог’ (I work in marketing or literally, I am a marketing person). ‘Я тоже’ (Me too). ‘Мы все – маркетологи’ (We all work in marketing). These are the types of answers I was getting in response to one simple question – ‘Кто ты по-профессии?’ (What’s your profession?). Fortunately, abundance of studying material provided them with more examples of occupations other than ‘marketing people’. But! Here comes the prominent question from my learners – where’s the verb ‘to be’? I AM a marketing person. We all ARE marketing people. What IS your profession? Why are all these forms absent in the Russian equivalent?

Sadly (or luckily) there is no verb in these sentences in Russian. Russian omits all forms of the verb ‘to be’ when you speak about professions. Moreover, it does so in a few other cases, like describing something ‘Эта рубашка очень модная’ (This shirt (is) very fashionable), demonstrating something ‘Это ручка’ (This (is) (a) pen), or defining a location for something using here/there ‘Здесь Красная площадь’ (Here (is) (the) Red Square).

And please remember that the meaning of the word ‘из’ in Russian isn’t the same as that of ‘is’ in English (they only sound very similar!). In fact, it’s a different part of speech – a preposition meaning ‘from’. ‘Я из России, а ты? – Я из Англии.’ (I (am) from Russia, and you? – I (am) from England).  So please don’t try and squeeze it into a sentence only because it sounds like is’ twin brother.

To sum up, no, we don’t neglect the versatile and very likeable verb ‘to be’. We certainly have the Russian equivalent of it, or even two! There are verbs ‘есть’ and ‘быть’ which Russian retains, i.e. ‘На столе есть несколько писем’ (There are a few letters on the table) or Hamlet’s famous soliloquy ‘Быть или не быть’ (‘To be or not to be’).

It might make no sense at the very start of your Russian challenge, but trust me, once you’ve stopped thinking ‘why’ and allowed yourself learn it as it is, you’ll see the positive side of this whole ‘no to be’ situation – fewer words in the sentence and no conjugation! How cool is that?