The Combinatorial Dictionary

This book is a small thematic Russian-English dictionary, the theme being the human body. We describe 63 parts of the body, plus two organs (heart, stomach), certain emissions (sweat, tears, blood), some physical manifestations of emotional states (laughter, smile), and, finally, voice. Our aim is to present all the information necessary for the correct use of the corresponding Russian words and expressions.

This information is presented in a user-friendly format worked out by Richard L. Leed and Slava Paperno of Cornell University. The format is a simplified version of the format in the Explanatory Combinatorial Dictionary proposed by Igor A. Mel'chuk and Alexander K. Zholkovsky. However, our dictionary differs from that model in that it is bilingual, and therefore contains English translations instead of explicit explanations of the sense of the Russian words and expressions.

Combinatorial (or collocational) dictionaries are a relatively new construct. Their theoretical foundation is the notion that standard word combinations, or collocations, can be described in a systematic way. The notion of lexical functions introduced by Mel'chuk and Zholkovsky in 1965 is fundamental for a systematic description of this sort. The term was inspired by the mathematical notion of function. In mathematics, if one knows a function and its argument, one can predict the value of this function (e.g. the square of 2 is predictably 4). Mel'chuk and Zholkovsky proposed a set of lexical functions which correspond to regular relationships between lexical units. If one knows a lexical function and a word (the argument), one can find the appropriate collocation or lexeme to yield a certain meaning (the value of the function). For example, the function we might call "high degree" with the word criticism has the value keen (criticism); with the word smoker it has the value heavy (smoker), with the word trouble it has the value deep (trouble), etc.

To compare using a collocational dictionary with an ordinary one we might take the word grade as an example. What verb is used to say what the teacher does to a grade? In English, a teacher gives a grade. What is the value of this function in Russian? In a non-collocational dictionary, one has to look up the word give and try to find a suitable translation among its many usages. In a collocational dictionary one looks up the Russian word for grade отметка, and then finds the phrase ставить отметку under the appropriate heading. The heading will reflect the relationship between the words grade and give. This relationship (this lexical function) can be described as the verb used for a typical action of which отметка is the object and teacher is the subject. The heading in the dictionary might be "What the teacher does."

Under a similar heading in the entry for экзамен "examination," one will find the Russian equivalent of the phrase to give an exam, i.e. принимать экзамен. Clearly, this does not mean that the Russian for give is either ставить or принимать, whose normal meanings, when not used as values of lexical functions, are not give, but put and accept.

When the subject of the verb is "student," the same relationship supplies the verbs получать for отметка and сдавать for экзамен, whose normal meanings are receive and submit, respectively. Again, finding these expressions in a collocational dictionary is much more straightforward than searching through all possible translations of to get (a grade) and to take (an exam) in an ordinary dictionary, where the correct value may not be provided in any case.

Native speakers of a language know these collocations. Language learners have to ask a native speaker or use a collocational dictionary.

The user of a collocational dictionary of the simplified type represented by this book need know nothing about lexical functions themselves, but it is important to note that this dictionary is organized according to some reasonable principle — it is not merely a miscellaneous collection of phrases. Each entry in the dictionary contains a section entitled Lexical Relationships and the headings and sub-headings under this rubric represent lexical functions (or their classes).

The structure of a dictionary entry

The main sections of an entry in this dictionary are listed below: In the Semantics section we describe the meaning(s) of the headword to be included in the entry, indicate whether or not the word can apply to animals as well as to humans, and list other meanings of the word (usually metaphorical ones).

The Morphology section is taken from the dictionary 5000 Russian Words by Richard L. Leed and Slava Paperno. The reader is referred to that work for a detailed explanation of its structure. For our purposes here, let us note merely the following:

The headword is followed by two capital letters. The first represents the stress in the singular forms and the second in the plural forms. "S" stands for stress on the stem and "E" stands for stress on the ending. If the word is characterized by having a vowel inserted before zero ending (as in бёдер, the genitive plural of бедро), it is noted in parentheses. Irregular forms (in stress, endings, or stem) come next. Then comes information on gender, animacy, and part of speech. For example, "бедро ES (е) NPlur. бёдра;" stands for the singular forms бедро, бедра, бедре... and the plural forms бёдра, бёдер, бёдрах... of the neuter inanimate noun. If there are any deviations in particular phrases or expressions, they are listed last (for example, see рука).

