10 Idioms to Sound Like a Native Russian Speaker

Ever feel like you’re speaking perfect Russian, but something just sounds…off? The culprit might be missing idioms! These little phrases might seem strange at first, but they’re what make your speech flow naturally and show you’re in the know.   Let’s explore 10 gems that’ll take your Russian to the next level!

1. Imagine that you meet your Russian friend and say:

— Как дела?
How are you?

And your friend answers:

— Так себе.

Don’t panic! This doesn’t mean they’re miserable. It just means things are… well, so-so.

Pro tip: how you care by following up with, “А что такое? (What’s wrong?)

2. For the situation when you accidentally say something and immediately regret it, there is a phrase you can use as an excuse: без задней мысли, literally, without a second thought, i.e. from the top of your head.

— Прости, я сказала это без задней мысли, я не подумала, что ты можешь обидеться!
I’m sorry, I said that without thinking, I didn’t think it could hurt you!

3. And then your conversation can flow smoothly, как ни в чём не бывало – literally, as if nothing had happened.

— Я думала, он обидится и уйдёт, а он продолжал слушать меня, как ни в чём не бывало.
I thought he would take offense and walk away, but he continued to listen to me as if nothing had happened.

4. One of the words I use a lot in English is “actually. I know I say it too much. In Russian it would be на самом деле. Interestingly, I almost never say this in Russian, maybe because it is longer than in English.

— На самом деле, я не знаю, почему так происходит, но мне сложно обходиться без слов-наполнителей на английском.
I don’t know why, but it’s hard for me to get along without filler words in English.

5. Sometimes the conversation gets off track. The topics you have brought up have led you in the wrong direction and you find yourself in an area that is far away from your original plans. There is a special Russian expression for this: не в ту степь – literally, on the wrong steppe.  If you think about how big a steppe usually is, being in the wrong steppe would be quite a problem!

— Наша беседа зашла не в ту степь, и я не знала, как продолжить разговор.
Our conversation took a wrong turn and I didn’t know how to continue.

6. If your friend feels unwell, they may say: мне не по себе. It could be because of being sick or emotionally disturbed. Again, don’t even try to translate that little phrase literally.

— Мне не посебе от того, что все смотрят на меня. Я забываю всё, что хотел сказать!
I feel weird with everyone looking at me. I forget everything I was gonna say!

7. One wise man once taught me to overcome my anxiety by imagining the worst case scenario. While thinking what’s the worst that could happen, I usually find an acceptable solution. For “at worst”, there is a Russian phrase: в крайнем случае.

— В крайнем случае, я извинюсь и скажу, что пришлю ответ завтра.
As a last resort, I’ll apologize and say I’ll send a reply tomorrow.

8. For the situations when you need to list something, but you don’t want to make the listing exhaustive, there is a convenient expression в том числе, including.

— Он выучил несколько языков, в том числе китайский и эльфийский.
He learned several languages, including Chinese and Elvish.

Maybe you simply don’t know what the other languages are, but by saying “в том числе” you relieve yourself from the need to list them all.

9. I like the phrase отдавать себе отчёт for its serious tone. Literally, it can be translated as “to report to self”, and it means “to be aware”, “to realize”. Imagine one of those inner dialogues that go on in one’s head, and it is reporting to self about a potential problem — that would be отдавать себе отчёт!

— Я надеюсь, ты отдаёшь себе отчёт, что найти работу по твоей специальности почти невозможно?
I hope you realize that it’s almost impossible to find a job in your specialty?

10. And finally, the phrase that is similar and works similarly in Russian and in English: бог знает что, God knows what.

— Ты не звонил три дня, и я уже бог знает что подумала!
You haven’t called in three days and I’m already thinking God knows what!

Ready to speak Russian like a pro? Here’s what you can do:

  • Try using these idioms in your next conversation! ️
  • Download my free flashcards for a quick reference guide. 

Remember, practice makes perfect!  The more you use these idioms, the more comfortable and natural they’ll become.  Keep practicing, and you’ll be a Russian-speaking Rockstar in no time!