M. (oh__tsarevich) wrote in linguaphiles,

Are my Russian flashcards lying to me?!

Hi all!

I downloaded a Russian vocab flashcard app recently (Russian Words, by sensus lingua) and have run into a confusing issue with it. Everything looked legit enough (to my A1 level eyes, haha), and there seemed to be a good deal of overlap with the basic words I had already learned elsewhere... but then! As one of the cards contained an error (the flipside, which was supposed to contain the same Russian word as the front + its translation, showed a different Russian word instead) I googled both words to resolve my confusion, only to find that neither of them appear to be existing words! Google Translate didn't understand either one, Google proper found only 6 results for one and 200 for the other, and google.ru autochanged both of them into other words.

The words (or "words") in question are безудобный and безкрасочный, one or both of which according to my app should mean "colourless". Does anyone know what might be going on here? They sure look like Russian adjectives to me, but apparently they aren't. Is this just a different Slavic language? If this app has been lying to me I'd better start double checking everything I've learned so far!

Thanks very much in advance for any clarification you guys can give me! <3

Edit - mystery solved! My app was lying, or at least it doesn't have any more of a clue about prefixes than I do. Boo! Thanks so much to everyone who commented! :)
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In general there are very few cases where you can unambiguously have a set of single-word translations from one language to another, as your flashcards sound like they are, without overlap. Suppose you were a Russian-speaker trying to learn English through flash cards. Your app would probably match "big" with большой, but it would probably also match "large" with большой. That's not an error in the app, but it would result in two flash cards, both with the same word in the native language, but different words in the target language. So be careful with your initial assumptions: Most words mean many things, and when the equivalents in two languages are misaligned, your flashcards are going to have doublets like these.

That said, безкрасочный does mean colorless, according to an online Russian dictionary that I found like to use (грамота.ру --- very helpful because it marks stress and irregular conjugation forms). It did not contain безудобный, so I'm guessing that it's either a type of some sort, or else a slang term. Judging from the root, it looks like it should mean "comfortless," or "inconvenient," but this is where native speakers will be much more helpful than I can be.
Thanks very much for your reply!

I do think in this case the doublet was an error, since this app in every other case just has a separate flashcard for each word, even words it translates synonymously - plus, this card doesn't show both words on the flipside, just one on the front and a different one on the back. Maybe безудобный is an accidental mashup of безкрасочный and неудобный, which I just found on another flashcard!

I speak a number of languages fluently and so am very familiar with the synonymic translation problem you described, but I appreciate your taking the time to explain it. :) I tend to learn best by listening to subtitled speech, and figured I might speed up that process by learning to recognise a bunch of basic words and have an idea of their meaning, so I could then recognise them in spoken Russian and find out from there how they are actually used, if that makes sense. So what threw me off was the fact that these basic Russian words I was trying to integrate into my vocabulary never seemed to be used by anybody on the internet! Especially when it's a word like colourless, which is hardly jargon, haha. I'll go by what your dictionary says about безкрасочный - maybe it's just not a frequently used word, I guess.

Thanks heaps for the dictionary link - a good online dictionary is a lifesaver and I didn't have a go-to Russian one yet, so it's much appreciated!


April 15 2014, 23:37:43 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  April 15 2014, 23:38:51 UTC

It looks like some machine translation results.

But безудобный by no means can mean "colourless", it's utter nonsense.
That's the impression I'm getting, as well... such a shame, it's such a practically designed app but apparently I can't go by what it tells me at all! Thanks for your reply :)


April 15 2014, 23:38:02 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  April 15 2014, 23:40:26 UTC

Well, the first word (безудобный) just does not exist. Should it exist in any other Slavic language, Google would have shown it, I reckon. It has been generated by adding an existing prefix без- (meaning '"without") to an existing word - and this combination could mean "uncomfortable", but in reality uncomfortable is неудобный. The second word indeed means "colorless", but it is misspelled: the right spelling is бескрасочный, not бе<з>красочный. We use either без- or бес- depending on the next sound in the word. If it's a sonant or a vowel, we use без-. If it's a breath consonant, we use бес-. So, if you google бескрасочный, you'll find it in abundance :)
See also бесцветный.
Right you are, there's also бесцветный, which is much more frequent than бескрасочный. We don't really use бескрасочный in conversations.
We do not use it at all, honestly, although it possibly sounds Russian.
Ahh, see, that one makes more sense to me because I already knew цвет! Another reason I was suspicious, haha.


April 16 2014, 00:06:59 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  April 16 2014, 00:07:09 UTC

To clarify: it seemed more logical to me that the more basic/widely used word for colourless would have цвет in it, not necessarily that any word for colourless should contain it! Still talking out of my ass, of course, but it seemed consistent with what I've been learning so far to assume that. :')
Good point about the spelling. I totally didn't see that.
Thanks :)
I am a native speaker - I am bound to see such things.
You never saw a native speaker spell a three-letter word with three errors, have you? :)


April 17 2014, 17:14:12 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  April 17 2014, 17:15:26 UTC

Okay, I am a native speaker who graduated summa cum laude from a top Russian university and than attended grad school specializing in modern Russian. I hope it sounds better to you. Just didn't want to brag :)
Now, that's better!

Seriously, though, I just felt like you are selling yourself short there.
Well, to be honest, I am not so good at selling myself, so thanks for your friendly nudging :)
Ha, I just reached the same conclusion about безудобный, after scrolling through the flashcards and finding неудобный. I thought maybe it was just one accidental slip-up where two words got mashed together, but your explanation about без- vs бес- has me fearing this is a structural problem with the app and they're just doing whatever with the prefixes (just went back and checked, and the card definitely says безудобный!) I'm so bummed, this app seemed so much more practical than a lot of the other ones, but apparently it's not actually trustworthy :( Thank you so much for the clarification!
Welcome! If you ever need any tips from a native speaker trained in modern Russian, feel free to write me.
And the thing with the app... Yeah, that's a real bummer :( They must not mess with Russian prefixes! Probably this app is no good.
Thanks so much, I really appreciate the offer!! <3 I'll definitely keep it in mind should I run into more confusion haha, though hopefully I won't!

I've deleted the app - probably serves me right for trying to learn in the laziest way possible :')
Both of the words don't are undoubtedly wrong. Though, if you used them, a Russian collocutor would understand what you want to say. As if one said "convenientless" instead of "inconvenient", for examle.

The right words are бесцветный = colorless and неудобный = uncomfortable or inconvenient.

We don't use безудобный and безкрасочный,
they only correct by form.
Бескрасочный does exist though. It is right here in the dictionary.

What's going on here is probably somebody pairing prefixes witth adjectives' roots without taking into account limitations on such pairs. It's a bit like in English: people say endless and useless, but dysfunctional and uncomfortable. What this depends on, that is, which root and which prefix can go together, is a rather difficult question. It can be answered by a list, which explicitly pairs some roots with some prefixes and rules out other, impossible pairs, or by a complicated description, usually based on both content and form. Obviously none of this was included in the app. With time real people acquire a feel of possible and impossible combinations.