Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prefixes без- and бес-.

  If you've studied Russian for a while you've probably noticed that this language is rich with prefixes and suffixes. By using them you can build new words.  Today let's look at the prefixes без- and бес-.

без- and бес-

Both mean «without». They're similar to English -less, -free. They can be used in:
  • nounsбезопасность, safety (без + опасность, danger); безработица, worklessness (без + работа, work)
  • verbs бездействовать, be inactive (без + действовать, to act)
  • adverbsбезнадёжно, hopelessly (без + надежда, hope); бесследно, without a trace (без + след, trace)
  • adjectivesбездомный, homeless (без+ дом, home); безоблачный, cloudless (без + облако, cloud).

Sometimes you just add the prefix to another word like in безопасность, sometimes you change the original word like in бездомный.

When to use без- and when бес-? It's pretty simple. Look at the next sound in the word. If it's a sonant or a vowel, use без-. If it's a breath consonant, you use бес-.

Russian sonants are:
Б, В, Г, Д, З, Ж, Й, Л, М, Н, Р

Russian breath consonants are:
П, Ф, К, Т, С, Ш, Х, Ц, Ч, Щ


сон — бессонница
sleep - insomnia

забота — беззаботный
care - careless

сила — бессильный
power, force — powerless, weak

оружие — безоружный
weapon - unarmed

дно — бездна
bottom - abiss

цена — бесценный
price - priceless

плата — бесплатный
pay, fee - free

вкус — безвкусие
taste — bad taste, tastelessness.

Note that there is a preposition без also meaning “without”:
Человек не может жить без воды.
A human cannot live without water.


  1. Thank you,Ekaterina. And tell me ,please. Are these use of без correct? For me the expressions of time are quite difficult!

    1.Five to eight - без пяти восемь
    2.Half past ten - без половины одиннадцать

    Это безошибочные?

  2. It's hard for me to tell what's time it's now in any language ^.^ Even though I was good at math in school o_O

    без пяти восемь is correct;
    без половины одиннадцать is grammatically correct, but in this case we say половина одиннадцатого instead (or colloquial пол одиннадцатого, if you want it shorter).


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