In the Syntax section we describe how the actants of the word are expressed. Most of our words have only one actant — the "possessor" of the particular part of the body. However, words such as кожа "skin," кровь "blood," and пот "sweat" have a second actant as well — place (e.g. кожа на спине "the skin on one's back").

For parts of the body that come in pairs we also describe the syntactic constructions which are possible for restrictive modifiers, i.e. modifiers that specify which of the two members of the pair is being spoken of (e.g. левая пятка "the left heel," пятка левой ноги "the heel of the left foot," and пятка на левой ноге, literally "the heel on the left foot").

The section on Lexical Relationships is the one that contains collocations. They are grouped together semantically under various headings, often with further subdivisions: one group consists of expressions describing the appearance of the body part, another is devoted to sensations, another to movements, etc. For further details on how they are organized, see section two of the following essay, The Human Body and Linguistics. Under Lexical Relationships you will also find synonyms, diminutives, augmentatives, syntactic derivatives, generic terms, etc.

Expressions to be included in this dictionary have been selected according to the following two criteria:

On the one hand, we have included a number of free expressions in addition to set phrases. For example, the entry нос "nose" includes expressions such as нос мёрзнет "one's nose is cold," отмороженный нос, обмороженный нос "frost-bitten nose," растирать нос "to rub one's nose," etc. The reason for this is that our aim was to present all of the common expressions that are used to describe the typical properties of each of these parts of the body, as well as the typical situations in which they occur, and some of these common expressions are free.

On the other hand, we have excluded idioms containing the names of parts of the body, e.g. не видеть дальше собственного носа "to be narrow- minded," lit. "to be unable to see further than one's own nose," or быть с кем-то на дружеской ноге "to be on friendly terms with somebody," lit. "to be on a friendly foot with somebody." The criterion for excluding such expressions is that the bodypart meaning of the word does not show up in the meaning of the idiom.

Many of the collocations in this dictionary contain verbs. When a verb is cited, its imperfective form is listed first, separated from its perfective partner, if any exists, by a slash. If no partner exists for a given expression, that fact is rendered by the abbreviations no Pf. or no Impf. If an action-type perfective is in common use, it is listed with a label indicating what type it is, namely, Pf-once for semelfactives, Pf-awhile for restrictives, and Pf-begin for inceptives.

Finally, a word about the English translations. The intention is to render the meaning of the Russian word or phrase, not to list all possible translations or to pursue the sometimes impossible task of finding the exactly corresponding set phrase in English. This is a dictionary of Russian collocations, not English ones. For this reason the translations may sometimes be more literal than an expert translator would wish for.

The Russian Dictionary Project

This book is a product of the Russian Dictionary Project, initiated by Richard L. Leed and Slava Paperno in 1987 with the financial support of the National Security Agency and the Consortium for Language Teaching and Learning. The project also included Clifford and Linda Flamm, the late Felix Dreizin, the two translators Lesli LaRocco and Jean MacKenzie, and Lidija Iordanskaja, who wrote the entries on parts of the body in this book as well as the Foreword. The Russian Dictionary Project has been directed by Slava Paperno.

An electronic version of this dictionary is available from Lexicon Bridge Publishers. For information, send e-mail to


We wish to express our deepest gratitude to the many friends and colleagues who helped us in working on this book. We were frequently unsure of the usage of various words and expressions, and in such cases we turned to a number of people. If their answers were not in agreement, we chose the majority opinion. Our informants were: M. A. Bojarskaja, A. K. D'jachkov, E. E. D'jachkova, S. E. El'nickaja, K. I. Letjagin, Sophia Lubensky, O. B. Maksimova, I. A. Mel'chuk, E. V. Mikaеljan, A. L. Mikaеljan, Alexander Nakhimovsky, Lora Paperno, G. N. Tuzhilina, Viktoria Tsimberov, and M. N. Shershneva. The remarks of the following colleagues who read some of the entries in their entirety were particularly important: Ju. D. Apresjan, Natalia Bragina, M. Ja. Glovinskaja, I. A. Mel'chuk, and N. V. Pertsov. We especially wish to thank L. Elnitsky, who agreed to read several entries of the final version just before submission to the printer. Of course, all of the remaining shortcomings and errors, unavoidable in this kind of book, are the responsibility of the authors.