Being able to ask and understand questions is key to mastering everyday communication in Russian.
Here are the essential question words you should know in Russian. Please note, что, кто, какой, and чей all decline and must agree with the noun they relate to. The rest of the question words do not decline.
You don’t necessarily need to use a question word to phrase a question in Russian. You can often form a question by just keeping the original sentence structure and adding a questioning spoken intonation and a written question mark. For example:
Being polite in Russian does not so much involve using please and thank you like in English. Generally, just using the polite form “вы” is enough. If you want to be super polite in Russian when asking questions, though, you can use negation questions to add an extra level to your formality.
You can use the interrogative particle, “ли,” to add the meaning, “whether,” to questions. There are two contexts in which you would use “ли:” questions where you are unsure or incredulous; and questions formed with dependent clauses.
Let’s say you’re in a coffee shop and you’d like to use the bathroom, but you’re not certain they have one for guests. The pretty simple question you would ask might be:
In a situation where you’re more unsure of what the answer might be, you can use “ли.”
When using “ли” like this, make sure that the word order is verb + ли + the rest of the sentence.
You’ll come across and use ли most often with dependent clauses, with the English meaning “if” or “whether.” The sentence structure here will be first clause + comma + verb + ли + the rest of the dependent clause. “Ли” is often used with dependent clauses in Russian to convey indirect questions and speech – moments when you want to relay what someone else has said.