How to ask questions in Russian

Being able to ask and understand questions is key to mastering everyday communication in Russian.

Common question words 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.

  • что? = what?
  • кто? = who?
  • как? = how?
  • сколько? = how many?
  • почему? = why?
  • зачем? = why / what for?
  • когда? = when?
  • где? = where?
  • куда? = where to?
  • откуда? = where from?
  • какой / какая / какое / какие? = which, what sort of?
  • чей / чья / чьё / чьи = whose?

Example sentences of common question words

  • Что происходит? = What's going on?
  • Кто хочет чай? = Who wants tea?
  • Как ты себя чувствуешь? = How do you feel?
  • Сколько это стоит? = How much does it cost?
  • Почему русский язык такой сложный? = Why is Russian so hard?
  • Зачем ты пришла? = Why did you come?
  • Когда уходит поезд в Москву? = When does the train to Moscow leave?
  • Где ты живёшь? = Where do you live?
  • Куда летают птицы зимой? = Where do the birds fly in the winter?
  • Откуда ты в США? = Where are you from in the USA?
  • Какую книгу вы читаете? = What sort of book are you reading?
  • Чья это машина? = Whose car is this?

How to decline что, кто, какой, and чей

Что and кто






How to ask questions without question words

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:

  • Я люблю танцевать - I like to dance
  • Кто любит танцевать? - Who likes to dance?
  • Даша ела курицу. = Dasha ate chicken.
  • Даша ела курицу? = Dasha ate chicken?
  • Можно сесть здесь. = You can sit here / it is possible to sit here.
  • Можно сесть здесь? = Can I sit here / is it possible to sit here?

How to ask polite questions in Russian

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.

  • Не подскажете, где Красная площадь? = You couldn’t tell me, where Red Square is?
  • Не хочешь чай? = You wouldn’t like some tea, would you?
  • Не могли бы Вы мне помочь? = You couldn’t possibly help me, could you?

How to use “ли” (whether) in Russian

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.

Using “ли” when you’re unsure

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:

  • Здесь есть ванная? = Is there a bathroom here?

In a situation where you’re more unsure of what the answer might be, you can use “ли.”

  • Можно ли пользоваться телефоном в самолёте? = Can one use their phone on a plane?
  • Могут ли свиньи летать? = Can pigs fly?

When using “ли” like this, make sure that the word order is verb + ли + the rest of the sentence.

Using "ли" with dependent clauses

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.

  • Он спросил, говорю ли я русский язык. = He asked if I speak Russian.
  • Больной человек не скажет, останется ли он дома. = The sick man will not say if he will stay home.
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