15 words that catch out both Russian and English speakers

Alexander Kislov
These words sound very similar in both languages, but be careful! They have different meanings and can lead to some very amusing situations if used incorrectly.

1. Accurate – аккуратный

In Russian, аккуратный (akkuratny) is usually used to describe people – or rooms – as it means “neat, tidy.” It has nothing to do with target practise.

Он очень аккуратный – на его столе всегда царит полный порядок

2. Actual – aктуальный

The wordактуальный(aktualny) looks very similar to the English “actual” but it actually means “of current interest.”

Новые технические возможности для сельского хозяйства – актуальная тема

3. Artist – артист

In Russia, артисты (artisty) don’t usually paint – unless it’s their hobby – as it refers to “actors” or “singers.” If you want to say “artists” (like Van Gogh) there’s a special word in Russian: Xудожники (khudozhniki).

Настоящий артист не играет, а проживает жизнь своего героя на сцене

4. Chef – шеф

In Russian, шеф (shef) sounds exactly like its English analogue but it has a wider meaning than a guy who cooks up delicious food. It means “boss” – so if you hear Russians complaining about their “shef” they’re most likely not berating their cook, it’s their boss who is doing their head in.

Шеф, можно взять отгул на пятницу?

5. Complexion – комплекция

In case you want to compliment someone's complexion, meaning the face – don’t use the word комплекция (komplektsia) as it means “physique, constitution.”

Его комплекция не позволяла ему размещаться в креслах эконом-класса, поэтому при каждом авиаперелете ему приходилось разоряться на бизнес

6. Conductor – кондуктор

If you’re looking at the back of a conductor’s (in English) head, you’re probably at the theater. But if you’re talking to a Russian кондуктор (konduktor) face to face, you’re almost certainly on a bus and in the process of buying a ticket.

Мне не хватало двух рублей, чтобы заплатить за проезд, и кондуктор великодушно мне их простил

7. Decade – декада

Декада (dekada) looks and sounds similar to “decade” and is also connected to the word “ten” in Latin, but it means a much shorter period of time – not ten years, just ten days. So when you see something like “первая декада января” written down, it’s not a mistake.

Ожидайте выплаты гонорара во второй декаде июня

8. Fabric – фабрика

The connection here is less direct than you think, as in Russian фабрика (fabrika) means “a factory.” In some фабрика-s they do produce fabric but obviously not all.

Его отец и дед работали на фабрике, а он зачем-то пошел в журналисты

9. Family – фамилия

In Russian the word фамилия (familia) is not the term to describe your nearest and dearest but rather the part of your name that you share with them. In other words, it’s your “surname.”

Как правильно пишется ваша фамилия – с одной «н» или с двумя?

10. Genial – гениальный

Of course a person can be genial and гениальный (genialny) at the same time – but it’s not always the case, as гениальный means “genius.”  But, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein were described as both. It also can be used ironically.

Гениальным решением было объехать пробку через овраг, в котором мы оставили все колеса

11. Lunatic – лунатик

It’s not normally a good thing to be called a lunatic in the English-speaking world – no one likes to be considered insane. However, in Russian the word лунатик (lunatik) is an inoffensive medical term meaning “sleep-walker.” In some cases it can be used as an insult but it’s rare.

Однажды неожиданно очнулся у открытой дверцы холодильника в 3 часа ночи, а как попал сюда – не помню. Я что, лунатик?

12. Magazine – магазин

This one horrifies Russians learning English as well: For some reason it’s extremely hard for beginners to remember the difference. Magazine is a periodical; mагазин (magazin) is a shop.

Этот магазин работает 24 часа, но алкоголь продают только до 11 вечера

13. Novel – новелла

Novels are long – and Russians know this all too well, as they gave the world the likes of War and Peace. However, the Russian word новелла (novella) means “short story,” while “novel” is translated as роман (roman).

Он стал известен благодаря новеллам, опубликованным в разных журналах. А потом уже написал полноценный роман

14. Physique – физик

Except for the stress, physique and the Russian физик (fizik) sound absolutely the same. Don’t let this fool you though: физик is a scientist, “physicist.”

Будучи физиком по образованию, он быстро прикинул в уме, что в таких условиях затормозить не успеет

15. Prospect – проспект

Проспект (prospekt) in Russian stands for “avenue,” so if you want to talk about the future and not architecture, use the word перспектива (perspektiva). Проспект can also mean “a draft of the project”.

Мы летели по проспекту навстречу приключениям этой ночи

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