Don’t Fear the Participles!

Do you find Russian participles challenging? Do you avoid them altogether when speaking or writing Russian? Many of my students have told me they struggled with this aspect of Russian grammar in their formal classes.

Participles are one of the most underutilized word types in Russian. Some textbooks gloss over this topic entirely, while others explain it in a complex way. Sometimes, teachers even discourage students from using participles, claiming they’re only for formal situations.

In reality, native speakers use participles all the time, in all kinds of communication, from casual conversations to formal writing. Here are ten common participles you can add to your vocabulary and use with confidence:

Бывший is a word for ‘ex’, as in “Brad is Angelina’s ex”. It also means ‘former’ and, as a participle, it means ‘being’. You probably guessed that this word derived from the verb быть, to be.  

Стивен Харпер – это бывший премьер-министр Канады. Бывший одним из самых откровенных политиков своего времени, Харпер отказался пожимать руку Путину, когда Россия захватила  Крым.
Stephen Harper is the former Prime Minister of Canada. Оne of the most outspoken politicians of his time, Harper refused to shake Putin’s hand when Russia seized Crimea. 

Imagine a toothache that’s been throbbing for days, or a problem that’s been causing you headaches for weeks. Both the tooth and the problem can be described with наболевший, which literally means “having become painful.” It comes from the word боль, “pain.” In a figurative sense, it’s often used in the phrase наболевший вопрос, “a pressing issue.”

Это наболевший вопрос, давно уже стоящий на повестке дня.

This is a pressing issue that has been on the agenda for some time now.

The next participle on my list is надоевший, and the closest I can translate it is ‘boring’, ‘annoying’. What is надоевший? It is someone or something that has been in your sight for far too long, and you really want to get rid of it. It’s beyond boring, it’s something that has outlived its time and needs to be removed or replaced. It can be anything from a certain style to a politician who doesn’t know when to quit. 

Надоевший всем спортивный стиль пора менять на женственные лёгкие наряды!
It’s time to change the tired sports style for feminine lightweight outfits! 

Несбывшийся is the word that describes something that was expected, but never happened. The words ‘unfulfilled’, ‘unrealized’ or ‘broken’ seem to be an accurate enough translation. Несбывшиеся can be мечты (dreams), планы (plans), прогнозы (forecasts), prophesies (предсказания) and so on. 

Несбывшийся в 2012 году конец света сегодня вспоминают с улыбкой.
The unrealized end of the world in 2012 is remembered today with a smile. 

When someone or something comes to life, you can use a word for it: оживший. I am not sure if it is the right word for a zombie, but оживший мертвец is one of the most common collocations for it. It can also describe a landscape or a view that has been revitalized, for example, by new colors. 

Ожившие после зимы парки покрылись свежей листвой.
Parks revitalized after winter are covered with fresh foliage. 

Это какой-то оживший ночной кошмар, а не жизнь!
This is some kind of nightmare coming to life, not reality! 

Something that was hot or warm and then cooled down can be called остывший. It can be about physical thighs, such as surfaces, or drinks, but it also can be about feelings. 

Я не хочу бередить раны и будить остывшие чувства.
I don’t want to reopen any wounds or bring up any old feelings.  

Я люблю гулять по остывшему песку и собирать ракушки.
I like to walk on the cooled sand and pick shells.

One of the participles that you can hear in any Russian airport or railway station is прибывший, arrived.

Поезд, прибывший из Новосибирска, стоит на запасном пути.
The train, which arrived from Novosibirsk, is standing at the siding.

About lost things and missed people, you can say “пропавший”. Also, пропавший means spoiled or rotten if said about food. 

Почему ты думаешь, что этот французский сыр с плесенью пропавший
What makes you think this French blue cheese is wasted? 

Кот, пропавший две недели назад, пришёл домой, как ни в чём не бывало.
The cat that went missing two weeks ago came home as if nothing had happened. 

One of the most frequent participle is родившийся, born. For example, there are a lot of public groups on Facebook titled “Родившиеся в СССР” for people who are nostalgic about the Soviet Union. 

And finally, уставший is a perfect word for a tired person. Уставший can also be a look, eyes, voice — everything that reveals tiredness. 

У тебя такой уставший вид – иди спать!
You look so tired – go to bed! 

As usual, for memorizing these words faster, download the attached flashcards and review them frequently. Overall, by learning these participles, you’ll be able to express yourself more naturally and confidently in Russian. Stay tuned for a future post where we’ll delve deeper into the grammar of Russian participles!