Russian ‘today’ and ‘the day of today’

In Russian, the words for yesterday, today and tomorrow are:

  • вчера, [vchera]
  • сегодня, [sevodnya]
  • завтра [zavtra]

In general, these words primarily function as adverbs, answering the question ‘when?’ This means that when you want to say, e.g., ‘From today, the bus fare is 10 roubles’, you have to use their adjectival forms and add the noun день [dyen’], ‘day’:

  • вчерашний день [vcherashnyiy dyen’]
  • сегодняшний день [sevodnyashnyiy dyen’]
  • завтрашний день [zavtrashnyiy dyen’]

The most literal translation of these would be ‘the day of yesterday/today/tomorrow’. To return to my original example (which a conductor told me, to my shock, when I boarded a bus in Nizhny Novgorod with exactly 8 roubles in my pocket):

  • С сегодняшнего дня проезд – десять рублей. [S sevodnyashnyevo dnya proyezd – desyat’ rublyei.] ‘From today, the fare is ten roubles.’

You can’t say с сегодня in Russian. It has to be с сегодяшнего дня.

A strange form, you might think. Why would they need it? For constructions such as the following:

  • у меня похмелье после вчерашнего [u menya pokhmelye poslye vcherashnyevo], ‘I have a hangover after yesterday’
  • «Сегодняшняя газета» [sevodnyashnyaya gazyeta], Today’s Newspaper
  • уверенность в завтрашнем дне, [uverennost’ v zavtrashnyem dnye], ‘faith in tomorrow’

That said, you can sometimes use prepositions with the words вчера, сегодня, завтра and treat them as nouns without turning them into the long forms above:

  • Мы договорились на вчера [my dogovorilis’ na vchera], ‘we agreed on yesterday’
  • Это на сегодня всё [eto na sevodnya vsyo], ‘that’s all for today’ (e.g. at the end of a news bulletin)
  • Пока, до завтра! [poka, do zavtra], ‘Bye, ’til tomorrow!’

Quite why it’s fine to say на сегодня and not на сегодняший день is beyond me. I know when to use one form rather than the other, but I can’t see any rule that governs the difference.

The above are all examples of modern, standard Russian. However, there are some examples from the past which do not follow the norms above:

  • Но к завтраму вы обдумаете и отдохнёте. [No k zavtramu vy obdumayete i odokhnyotye.] ‘But before tomorrow you’ll think it all over and relax.’ (F.M. Dostoevsky, Бесы (Demons), Part 1, Chapter 2, VII.)

This is clearly an archaic and maybe dialectal form (of which so many crop up in Dostoevsky!). Interestingly, the speaker treats завтра like a neuter or masculine adjective, *завтрый/*завтрое [zavtryi, zavtroye]. (The * indicates a spurious or non-grammatical form.) The -аму [amu] spelling of the suffix reflects how pre-reform masculine and neuter adjectival endings were spelt, as opposed to the modern-day -ому [omu]. As the a/o is unstressed, by the way, there is no difference in pronunciation.

In summary: the three adjectival forms вчерашний, сегодняшний, завтравний are good to know in Russian, as is the difference between до завтра and до завтрашнего. And never forget that there always oddities to be found beyond the pale of modern, standard usage!

Footnote: The transliteration system I use above is inconsistent and I know it. Please don’t take it as any more than an approximate guide to pronunciation.

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