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Thread: Which of these is right?

  1. #1
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    Which of these is right?

    To say "Can you speak Russian?"

    The program I'm learning from taught me that it's "Ты можешь говорить по-русски?"
    But when I run that through google translate it says "Можете ли вы говорить по-русски?"

    What's the difference? Are they both right?

  2. #2
    Властелин iCake's Avatar
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    Well, first of all I have to say that "Ты можешь говорить по-русски?" and "Можете ли вы говорить по-русски?" are really the same thing most of the time. The only difference is that вы can be used as plural you (like all of you, two of you etc) or a polite singular you. So if you don't really know a person it's better to use the variant with вы because it is polite, however if you're friends with that person you can safely use the ты variant. Anyway if you're adressing more than one person with that question you definitely use вы and nothing else.

    Secondly, the question as you wrote it doesn't sound natural though understandable. In real world it would be either "ты говоришь по-русски?" or "вы говорите по-русски?".
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    I do not claim that my opinion is absolutely true.
    If you've spotted any mistake in my English, please, correct it. I want to be aware of any mistakes to efficiently eliminate them before they become a habit.

  3. #3
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    Thank you.

    But "ты говоришь по-русски?" sounds like "you speak Russian?". Does that mean it's unnecessary/unnatural to include "can" (можешь)?
    Also, is there a significant difference between "говоришь" and "говорить", do they have to be used in certain context, or are they interchangeable?

  4. #4
    Властелин iCake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scarlett View Post
    Thank you.

    But "ты говоришь по-русски?" sounds like "you speak Russian?". Does that mean it's unnecessary/unnatural to include "can" (можешь)?
    Yes, it sounds like that but when you ask "ты говоришь по-русски" all you want to know if the person you're talking to is able to speak Russian. If you add можешь to your question it still sounds like you want to know if the person speaks Russian. So можешь is redundant there. You don't need to use that word to get the point across.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scarlett View Post
    Also, is there a significant difference between "говоришь" and "говорить", do they have to be used in certain context, or are they interchangeable?
    This is the matter of basic grammar. Говорить is the infinitive form of the verb, говоришь is the second person singular and present tense declension of the verb, говорите is the second person plural and present tense declension of the verb.
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  5. #5
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    Thanks, it makes sense now.

  6. #6
    Paul G.
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    Scarlett,
    What do you know about Russian? Something about the cases, how to decline the verbs etc? Any simple textbook contains answers on your questions.
    Говоришь is the other form of the verb "говорить" (infinitive).
    singular:
    Я говорю. (I speak)
    Ты говоришь. (Thou speak)
    Он/она/оно говорит. (He/she/it speaks)
    plural:
    Мы говорим. (We speak)
    Вы говорите. (You speak)
    Они говорят. (They speak)

    All of the verbs above mean "говорить", but they are in different forms. If you want to ask "do you speak ...?" in Russian, you should select a form of the verb depending on a person (persons) you're addressing or asking about.

    But "ты говоришь по-русски?" sounds like "you speak Russian?".
    If you see the mark "?" at the end of a sentence, it implies question. So the right answer is "Do you speak Russian?"
    "You speak Russian" = "Ты говоришь по-русски" (without "?", it's an affirmative sentence).

    When we use the verb "can" in Russian, we must use infinitives (as you know it's incorrect in English). So, if you use "могу/можешь" and so on, you should put an infinitive after it.
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    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    "Ты говоришь по-русски?" is a spoken form of the question. It is OK when pronounced with proper intonation stress on "говоришь", which can not be marked in written text by standard means.

    "Говоришь ли ты по-русски?" is a literary form which makes written text easier to read by helping readers avoid ambiguous treatment. Particle "ли" emphasizes previous word.
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    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    "Вы можете говорить по-русски?" sounds awkward to me. As if something can prevent the speaker from speaking in Russian. Like he is in CIA headquarters and if he starts speaking in Russian he's going to be arrested right away.

    "Вы умеете говорить по-русски" is what I consider the right way to say "Can you speak Russian".

    ...Можете... = Can you say this in Russian? - Вы можете сказать это по-русски?

    Speaking about languages:
    Уметь говорить ... is about whether a person has the knowledge of Russian or not.
    Мочь говорить ... is about whether a person can use the knowlege or not.
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  9. #9
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    "Ты можешь говорить по-русски?" is most natural as a less polite, or rude depending on intonation, version of "Не мог бы ты говорить по-русски?" -- "Could you please speak Russian?"

    I wonder if "Can you speak Russian?" isn't the same thing. After all, the usual question (Ты говоришь по-русски?) is "Do you speak Russian?"


    Another context for "Ты можешь говорить по-русски?": you are calling your friend who is a Russian spy and so it may not be appropriate for him or her to speak Russian.
    I am almost sure this is the same as "Can you speak Russian?"

  10. #10
    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    E-learner, you might find it amusing to learn about the difference between "speak a language" vs "speak in a language".
    Yes I can speak Russian but I cannot speak in Russian right now.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medved View Post
    E-learner, you might find it amusing to learn about the difference between "speak a language" vs "speak in a language".
    Yes I can speak Russian but I cannot speak in Russian right now.
    ..."Can you speak English?" might be interpreted sometimes as meaning "Could you speak English?" rather than "Are you capable of speaking English?"
    Do you speak English =Can you speak English? - WordReference Forums
    So, in certain contexts "Вы можете говорить по-русски?" is a good translation of "Can you speak Russian?"

  12. #12
    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    Okay, let's blame it on my pickiness.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medved View Post
    Okay, let's blame it on my pickiness.
    Similarly to English, it's not usual to ask "can you speak English?" we just ask "Do you speak English?" Of course there are contexts where you might say "you can speak English," - i.e., giving someone permission to speak English - this usage would usually be similar to Russian ты можешь говорить по-русский

    But- in English "can" has many different uses, including ability to do something and permission/ possibility. In Russian, мочь is not used to describe ability to do something, they say уметь. for example, я не умею плавать means "I can't swim" (I don't know how to). я не могу плавать is different, it could mean something like I'm physically prevented from swimming, or I don't have permission.

    So if you want to say "I can speak Russian" in the sense of having the ability to speak it, it will be я умею говорить по-русски

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