There are a lot of polysemantic words in the Russian language. It seemed to be extra difficult for Russian-speaking learners. For example, how to memorize scores of lexical meanings of the word "идти" [iti] (go)? But on the other hand, if you know some polysemantic words – "semantic champions", you can increase your language opportunities and use them in different situations. People don't like to recall synonyms in colloquial speech. Speech leans toward to speed and simplification that's why polysemantic words are always necessary.
In the Russian language words with single meaning are mostly related to such groups as plants', animals' and professions' names. The bulk of vocabulary most often has more than one meaning. Words polysemy is a historical phenomenon. As a rule, the older a word is, the more chances to 'accumulate' new meanings it has. Some of them have been out of date and went out of everyday use but still are used in literary texts.
For instance, the word "жизнь" [zhizn’] (life) has more than ten active meanings. Let's look at some of them.
"Жизнь" (life) is:
- existence form of a substance
Никто точно не знает, когда именно на Земле зародилась жизнь. – Nobody knows for sure when life on the Earth dated back.
- state of an organism fr om its birth to death
Жизнь ночного мотылька по сравнению с человеческой — мгновение. – By contrast to human life, night fly's life is a moment.
- life span of someone or something
Срок жизни современной техники значительно увеличился. – The life span of modern technical equipment increases significantly.
- sum of actions and experience of a person
Жизнь человека — это невероятно долгий путь, в котором есть место и радости и горю. – Human life is an incredibly long way wh ere as joy as grieve take place.
Жизнь Робинзона была полна приключений. – Robinson's life was full of adventures.
- reality (in contrast to fantasy)
В жизни я бы никогда не осмелился сесть за руль гоночной машины. – I would never drive a racing car in whole my life.
More than that, "жизнь" – is:
- a way to spend time
- a living being...
and so on.
Any part of speech can be polysemantic. Thus, for example, the verb "бить" [bit’] is one of the most polysemantic words in Russian. Here are some of its examples:
- punch (exert physical coercion on someone or something)
Боксёр бьет грушу* – A boxer punches the bag.
- get in(to)
Лучи проникали сквозь витражное стекло, раскрашивая** пол цветными бликами – Rays got into stained glass coloring the floor with patchs of light.
Будущий шахматный чемпион в возрасте четырех лет побил своего отца, поставив*** ему мат на пятой минуте игры – Next 4-year chess champion won his own father by giving him mate on the 5th minute of the play.
Хобби моего брата - бить по тарелкам из ружья – The hobby of my brother is to shoot a rifle at plates.
- affect strongly
Дедушку уже сутки бил сильный озноб – My grandfather had strong chills for a whole day.
- measure chime
Часы бьют полночь – Clock are chiming midnight.
На главной площади бьет колокол – The bell rings in the main square.
Pay attention, I haven't selected the words in the sentences on purpose but there we also have polysemantic words among them:
* "груша" [grusha] (pear/punch bag) – the first meaning denotes fruit, but here the word is used to mean a gymnastic apparatus.
** "раскрашивать" [raskrashivat’] – very figurative verb which has many meanings
*** the verb "ставить" [stavit’] (put) – is also polysemantic.
You can see all variety of Russian polysemantic words in defining dictionaries.