In Russian, there are two levels of "truth."

Russian MiniLessons: Truth is not truth – Правда, да не истина!

Published: October 1, 2008

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Russian has two distinct words for truth, although both can be translated to English as simply “truth.” “Правда” is generally thought of in the same context as the English “truth” but can also carry a rhetorical implication that the speaker is attempting to convince the listener of his/her own version of truth. The implication is especially pronounced if “правда” is compared with its counterpart “истина”, which refers to an objective, undeniable truth. “Истина” is most often, though not always, used in religious contexts to differentiate between “God’s Truth” and “secular truth.” However, the terms could also be simply translated as “objective truth” and “subjective truth” if the difference between the two needed to be highlighted.

Perhaps the best and simplest explanation of the difference between the terms is expressed by the following simple children’s song “Да только истина одна”, written for the children’s music film “Не покидай” from 1989. You may also view a 10-minute long scene from the movie from Russiandvd.com.

Муз. Е. Крылатова
Сыграть мы пьесу были рады,
И все старались искренне.
И все что видели вы, правда,
И все что слышали вы, правда,
Правда, да не истина!

Есть правда гордая,
Есть правда скромная,
Такая разная всегда она.

Бывает сладкая,
Бывает горькая,
И только истина всегда одна.

Есть правда светлая,
Есть правда темная,
Есть на мгновенье
И на времена
Бывает добрая,
Бывает твердая,
И только истина всегда одна.

Порой восстанет брат на брата,
Безжалостно, неистово,
И все, что первый крикнет правда,
И что второй ответит правда,
Правда, да не истина!

Есть правда гордая,
Есть правда скромная,
Такая разная всегда она.
Бывает сладкая,
Бывает горькая,
И только истина всегда одна.

Есть правда светлая,
Есть правда темная,
Есть на мгновенье
И на времена.
Бывает добрая,
Бывает твердая,
И только истина всегда одна.

Сражались мы неоднократно
С неправдой ненавистною,
Но часто нам мешала правда,
Земная маленькая правда,
Правда, да не истина!

Есть правда гордая,
Есть правда скромная,
Такая разная всегда она.
Бывает сладкая,
Бывает горькая,
И только истина всегда одна.

Есть правда светлая,
Есть правда темная,
Есть на мгновенье
И на времена.

Бывает добрая,
Бывает твердая,
И только истина всегда одна.

From SongKino.ru

About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

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Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Josh Wilson