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Imperative, or how to buy bread

It would be hard to surprise the students who learn Russian for a long time with liveliness and expressivity of the Russian language. But foreigners who visit our country for the first time quite often share exciting impressions. For example, even in cafes Russians speak with their friends so that it seems to be a scandal.

Well, for foreigners, in fact, there are some unusual things for foreigners in our speech as intonational as phonetic. It's all right. But sometimes my students help me to take a fresh look at my compatriots. Then you start noticing the features. One of those features is how we use the imperative mood ("императив" [impirativ]). If you observe, you will understand why Russian people can seem to be impolite and rude.

Indeed, one can notice that Russians often "save" words.

Where in English we hear "Hello! May I have bread, please... Thank you!", Russians will rather say: "Можно хлеба?" [Mozhna khleba?] (May I have bread?). Sometimes: "Дайте хлеба" [Dayte khleba] (Give me bread). And even just: "Хлеба" [Khleba] (Bread).

Besides, in a big city, in a supermarket with many strangers around and unfamiliar salesman we would likely get up the nerve to say:

- Будьте добры, белый.* - Be so kind, white.
- Черный, пожалуйста. - Rye, please.

* In any Russian store with baked goods you will always find at least two kinds of bread (or even more). It is "белый хлеб" [belyy khlep] - white bread (wheat) and "черный хлеб" [chyornyy khleb] - dark bread (rye). Russians like bread very much and eat it at any time of day: as sandwiches, with soup, any hot dish and salad. We buy bread every day and it's enough to say in stores just "белый" [belyy], "черный" [chyornyy] or "батон" [baton] (French bread) - everyone will understand you.

Let's turn to the issue of imperative and honorific forms - surprisingly but in a small village, where everybody knows each other, a customer can come to a shop and tell the saleswoman, who was his classmate for eleven years and a neighbor for more twelve years, the following:
- Хлеба дай [Khleba day] - Give me bread.

Indeed, the phrase "дай (дайте) хлеба (кофе - coffee, сахара - sugar, салфетку - napkin, пасту болоньезе - pasta Bolognaise...) sounds rather rude. Firstly, it is the imperative mood, secondly - there are no honorific forms. Where is "добрый день" [dobryy den'] - good afternoon, "пожалуйста" [pazhalusta] - please, "спасибо"[spasiba] - thank you? You might think Russian people are misanthropes by nature? In fact, this phenomenon shows one of the most interesting paradoxes of the "Russian big heart". The usage of imperative and not saying polite words demonstrates the opposite - these people know each other so well and are so close that there is no need to be ceremonious.

Imperative in the Russian speech is a peculiar phenomenon. Just as people need the ability to cut corners on politeness in a hospital, in a compressed time/staff/resources frame or during military actions, so Russians accidentally use this skill in everyday life having no intention to command or to be rude.

Russian children get used to hear the imperative mood since childhood.
Прекрати реветь - Stop crying. Надень шапку - Put your hat on. Заходи домой - Come home. Съешь кашу - Eat porridge. Убери игрушки - Pick up toys. Прочитай главу - Read a chapter. Сделай уроки - Do your homework. Обними бабушку - Hug your granny.

Imperative is not only a part of upbringing but also a part of care.
Hardly anybody hears as many phrases in imperative as a Russian does.

In a hospital:
Войдите - Come in. Закройте дверь - Shut the door. Раздевайтесь - Get undressed. Дышите - Breathe. Не дышите - Hold your breath. Возьмите рецепт - Take the prescription. Закройте дверь, с той стороны - Shut the door after you.

In a bus:
Пройдите в салон - Pass along the bus. Передайте за билет - Pass the fare. Подвиньтесь - Move over. Посадите ребенка - Make your child sit down . Скажите, какая сейчас остановка - Tell me, what stop it is.

With friends and relatives:
Приходи в гости - Feel free to visit. Купи вино - Buy wine. Выслушай меня - Listen to me. Позвони мне - Call me.

Much less situations at work or at study.

If you suppose, a person can be under a black cloud by the evening getting tired of such life, you are mistaken. Most probably, he even doesn't think about it.

Well, I hope you have been interested in this article. In conclusion, I suggest you summary on the topic of imperative mood in Russian.

1. Imperative expresses request, advice, order, appeal, warning or prohibition.
2. Imperative in Russian can have two forms: "ты" [ty] and "вы" [vy].
The form"ты": скажи [skazhi] - say, "вы": скажите [skazhite] - say.

3. Imperative seems to be a momentary call for action but it doesn't have any tense.
Не курите. - Do not smoke.

4. Imperative can have the perfective and imperfective aspects.
Читать - читайте книги (to read - read books) - this is about the process, appeal to read more books.
Прочитать - прочитайте объявление (read - read an announcement) - this is about complete action, appeal to have a look at the announcement.

5. Basic rules of imperative-formation. (Attention. The formation of imperative mainly depends on the words which it is derived from. If you want to know more, I advise you to find out more detailed information in your textbooks).
Suffix -и- or zero suffix (2 person, singular)
Делают - делай (do)
Предупредят - предупреди (warn)

The imperative formed according to previous rule + ending -те (2 person, plural)
Танцуй - танцуйте (dance)
Свети - светите (shine)

And last of all is exercise. Form the imperatives in singular and plural from the following words: узнать (get to know), прочитать (read), звонить (call), брать (take), покупать (buy), включить (turn on), заплатить (pay), удивить (surprise), начать (start), закончить (finish).

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