The Days of the Week in Russian: What do they mean?
Learning the days of the week in a foreign language is one of the first hurdles you will have to surmount to escape A1. This can be difficult—the names may appear random, are often structurally unrelated to one another, and have obscure origins.
Knowing where these names come from is a helpful learning aid. Most people know that the days of the week in French derive from Roman Gods, while in Germanic lands their local gods furnished the names. But what about Russian days of the week? Well the good news is that, arguably, they follow a more logical naming system than Romance and Germanic languages.
The Days of the Week – Дни Неде́ли
First, let’s have a recap of all the days of the week together:
понеде́льник – Monday
вто́рник – Tuesday
среда́ – Wednesday
четве́рг – Thursday
пя́тница – Friday
суббо́та – Saturday
воскресе́нье – Sunday
So where can we find the patterns?
Numbered Days of the Week
Three of the seven days here have names that closely reflect the ordinal numbers:
The second day of the week, вто́рник (Tuesday), is a close relative of второ́й, ‘second’.
The fourth day of the week, четве́рг (Thursday), is a close relative of четвёртый, ‘fourth’.
The fifth day of the week, пя́тница (Friday), is a close relative of пя́тый, ‘fifth’.
Other Ordered Days
Even though they do not resemble the ordinal numbers, two other days of the week tell us where they fall in their etymology.
You may recognise the word ‘неде́ля’ (week) within the word for Monday, понеде́льник. In fact, this comes from an older usage of ‘неде́ля’ which meant Sunday. ‘По’, meanwhile, is a preposition meaning ‘after’: so together, the word simply means “after Sunday”.
In all other Slavic languages, ‘неде́ля’ is still used to refer to Sunday; it literally means ‘doing nothing’ (не + де́лать), referring to the practice of taking a rest day.
Среда́ also tells us its place in the week by its meaning. Namely, the Russian adjective ‘сре́дний’ means ‘middle’— and of course, Wednesday falls at the middle of the working week.
Religious Days of the Week
The final two days have names that come from religious festivals.
Суббо́та simply means ‘sabbath’, which you can recognise from the two ‘б’ letters in the middle. Orthodox Christians still celebrate the sabbath on a Saturday.
The final day, воскресе́нье, is an alternative spelling of the Russian noun ‘воскресе́ние’, meaning ‘resurrection’. This, of course, refers to the raising of Christ from the dead on Easter Sunday.
And that’s all seven! Hopefully, some familiarity with where these names come from will make you more able to memorise them. If you are interested in the etymology of seasons and months, then you can find that here.
Luke is a history and languages student interning at Liden & Denz, Riga.
Photo credits to Sasha Shevjakova (digital Marketing at Liden & Denz)