16 of the Most Useful Russian Idioms

  • May 11, 2017

Idioms or пословицы are a fun way to make you sound more knowledgeable and give your Russian more depth. There are a lot of great and useful Idioms in the Russian language for any situation.

stock image from http://gratisography.com/

Stock image from - http://gratisography.com/

In this article we present to you 16 of the most useful Idioms in Russian!

​(Most of these Russian idioms come from the book "Пословицы Русского Народа" (1853).However, their exact origin is unknown)

1) Без труда не вытащишь и рыбку из пруда

Literal translation: Without effort you wont get the fish out of the pond

Meaning: It takes hard work to accomplish your goal

​You can use it as a reminder for whenever you feel lazy and don't want to finish your work. Or when someone is complaining about something without taking any action to improve the situation.

​2) Не всё то золото, что блестит

​An old saying from Russian folklore

Literal translation: Not everything shiny is gold

​Meaning: Appearances are deceitful

You can use this idiom to describe,for example, a lottery ticket. It looks all shiny and pretty and promises you a million dollars, but in reality it's just a scam. Or it can be used to describe a person with a beautiful face and body but a very ugly personality.

3) Тише едешь - дальше будешь

This saying originated in a time when the main transportation method in Russian was a horse with a cart

Literal translation: The quieter you go, the further you will get 

Meaning: The meaning of this paradoxical idiom is that you don't need to hurry, you need to take your time when working on a specific goal. You need to be wise and reasonable.

Very good idiom to be used as an advice for someone who is not being cautious and who tries to finish their work or reach their goal as soon as possible. Patience is key.

4) Не рой другому яму, сам в нее упадешь

Originated in Russian folklore

Literal translation: Don't dig a hole for someone, you yourself will fall into it

Meaning: You shouldn't harm anyone because you yourself can suffer the same fate either by karma or as a result of your own actions

Always remember this idiom when you are mad at someone and are obsessed with getting revenge. 

5) Любишь кататься - люби и саночки возить

Originated some time during the 19th century when sled riding was getting very popular among kids

Literal translation: Love to ride a sled - love also to carry the sled up the hill

Meaning: Love doing something not only when it brings you pleasure but also when it doesn't.

If you love riding your bike, also learn to love fixing the bike when it's broken. 

6) Дареному коню в зубы не смотрят

Originated from the practice of determining how good a horse is by the quality and health of its teeth

Literal translation: One does not look at the teeth of a gifted horse

stock photo from http://gratisography.com/

Stock image from -http://gratisography.com/

Meaning: Learn to accept and appreciate gifts without looking at their value or price

You can use this idiom when someone is complaining to you about how they got an iPhone 6 instead of 7.

7) Не буди лихо пока оно тихо

Literal translation: Don't wake the beast while it's sleeping

Meaning: Don't purposely get yourself in trouble when you can easily avoid it

Great idiom to remind you and your friends to stay out of trouble.

8) Мал золотник, да дорог

Золотник - an old Russian measure unit before the metric system. A золотник was about 4,26 grams or about 15 ounces.

Literal translation: Small but precious is the golden nugget (there is no literal translation for the word "золотник")

Meaning: Appreciate the little things that bring you joy

This idiom can be used to express your love towards the little things in life that make you happy

9) Цыплят по осени считают

​This idiom comes from Russian farmers

Literal translation: Chicks are counted during Autumn

Meaning: It is very similar to the English saying "Don't count your chickens before they hatch". Which means that things should be judged by their end result.

You can use this saying to remind yourself not to be too quick to judge. First you need to understand the whole situation in order to make a conclusion.

10) Кто рано встает, тому Бог подает

Literal translation: God gives to the one who gets up early

Meaning: Similar to "The early bird catches the worm" , meaning who isn't lazy to get up early in the morning will achieve way more things than the one who sleeps till noon

Stock image from -http://gratisography.com/

You can use this idiom as a sort of motivational quote to get you up and prepare you for a day full of achievements

11) Слово не воробей - вылетит не поймаешь 

Literal translation: A word is no sparrow - if it flies out you won't catch it

Meaning: Think before you speak

In the heat of an argument be careful of the words you say as they can hurt the person with whom you are having the argument. 

​12) Век живи - век учись

Literal translation: Live a century - learn a century

Meaning: Educate yourself till your last days. Try and learn something new every day. Get better at your craft, explore something different. 

Ironically, this saying was later adjusted and it said: Век живи - век учись, а дураком помрешь (Live a century - learn a century, anyway will go down a fool) Pointing out the fact that no one will ever learn everything there is to learn.

Use this saying as a reminder to always seek for answers and new knowledge. 

13) Гостях хорошо, а дома лучше

​Literal translation: It's good being a guest - but no place is like home

Very similar to the English idiom "East or West - home is best" or "There is no place like home"

Meaning: You appreciate your home only when you are away from it 

No matter how good the service was in that hotel that you stayed in, or how much more comfortable the beds were there. Going back home is a million times better than the best hotel in the world.

14) Из песни слова не выкинешь 

Literal translation: You can't throw the words out of a song

Meaning: You can't something that has already been determined. You can't change destiny or the past

Use this idiom when explaining someone that the past cannot be changed. What was said and done stays that way.​

15) Каждый сам строитель своего счастья

Literal translation: You yourself are the builder of your happiness 

Meaning: ​You are the creator and architect of your future. If you strive to make it good you will live a happy life.

A reminder to work hard on improving yourself, learning from your mistakes and overcoming your fears.

16) Повторение - мать учения !

Literal translation: Repeating/Rehearsing is the mother of learning

And to finish our list I will give you an idiom that I heard way too many times in school. But in the end it helped me a lot.

Meaning: ​Practice makes perfect

Be consistent , work hard, and motivate yourself to accomplish your goals.​


And there you go! 16 of the most useful Idioms in Russian. Learn them, don't be afraid to use them.

These handy idioms will make your speech richer and will make you sound more like a native Russian! Now go and have some borscht! You've earned it!

If you have any questions , feel free to comment them down below.

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