How do you say ‘to die’ in Russian?

Many Russians devoted May 11th this year to visiting the graves of their loved ones. Known as Роди́тельский день и́ли Радо́ница (Roditel’skiy Den’ or Radonista), this day is directly related to Orthodox Easter and you can read more about the gist of it in Yelena’s old blog here. For a more detailed account on this tradition, I highly recommend this article by Irena Mostowicz on Radonitsa celebrations in the Smolensk Region.

In lieu of Radonitsa, let’s talk about the three most commonly used Russian verbs that mean ‘to die’ and the nouns derived from them that mean ‘deceased’.

a couple at the cemetery To die

Compare the following sentences:

Мой де́душка у́мер про́шлой но́чью.

Мой де́душка поги́б про́шлой но́чью.

Мой де́душка сконча́лся про́шлой но́чью.

You might hastily write off all three as My grandpa died last night. However, each of these three Russian verbs paints a different picture of how ‘the grandpa’ perished.

Умере́ть is generally used to talk about death from natural causes, e.g. ‘умере́ть от ста́рости’ и́ли ‘умере́ть есте́ственной сме́ртью’ (to die of old age or to die of natural causes). More broadly, умере́ть can simply equate to ‘ceasing to exist or live’ or ‘to stop working’.

Твои́ секре́ты умру́т со мной. Your secrets die with me.

Мне сро́чно нужна́ заря́дка от нау́шников — они́ вот-во́т умру́т. I need my headphones’ charger ASAP. They are about to die.

There are, of course, even more figurative expressions with the word ‘умере́ть’, as in ‘умере́ть со стра́ху’ or ‘умере́ть со стыда́’ (‘to die of fear’ or ‘to die from embarrassment’).

Поги́бнуть means to be killed by some outside force, usually brutally. For example, one can ‘поги́бнуть в бо́ю’ (to die in battle), ‘поги́бнуть в пожа́ре’ (to die in a fire).

Сконча́ться is a more formal and literary word for ‘умере́ть’. It comes from the noun ‘коне́ц’, which means ‘the end’. If you change out the prefix ‘c’ to ‘за’ you get everyday phrases like ‘молоко́ зака́нчивается’ (‘we are almost out of milk’, literally ‘the milk is almost finished’) or ‘фильм зако́нчился час наза́д’ (the movie ended an hour ago).

candles The deceased or the dead

The words for ‘deceased’ in Russian are derived from verbs above. Therefore, we have:


Мно́гие ве́рят, что души уме́рших не мо́гут оста́вить наш мир пока́ не вы́полнят незако́нченные дела.

Many people believe that the souls of the dead cannot leave our world until they take care of their unfinished business.


Родны́е поги́бшей отказа́лись говори́ть с журнали́стами.

The relatives of the deceased refused to speak with the journalists.


man at the cemetery

Мой неда́вно сконча́вшийся сосе́д после́дние пятна́дцать лет жил оди́н.

My recently deceased neighbor lived alone for the last 15 years.

There is more to cover in regard to the Russian language and traditions around сме́рть (death). So, for now, I leave you with Maria’s informative blog on some macabre sayings in Russian and a piece of cultural advice: if you are attending a funeral in Russia and would like to give the family of the deceased flowers, make sure to give an even number of flowers (чётное коли́чество цвето́в). More on that in a future blog.


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