This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience. Learn More. GOT IT!

Russian mistakes in English: confusing words 1

There are a range of Russian mistakes in English that arise due to confusion between two or more words with similar meanings.

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

In some cases, Russian may have one term where English has two (or vice versa) and there may also be differences in the usage of a given word depending on the context. If we understand where English and Russian diverge, we can see where mistakes are likely to occur and learn the correct collocations.

Take a look at the following list of words commonly confused by Russian speakers of English. Some analysis of the root causes behind these errors and brief usage guidelines have been added for each entry.


This Russian mistake is extremely common due to the fact Russian uses the word “делать” in certain contexts where English would use “make” or another word. For example:

“I DID a mistake when I was MAKING a photograph because I didn’t know how to use the camera.”

In English, the correct forms are: “make a mistake” and “take a photograph”. Russian uses the word “делать” (do) in both cases: “делать ошибку” and “делать фотографию” (or uses the verb фотографировать, lit. to photograph).

It may be best to think of these words in the following way:

Do = делать – a process/activity: work, duty, performance
Make = создавать – a creative process: constructing, building, producing

Do: washing up, ironing, task, work, cleaning, damage, business, favour, noise, shopping
Make: coffee, mistake, love (!), excuse, suggestion, dinner, impression, agreement, profit


Russian has the words “удобный”, “комфортный” and “комфортабельный” – all of which can translate as “comfortable”. The second and third terms are a more recent borrowing into the language and carry a narrower meaning than the first. These words would never translate as “convenient” as they are connected with physical comfort or a sense of feeling comfortable around others. The problem arises with the word “удобный”, which can mean either “comfortable” or “convenient” depending on the context.

Russian mistake: “When would be a COMFORTABLE time for us to meet?”

The distinction here is fairly straightforward:

Comfortable: gives comfort – physical (soft, warm, pleasant), emotional (at ease, not worried)
Convenient: suitable in terms of time/needs (tool, meeting time, train)


Brits studying Russian are generally taught that “say” is “говорить” and “tell” is “сказать”. However, this is not always the case and English lacks this imperfective/perfective verb distinction anyway. In English, we could say something like: “My dad is always TELLING me to work harder” – but this could not be “сказать” in Russian as it is a routine or repetitive action and therefore imperfective.

It is better to think of “tell” as being a process of informing a specific person/audience about something. You could be telling (рассказывать) them a story, a joke, how to do a given task (explaining) or giving information about what you did last weekend. This is a one-way process and the verb “tell” must be followed by a direct object (e.g. tell you/me/him/the boss). On the other hand, “say” is more generally used to report what someone else has said and can be used without a direct object. Have a look at these examples:

“John SAID his grandmother got offended when he TOLD her the joke about the angry pirate!”
“What did she SAY when you TOLD her about your gambling addiction?”

Russian mistake: “Why did you SAY me that you would be home at lunchtime?”


This distinction can be a difficult one to make because British and American English usage differs. When it comes to toilets and phone lines, British English uses “engaged”, where American uses “busy”. Brits would use “busy” about a person who has no time or about a hectic work schedule. We can also use “engaged” to mean the person has agreed to marry someone but is not yet formally married. The word “occupied” is rather formal but can sometimes be used instead of “engaged” when talking about the bathroom/toilet, but using “occupy” to mean “busy oneself with” is now rare in modern English. Compare these examples:

“Robert is a very BUSY man and his mobile phone is always ENGAGED.”
“The upstairs bathroom is OCCUPIED but the downstairs toilet is free.”

Another example of this type of confusion based on differences between British and American English is with “backside” and “other side”. In British English, your “backside” is the thing you sit on! In American, it means “the other side” of something and has no unusual associations. That’s why it would be strange for a Brit to receive a postcard from a Russian with the line: “When I saw the picture on the backside, I immediately thought of you!”


Generally speaking, positive clauses take “some” (I have some…) and negative clauses take “any” (I don’t have any…). In questions, it is more usual to use “any”. However, if we expect an affirmative answer, we can use “some”. For example: “Do you know if there’s ANY bread left?” or “Do you want SOME tea?”

The problem arises when we look at Russian and find that in many contexts there is no need to translate “some” and “any” into words like “некоторые”, “немного”, “какой-нибудь”, etc. Therefore, remembering to include and use “some/any” correctly can be difficult for Russians.

“Do you have ANY milk?”«У вас есть молоко?»
“I don’t have (ANY) time today.”«У меня нет времени сегодня.»
“Would you like SOME tea?” – «Вы хотите чашку чая?»

Sometimes we can omit “some/any” in English without the meaning being altered, as in the second of the examples above. The other two examples would sound strange without “some/any”.

Russian mistake: “I don’t have SOME milk, but I have juice. Do you want?”
Correct sentence: “I don’t have ANY milk, but I have (SOME) juice. Would you like SOME?”

For more on the topic of mistakes see:
Russian mistakes in English: gender
Russian mistakes in English: prepositions
Russian mistakes in English: singular vs. plural

Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Find this post useful? Share it with friends!
Read more
  • 45 Must-Know Terms to Improve Your Financial Vocabulary in English
    45 Must-Know Terms to Improve Your Financial Vocabulary in English

    Want to improve your vocabulary for finance? In this detailed study guide, our experienced UK accountant and English teacher Kevin Simmons will teach you the most useful financial words and phrases. We’ve included a list of 45 terms with clear definitions and examples in context to help you feel more confident with your English at work. Don’t forget to try the exercises at the end! Ready? Let’s get to it… Continue reading

  • 50 Examples Of Popular English Similes (We Still Use Now)
    50 Examples Of Popular English Similes (We Still Use Now)

    Most lists of similes online and in textbooks contain outdated expressions. In response, we’ve compiled this list of 50 popular similes to show you examples that are still commonly used in modern English today. For each simile, we have given its meaning and an example. Check out the quiz at the end to test your knowledge! Continue reading

  • 56 Common English Proverbs (We Still Use Today)
    56 Common English Proverbs (We Still Use Today)

    A proverb is a short, well-known saying that contains advice. Native speakers often use proverbs to express a bigger idea in a shorter sentence or phrase. English proverbs can teach you a lot about British mentality, culture and history. These colourful expressions are useful if you are improving your English beyond Intermediate level. In this guide, we’ll teach your 56 of the most popular proverbs still used today! Continue reading

  • 10 Best Websites with English Games for Kids
    10 Best Websites with English Games for Kids

    Playing games in English is a great way to help your children develop confidence and fluency, while having fun with the language! As a parent, you are in the perfect position to encourage your children to love English from an early age. You can do this at home through interesting games and activities, even if your own English isn’t 100% perfect. We’ve written this guide to help you! Continue reading