Russian Literature Vocabulary Lesson terms

Russian Vocabulary about Russian Literature

Published: May 8, 2023

Russian literature uses the same forms and structures as well as literary and poetic devices as other great Western literature. One can find in Russian literature fiction and nonfiction, novels, short stories, and poems, all containing narrative structure, metaphor, simile, metonymy, and other common devices. Thus, Russian literature can be analyzed with many of the same concepts and tools with which students of literature are bound to be well familiar.

The following free bilingual Russian vocabulary lesson is meant for advanced students of Russian who are also deeply interested in analyzing and discussing Russian literature. This lesson seeks to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text.

Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation. Note that Russian phrases already used previously in the text will not have the translation provided. Challenge yourself to learn as you go!

Structure and Classification

Whether you’re studying in Russia or the US, if you’re learning Russian language, you’re probably also reading classic Russian literature. Here is some useful vocabulary for discussing literature.

Литература can be художественная литература, or документальная, небеллетристическая литература. Both of these types of literature can contain a предисловие, пролог, and эпилог.

There are many different subtypes of художественная литература: фэнтези, мистика/ужасы, научная фантастика, криминальная литература/детектив, любовные истории, юмористический рассказ, and историческая проза.

There are also lots of different types of literary works: роман, повесть, рассказ, стихотворение, and антология, a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. A format that is not as common in modern fiction is a роман в стихах, such as Pushkin’s Евгений Онегин. Every literary work has герои, including a главный герой and an отрицательный герой.

A typical структура сюжета includes the several parts. First, the экспозиция, представит героев, место и время действия: кто, где, когда. The завязка presents the первое столкновение конфликтующих сторон. Then, the перипетии по восходящей , кульминация, перипетии по нисходящей, and развязка develop the story to its финал, which ties up any lose ends to the story and gives it conclusion. In many литературные произведения, символы are important, and each символ выражает an idea.

Предзнаменование is a литературный приём in which the author drops subtle hints about events or developments that will occur later in the story. A common example is a символ беды, such as a черная кошка, перебежавшая дорогу, карканье ворона, гроза, or внезапно потухшая свеча


Literary Devices

Knowing литературные приёмы that авторы use can help readers анализировать литературу. One of the most common литературные приёмы is a метафора, a фигура речи that describes an object by stating that it is in some way the same as another otherwise unrelated object. For example: Мой дом — моя крепость, or весь мир — театр.

Russian Vocabulary about Russian Literature
Dostoyevsky’s office – from the Dostoyevksy Apartment Memorial Museum in St. Petersburg. Read about an SRAS student who explored it while abroad in 2018 here.

A метафора is slightly different from a сравнение, which is an уподобление that compares two objects by using a comparative word such as как or чем, or verbs such as напоминает. For example: Мужик глуп, как свинья, а хитёр, как чёрт.

A twist on a метафора or сравнение is персонифика́ция or олицетворение, which is representing a non-human entity as if it were human. For example: Плачёт дождь, ветер поёт песни.

When using метонимия the author refers to an object or concept not by its own name, but by something associated with that thing or concept. For example: Я три тарелки съел – here, food is implied, although the author never actually says “three plates of food.

One type of metonymy is синекдоха, which is a term for a part of something that refers to the whole of it, or vice versa. For example: Единственное число вместо множественного: Всё спит — и человек, и зверь, и птица (Gogol).

Аллегория is a риторический приём in which characters or events represent a different idea or concept. For example: (from the Bible) Иуда олицетворяет ложь и предательство, а Богородица – красоту и непорочность.

A эвфемизм is a generally harmless word or expression used in place of one that might be offensive or unpleasant. For example: более жёсткие методы допроса instead of пытки. The opposite of an эвфемизм is a дисфеми́зм, which, instead of using harmless words, uses phrases that are offensive either about the денотат or to the audience, or both. For example: сдохнуть instead of умереть.

An аллюзия is a reference to a famous historical or literary person or event. These are very common in Russian газетные заголовки. One headline reads: Береги кисть смолоду is an allusion to the proverb Береги честь смолоду; meaning that one should watch out to not make stupid mistakes in one’s youth as these come back to haunt you in the future.

Гипербола involves using преувеличение as a rhetorical device or figure of speech, but should not be taken literally. It is used to evoke strong emotions or impressions. For example: Я говорил это тысячу раз or, looking at a large meal, saying that “нам еды на полгода хватит”.

