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  • Writer's pictureOlga Jarrell


Updated: Nov 27, 2019

Everyone who is somehow related to the Russian language or/and culture heard of so-called “the mysterious Russian soul” (зага́дочная ру́сская душа́), but nobody could explain clearly what exactly it is. In 1866, a Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Фёдор Тю́тчев) wrote the classical lines:

Умо́м Росси́ю не поня́ть,

Арши́ном о́бщим не изме́рить,

У ней осо́бенная стать,

В Росси́ю мо́жно то́лько ве́рить.

The general meaning of the poem is as follows: “It is impossible to understand Russia with one’s mind; Russia is special and can’t be measured in the same way as other countries; in Russia one can only believe.” Back then, Tyutchev basically stated that it is hard for foreigners to understand Russia with its mysterious soul just by using simple logic or common sense.

Anyway, the Russian Soul must exist because the word "soul" is used so frequently in the Russian language, and it is literally on top of the tongue of almost every Russian.

душа́ – ду́ши (plural) = soul, spirit


There are quite a few idiomatic expressions with this noun.

жить душа́ в ду́шу = (literally) to live soul to soul; to live in harmony, in piece, in perfect unity with someone.

Я ду́маю, что э́ти ба́бушка и де́душка живу́т душа́ в ду́ша. А как вы ду́маете?

Рисунок: Леонид Баранов

по душе́ = to your liking; said about something you like or enjoy

  • рабо́та по душе ́= a job you like

  • де́ло по душе́ = something to your liking

  • Это мне не по душе́. = I do not like this. /It’s not to my liking.

  • Найди́ себе́ де́ло по душе́! = Find something you like doing.

This philosophical statement by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius has the idiom «по душе». Can you translate these words of wisdom into English?

по душа́м = frankly; heart-to-heart; without hiding anything

This expression is usually used with the verb “говори́ть /поговори́ть” or the noun “разгово́р” in the following expressions:

  • говори́ть по душа́м = to talk heart-to-heat, honestly, frankly, openly

  • разгово́р по душа́м = heart-to-heart; honest, frank, open conversation

  • Дава́й поговори́м по душа́м! = Let’s talk honestly.

Художник: Алевтина Хабибова

NOTE! Even though the expressions “по душе́” and its plural form “по душа́м” differ only in grammatical number, they have different meanings.

за ми́лую ду́шу = with pleasure, with good appetite

If you try to translate it literally, or have Google Translate do it for you, you will get “for a sweet soul”, which is hard to guess what it could mean. The idiom is commonly used with the verb «есть/съесть».

  • есть /съесть за ми́лую ду́шу = to eat with pleasure or/and with good appetite (said about eating something tasty).

  • Де́ти съе́ли все пельме́ни за ми́лую ду́шу! – Kids ate all the pelmeni with great pleasure.

  • А что бы вы съе́ли за ми́лую ду́шу: борщ, пельме́ни, пирожки́, блины́?

На душе́ ко́шки скребу́т. = (Literally: Cats are scratching my soul.) = to feel worried, concerned, upset, depressed, anxious; anticipating something bad

The synonymous expressions:

  • душа́ боли́т = Literally: The soul is in pain.

  • душа́ не на ме́сте = Literally: The soul is not in the right place

  • Что де́лать е́сли на душе́ кошки скребу́т? = What should I do if I feel sad and anxious?

ду́шенька (ду́шечка) = dear, darling, sweetheart

This is an old-fashioned form of endearment of «душа́». I think it is sweet to call the person you love ‘my soul’ or, even better, ‘little soul’.

  • Не плачь, ду́шенька, успоко́йся! = Don’t cry, sweetheart. Come down.


There are also a few adjectives with the root «душ» describing personality, literally, a person with a certain type of soul:

  • великоду́шный = (literally: great-souled) = generous, magnanimous

  • доброду́шный = (literally: kind-souled) = kind-hearted

  • малоду́шный = (literally: little-souled) = weak-spirited; chicken-hearted

  • равноду́шный = (literally: a person who doesn’t care – всё равно) = indifferent

  • (за)душе́вный = soulful, sincere, heartwarming

  • безду́шный = (literally: without a soul) = heartless, dead-hearted


  • от души́ = from all the heart

  • всей душо́й = with all one’s heart and soul: with enthusiasm

  • в глубине́ души́ = in the back of one’s mind

  • душа́ нараспа́шку = to wear one’s heart on the sleeve: (said about honest and sincere person)

  • душа́ в пя́тки ушла́ = to have one’s heart in the mouth; to have heart in boots (when you got scared)

  • души́ не ча́ять = to worship; to adore (Он в ней души́ не ча́ет. = He adores her.)

  • в чём душа́ де́ржится = (Literally: someone’s body and soul are scarcely held together) someone is as weak as could be

  • ско́лько душе́ уго́дно = to one’s heart’s content; as much as you want

  • загляну́ть в ду́шу = to search one’s heart

  • лесть в ду́шу = (Literally: to climb into one’s soul) to inquire in very close detail about someone's personal life; to interfere in someone's private affairs

  • откры́ть ду́шу = to open one’s heart to someone

  • криви́ть душо́й = not to tell the truth; to be dishonest; to hypocrite

  • плева́ть в ду́шу = (Literally: to spit in one’s soul) = to insult what is most dear, sacred to someone

  • изли́ть ду́шу = to pour one’s heart out

  • на ду́шу населе́ния = (inf.) per capita of the population

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