Russian Word of the Day: зажигаться/зажечься-to light up

November 19, 2012

While Americans are bustling about this week to get ready for Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday season, Santa Claus’ birthday (November 18th) marks the beginning of the holiday season in Russia.  So this week will focus on a few festive words to get us in the holiday mood.

So let’s talk about our word of the day today.

Зажечь/зажигать can mean to light a fire, to light up something, or to kindle.

Put the “ся” ending on it and it becomes reflexive, meaning this action is done to it.

And this verb has weird endings in the past tense, you can find them here. 

The Christmas(New Year) tree in Veliky Ustyug

Зажигаться is the imperfective, meaning that something is currently being done or is a habitual or ongoing action. Зажечься, the perfective, implies a one time action that has been done, if in the past tense, or will be done, if in the future.   Ick… I hate grammatical explanations of verbal aspect in Russian.  Let’s lighten the mood with some context. Here you can see examples of both verbal aspect and the reflexive ending.

So one headline from Komsomolskaya Pravda reads:

“В Великом Устюге зажглась главная елочка страны! Подготовка к Новому году в России официально началась! Кстати, вы помните, что до любимого праздника осталось всего-то 44 дня?”

“In Veliky Ustyug the main Christmas tree of the country was lit!  Preparation for the New Year in Russia has officially begun!  By the way, do you remember that until the beloved holiday only 44 days are left?”

That’s an example of the perfective/reflexive зажечься.

And now for the perfective/ non-reflexive (I think this would be called transitive???)

“Первую новогоднюю елку страны зажгут в Великом Устюге в воскресенье”

“They will light the first Christmas tree(although in Russia they’re called “New Year Tree”) in the country in Velikiy Ustyug on Sunday.”

And now for an example of the imperfective: Here’s a great little cartoon for your enjoyment, called, “Когда зажигаются елки”, in English “When Christmas trees are lit”

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