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< Usage 8—Translating the Preposition “About”

Usage 8—Translating the Preposition “About”

The word о (which sometimes takes the form об or обо) is a preposition. It causes considerable trouble for language learners because while it has some parallels to the English preposition “about”, you cannot just blindly replace “about” with “о”. If you do, then Russians who have not been exposed to English will not understand you.

When used with the prepositional (locative) case it means “about” in the sense of “wrapped about”. In this sense it is always used figuratively. Generally it identifies an incident which someone describes or runs over in his mind.

Он рассказывал своем отпуске. He was telling about his vacation.

We should mention in passing that when used with the accusative it means that something is pressed up against the side of the object of this preposition. In this sense it is used literally. For example:

Доска упирается о сцену.The board is leaning against the wall.

The Difficulty

Language learners coming from English have difficulty using о/об/обо correctly with the prepositional case. More precisely, they overuse it, use it in places where an entirely different expression is required. As a general rule, can be used where one means that some idea or event is gone over either as a story or in one’s mind. But it cannot be used to talk about how one ‘views’ something.

Used Appropriately in These Expressions

говорить об этом—to talk about that

рассказывать об этом—to tell about that

сожалеть об этом—to have regrets about that

думать об этом—to think about that

спросить об этом—to ask about that

спросить об этом—to ask about that

просить о помочи—to make a request about help

Frequently Heard in These ‘Runglish’ (Incorrect) Expressions

English InspirationRunglish (Incorrect)Correct Expression

to feel about that

чувствовать об этом

относиться к этому

be glad about that

быть рад об этом

быть рад этому

be grateful about that

быть благодарен об этом

быть благодарен за это

to ask about that (a request)

просить об этом

просить этого