Vocabulary 7--Words Easily Confused

To Ask

Three different senses of “to ask” are expressed by three different Russian verbs:

VerbMeaningEnglish ExampleRussian Translation of Example
задатьTo presentAsk the question.Задай вопрос.
спроситьTo question someoneAsk him what time it is.Спроси его сколько сейчас времени.
попроситьTo request a serviceAsk him to give us a lift. Попроси чтобы он нас подвёз.

Note the distinction between a request for a service (попросить) and a request for information only (спросить).

It is a common error of learners to say “спросить вопрос” in the mistaken belief that this means “to ask a question”. It actually means “to question a question” which is absurd and confusing. Instead you should say “задать вопрос” (to pose a question).


The English noun “people” has two distinct meanings. In its original meaning it is a collective noun meaning the entire body of persons who constitute a tribe, nation, or other group united by a common heritage. In its second (more modern) meaning, people is an alternative plural of “person”. The chart below shows how to translate “people” in its two meanings:

Tribe, Nation, Groupa peopleнародpeoplesнароды
Human Beinga personчеловекpersons or peopleлюди

Seeing these two meanings as different takes practice. A few examples will help:


Students assume that sinceдляmeans “for”, “for” can always be translated “для”. This is not true because “для” means “for” only in a particular sense. If by “for” you mean “instead of”, use “за”:

Я купил этот подарок для вас. I bought this gift for you [to have].
Я купил этот подарок за вас. I bought this gift for you [to give].
Я сделал задание для вас. I did the assignment for you. (which you gave me)
Я сделал задание за вас.I did the assignment for you. (which you were given)

This topic is explored more fully in Grammary 12--Translating the Preposition "For".