On the other hand, литота is a form of преуменьшение that is always deliberate and with the intention of выразительность. For example: Лошадь величиной с кошку, жизнь человека — один миг.

Перифра́з refers to an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech, in that the information can have multiple meanings. For example: Люди в белых халатах to mean doctors or царь зверей to refer to a lion.

Most people who watch modern TV shows are familiar with сарказм, which is also quite common in literature. It can involve using a bitter statement or feigning indifference. For example: Если больной очень хочет жить, врачи бессильны (Faina Ranevskaya).

Russian Vocabulary about Russian Literature
SRAS students on a tour of the Lenin State Library, one of the world’s largest, in Moscow in 2021. Read a review of the library from a student who visited it in 2019 here.

Художественный образ is vivid and descriptive language that is used to add depth to a literary work. Authors use imagery to appeal to human senses and deepen the reader’s understanding of the work. Imagery sometimes uses metaphors, and strives to engage all the reader’s senses.

Иро́ния is a contrast or inconsistency between what the reader expects from a situation and what actually happens. Sometimes similes or metaphors are used to state the opposite of the truth, for example: Ну ты храбрец! to refer to a coward, or умён-умён for an idiot.

Антитеза is comparing two things that are not related to each other in order to show their differences. For example: Кто был ничем, тот станет всем.



Аллитерация is repeating the same or similar sounds, usually at the beginning or in the middle of multiple words. Alliteration is used largely in поэзия, пословицы, поговорки , and скороговорки.

For example:

Выходила к ним горилла,
Им горилла говорила
Говорила им горилла,

(A gorilla went to them,
The gorilla told them,
The gorilla told them,
– K. Chukovsky, Barmalei

When analyzing поэзия, there are a few other things to consider in addition to литературные приёмы, for instance, there are various стихотворные размеры that a поэт can use: односложный, двусложный, трехсложный, пятисложный. Here are some of the самые распространенные meters:

1. Хорей: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one:

Буря мглою небо кроет
Вихри снежные крутя

– A. Pushkin


2. Ямб: the opposite of a хорей, this consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable:

Мой дядя самых честных правил,
Когда не в шутку занемог,
Он уважать себя заставил
И лучше выдумать не мог.

– A. Pushkin


3. Анапест: two short syllables followed by a long one:

О, весна без конца и без краю –
Без конца и без краю мечта!
Узнаю тебя, жизнь! Принимаю!
И приветствую звоном щита!

– A. Blok


4. Амфибра́хий: a long syllable between two short syllables:

Не вeтер бушует над бором,
Не с гор побежали ручьи
Мороз-воевода дозором
Обходит владенья свои.

– N. Nekrasov


You’ll Also Love:

Durak, Pyanitsa, Loto Games Russian

Durak, Pyanitsa, Loto: Games in Russian-Speaking Cultures

Games such as durak, pyanitsa, and loto are known to nearly everyone in Russian-speaking cultures. While these all have close analogues in many foreign cultures, participating in the games as a foreigner can be difficult as many have highly specific jargon associated with them. The language resource below will introduce you to these games, how […]

Russian language fitness gyms

Fitness and Health in the Russian Language

In recent years, gym and fitness options have proliferated across Eurasia. Travelers interested in maintaining their fitness regimen while abroad – whether they are visiting Latvia, Georgia, or even Kyrgyzstan, should have no problem doing so. It does help to know a bit about these gyms and it pays to know some of the Russian […]

Halloween Cultural Sensitivity

Halloween as a Case Study for Cultural Understanding

Halloween is seen around the world as an American holiday. While it has gained more global popularity in recent years, it is still really only celebrated in the US, the UK, and Canada. In most other countries, including most Slavic countries, it is regarded at most as a reason to host costume parties or perhaps […]

Russian vocabulary Cold Winter

Preparing for the Cold: Winter Wear as a Cultural Phenomenon in Russia

Russia has famously cold winters. Russians, and the many other cultures that live across the Eurasian landmass (such as the Evenk and Sakha), have culturally adapted to this in order to survive there. This has affected traditional clothing and housing, but also cultural attitudes toward the weather. These attitudes are, in turn, often reflected in […]

Russian Alphabet History Eh Э

The Russian Alphabet’s Secret History

The history of the Russian language and its alphabet is long and fascinating. Here are a few anecdotes from the Russian language’s history. The following is based on an article from It was translated to English and adapted for greater clarity for an English-speaking audience by SRAS and SRAS intern Sophia Rehm. The Unprinted […]


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

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov