How to use the prepositions “в” and “на” in Russian

The prepositions, “в” and “на,” are some of the most common and useful words in Russian. “В” and “на” are used to convey the meaning of location (with the prepositional case) and direction (with the accusative case. “В” and “на” have slightly different meanings, which we’ll discuss below. On top of that, there are many irregular uses of these prepositions that we’ll also cover.

The difference in meaning between “в” and “на”

People find it easiest to remember the difference between “в” and “на” as being equivalent to the English “in” (в) and “on” (на). For example:

  • Я в школе. = I am in school
  • Еда лежит на столе. = The food lies on the table.

Generally, this rule of thumb holds up. More broadly, “в” has the meaning at/in/to and you use it to talk about being in something, in an organization, or in the direction of something. Meanwhile, “на” has the meaning on/at/to and you use it to talk about being on a surface, somewhere (not inside building), at an event, or in the direction of something.

Describing location using “в” and “на” with the prepositional case

Using the prepositional case with “в” and “на” gives the meaning of location, answering the question “where?” / “где?”

“в”

Here, “в” is used to mean “in.” You use “в” for defined locations, enclosed structures, cities, countries, and distinct places in nature.

  • Я в школе. = I am in school.
  • Я живу в Москве. = I live in Moscow.
  • Я смотрел фильм в кинотеатре. = I watched the film in the cinema.
  • Мне нравится жить в России. = I like to live in Russia.
  • В пустыне жарко и сухо. = It is hot and dry in the desert.

“на”

Here, “на” is used to mean “on.” You use “на” for things on a surface, in an open space, in outside places, at an event, island and peninsulas, and points of the compass.

  • Книги на столе. = The books are on the table.
  • Картина на стене. = The picture is on the wall.
  • Саша на выставке сегодня. = Sasha is at the exhibition today.
  • Я на работе. = I'm at work.
  • Отдыхаем на гавайских островах. = We are relaxing in the Hawaiian islands.
  • Солнце восходит на востоке. = The sun rises in the east
  • Мавзолей Ленина находится на Красной площади. = Lenin's mausoleum is on Red Square.
  • Я на улице. = I’m in the street.

Please note, some public places were historically outside spaces, so use “на:”

  • на почте = at the post office
  • на станции = at the station
  • на вокзале = at the train station
  • на заводе = at the factory

Describing direction using “в” and “на” with the accusative case

Using the prepositional case with “в” and “на” gives the meaning of direction, answering the question “where to?” / “куда?” As such, you’ll typically see this along with a verb of motion.

“в”

Here, “в” is used to mean “to.” The same rules apply for what situations you should use “в” with as before.

  • Я хожу в школу каждое утро. = I walk to school every morning.
  • Завтра лечу в Москву. = I am flying to Moscow tomorrow.
  • Пошли в кинотеатр. = Let's go to the cinema.
  • Я хотел бы однажды переехать в Россию. = I would like to move to Russia one day.
  • Историки пошли в пустыню. = The historians went to the desert.

“на”

Here, “на” is used to mean “to.” The same rules apply for what situations you should use “в” with as before.

  • Положите книгу на стол. = Place the book on the table.
  • Саша пошел на выставку. = Sasha went to the exhibit.
  • Мы с семьей собираемся завтра на Гавайи. = My family and I are going to Hawaii tomorrow.
  • Красная Армия оттеснила немцев на запад.  = The Red Army pushed the Germans to the west.
  • Нам нужно пойти на стадион = We need to go to the stadium.
  • Я иду на почту. = I am going to the post office.

Specific uses of “в” and “на” you need to know

Transport

When you are talking about being inside a certain vehicle, you use the preposition, "в." When you are talking about travelling by a certain mode of transport, you use the preposition, "на."

  • Я ехала на автобусе. = I was going by bus.
  • Еду на работу на метро. = I go to work by metro.
  • Я читала газету в автобусе. I was reading a newspaper in the bus.
  • Я использовал Wi-Fi в метро. = I used the wifi in the metro.

Bodies of water

If you're actually in a body of water, use "в." If you're by the water, but not in it, use "на."

  • в море / озере / реке = in the sea / lake / river
  • на море / озере / реке = by the sea / lake / river

How to say at home in Russian

When you want to describe something inside your house, use the preposition, "в" and say в доме.

To say "at home" in Russian, simply say дома.

Should you say "в Украине" or "на Украине?"

Perhaps you have already heard of this charged grammatical issue. During the days of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire, to say "in Ukraine," people would use "на Украине." This partly stems from how it was described in the Ukrainian language and partly reflects the fact that Украина literally means "border" in Russian (so you would use "на" to describe such a region).

Now that Ukraine is an independent country, the grammatically correct way to describe it with location and direction is to use the preposition, "в." Despite this, you will still hear "на Украине" being used frequently today. It's really up to you whether you want to use "на" or "в," but just know that saying "на Украине" will make it harder to have friendly relations with Ukrainians, even if they appreciate you taking the time to learn Russian.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram