about thirty years old

Lemminkäinen

Senior Member
Norwegian (bokmål)
Hi everybody :)

I want to write "he was about thirty years old", and know it can be written as:

Ему было около тридцати лет

But I was wondering whether the following would express it as well; I've seen the syntax from time to time in texts, and it seems to convey the same sense of "about-ness":

Ему было лет тридцать
 
  • Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    Hi everybody :)

    I want to write "he was about thirty years old", and know it can be written as:

    Ему было около тридцати лет

    But I was wondering whether the following would express it as well; I've seen the syntax from time to time in texts, and it seems to convey the same sense of "about-ness":

    Ему было лет тридцать
    Both are correct, though the second one is more colloquial.
    Other versions are also possible:
    Он был лет тридцати.
    Ему было около тридцати.
    Ему было под тридцать.
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    Both sentences are OK.:)
    But the second one indeed sounds more colloquial. And it seems to me that such wording may express some uncertainty of the speaker.
     

    Ptak

    Senior Member
    Rußland
    Ему было лет тридцать - I think he might be about 30.

    тридцать лет - 30 years
    лет тридцать - about 30
     

    Lemminkäinen

    Senior Member
    Norwegian (bokmål)
    Thanks a lot for the explanation :)

    What I wanted to express was that something happened when he was about 30 years old (so I knew the approximate age), so I'll go with the first expression.
     

    Maroseika

    Moderator
    Russian
    What's the difference between

    лет тридцати.
    лет тридцать
    and
    тридцати лет
    ?
    Солдату, сидевшему в третьем ряду у окна, было лет тридцать.
    В третьем ряду у окна сидел солдат лет тридцати.
    Therefore as you see grammatically the difference is only in the Case of the noun.
    Semantically - no difference, each of the vesrions can be used according to the common style of the text.

    тридцати лет - 30 years old precisely
    лет тридцати - about 30 years old
     

    CrazyArcher

    Senior Member
    Russia/Russian
    лет тридцать expresses uncertainity and some degree of guessing. "Я прожил в том городе лет тридцать" - I had lived for about 30 years in that town.
    тридцать лет means just "30 years", precisely. "Этот замок строился тридцать лет" - This castle was built for thrity years. (Note the stress in "замок")
    I hope I'm clear :)
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    Do native Russian speakers really feel that тридцать лет is necessarily precise? In English, round numbers like 30 can be interpreted vaguely, such that in the right context you can refer to a 29-year-old or a 32-year-old as being 30, but you couldn't refer to them as being 31 (a non-round number). Would this be inappropriate in Russian?
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    Do native Russian speakers really feel that тридцать лет is necessarily precise?
    It is precise. If you want to leave some room around 30, then you can say, besides the above examples, "Ей (ему) тридцатник" (30-31), or "примерно тридцать" (29-31), or "тридцать с чем-то" (over 30), or "тридцать с хвостиком", "тридцать с небольшим". (31, 32, maybe 33...).

    Actually, there is a joke about that. See whether you can parse it.

    Армянское радио спрашивают:
    - Можно ли жениться в тридцать с небольшим?
    - Можно, но лучше в сорок и с большим.
     
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    Q-cumber

    Senior Member
    Do native Russian speakers really feel that тридцать лет is necessarily precise? In English, round numbers like 30 can be interpreted vaguely, such that in the right context you can refer to a 29-year-old or a 32-year-old as being 30, but you couldn't refer to them as being 31 (a non-round number). Would this be inappropriate in Russian?
    I'd say тридцать лет always means 30-years in Russian. If we want to express some uncertainty, we say "под тридцать" (< 30), "за тридцать" (30+), "около тридцати", "в районе тридцати", "лет тридцать", "примерно тридцать лет", "четвёртый десяток" and so on. By no means we would refer to a 29-year-old person as being 30, as we never "age" people this way, if you know what I mean.
     
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    egz03

    Member
    English
    Intersting. Thanks! Does this hold in general, like with тридцать рублей or тридцать килограммов?

    Do you know if this precision is Russian-specific, or are there other Slavic/non-Slavic languages that interpret numbers this way too?
     

    Q-cumber

    Senior Member
    Intersting. Thanks! Does this hold in general, like with тридцать рублей or тридцать килограммов?
    Yes, more or less:

    - Ты не мог бы мне одолжить (lend) тридцать рублей? <Exact sum>
    - Ты не мог бы мне одолжить рублей тридцать? <approx.>

    - Он сбросил тридцать килограммов! <lose bodyweight (fat)>
    - Он сбросил килограммов тридцать!
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    тридцать килограммов?
    Each gramm, not even kilogramm (within an error of measurement) would make a difference.

    Новости NEWSru.com :: В грузовом поезде изъято более 30 ...
    В грузовом поезде изъято более 30 килограммов героина. ... По факту контрабанды в Россию 30 килограммов 250 граммов героина возбуждено уголовное дело. ...
    www.newsru.com/arch/crime/02jul2001/geroin.html
     
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    Piotr_WRF

    Senior Member
    Polish, German
    Do you know if this precision is Russian-specific, or are there other Slavic/non-Slavic languages that interpret numbers this way too?
    Not in Polish. Miał trzydzieści lat (He was thirty years old) is the common way to express this idea. Miał lat trzydzieści sounds archaic but I don't think that anyone would perceive a difference between them two in meaning as far as precision is concerned.
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    Do native Russian speakers really feel that тридцать лет is necessarily precise? In English, round numbers like 30 can be interpreted vaguely, such that in the right context you can refer to a 29-year-old or a 32-year-old as being 30, but you couldn't refer to them as being 31 (a non-round number). Would this be inappropriate in Russian?
    You are correct, тридцать лет does not always imply thirty-sharp. There's a really a subtle nuance here:

    'Лет тридцать' would be used when the speaker is making an estimate of an unknown quantity.

    'Тридцать лет' would be used when the speaker either knows the quantity but is deliberately rounding it because it's really irrelevant to use greater precision; or knows its estimate to be around that.

    Example.

    When I say 'Этому дому лет тридцать' I mean that I do not know how old is this house but I estimate its age at 30. I am also implying that I could be off with my estimate too.

    When I say 'Этому дому тридцать лет' I either mean that:

    * I know this house for a fact to be 30, or
    * I know that it is for a fact e.g. 28 or 31, or
    * I know that it is for a fact between 28 and 31 (or between 26 and 34 for that mater).

    In either of these three cases I am indicating I'm fairly sure in my figures, with little to no chance of being off.

    This is all really minor, but the difference is still there. I also think it pretty much matches the way it is used in English, so it's hardly a language quirk exclusive to Russian.
     
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    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    You are correct, тридцать лет does not always imply thirty-sharp.
    For the age of person тридцать лет is, however, conditionally sharp (30 full years plus a certain number of months and days of the unfinished 31st year), otherwise, it would be лет тридцать. I think this is because the age of a person is normally very well documented. (Another example above: 30,250 kg of heroine is also weighed with a great precision, and it cannot be 30).

    Accuracy of age of a house is somewhat less important (as compared to a person), let's say, in the range between 26 and 35 it may fall in a conditional 30-year bracket. But this is understood and this is not the same as the precise age (with 1 year margin) of a person.
     
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    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    For the age of person тридцать лет is, however, conditionally sharp (30 full years plus a certain number of months and days of the unfinished 31st year), otherwise, it would be лет тридцать.
    I totally disagree. There're plenty of informal uses where you actually mean 30+. "Мне уже 30 лет" could perfectly mean 32.
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    I totally disagree. There're plenty of informal uses where you actually mean 30+. "Мне уже 30 лет" could perfectly mean 32.
    A person would normally know his own age exactly, so that this is a deliberate disinformation for some reason, then it could be anything. Some women try to dissimulate their age this way, for example. But it is not the point. I cannot say about someone He is 30 (Ему 30 лет), if I know he is 32 and I do not want to make false statements.

    But I can always say Ему лет 30, and that would be a true statement whether his age is, let's say, 28, or 30, or 32, ... , even if I know that he is not exactly 30.
     
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    Q-cumber

    Senior Member
    A person would normally know his own age exactly, so that this is a deliberate disinformation for some reason, then it could be anything. Some women try to dissimulate their age this way, for example. But it is not the point. I cannot say about someone He is 30, if I know he is 32 and I do not want to make false statements.
    I agree with you.
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    What if I were to say that my grandfather is 80? I might know that he's 83, but my point in mentioning his age is to say that he's old, so his exact age isn't important. I'm not trying to make a false statement, I just don't want to bother you with the unnecessary syllable and precision. Would that still feel inappropriate in Russian?
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    What if I were to say that my grandfather is 80? I might know that he's 83, but my point in mentioning his age is to say that he's old, so his exact age isn't important. I'm not trying to make a false statement, I just don't want to bother you with the unnecessary syllable and precision. Would that still feel inappropriate in Russian?
    You'd rather say Ему (уж) за 80, otherwise it is understood that he is 80. Or, Ему 80 стукнуло, although it can be still perceived that he is 80, or Ему 80 стукнуло давно - then a degree of a larger imprecision is delivered (you said 83, that's would be OK). It just because it is your grandfather and you are supposed to know his age.

    If all of that is about an old house, then the age of 80 means an age bracket around 80, not proper age.
     
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    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    What if I were to say that my grandfather is 80? I might know that he's 83, but my point in mentioning his age is to say that he's old, so his exact age isn't important. I'm not trying to make a false statement, I just don't want to bother you with the unnecessary syllable and precision. Would that still feel inappropriate in Russian?
    That is perfectly appropriate - and that is exactly my point in the argument above. People *do* round figures deliberately when it's not necessary to be exact even if they do know the exact number. And while there are most certainly more precise ways to convey your meaning, which my opponents are insisting on, the language norm is what people actually use in their speech.
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    I just don't want to bother you with the unnecessary syllable and precision. Would that still feel inappropriate in Russian?
    In Russian, if this is the point, you do not need to add an unnecessary syllable. Instead of Ему 80 лет, you just say Ему лет 80. Such a form conveys a desirable degree of imprecision, whether you are aware of the exact numbers or not. Why would this form exist in the language othewise and be very common?
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    Why would this form exist in the language othewise and be very common?
    Why indeed! Such ungrateful people, the language provides them a better way and they insist on using the one they like, assuming more work on the listener's side. What a shame.
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    Why indeed! Such ungrateful people, the language provides them a better way and they insist on using the one they like, assuming more work on the listener's side. What a shame.
    Well, it is not uncommon to load a listener with all sorts of imprecisions. Could you please provide a straightforward example from available literature which would prove without a shade of doubt what you said:
    There're plenty of informal uses where you actually mean 30+. "Мне уже 30 лет" could perfectly mean 32.
    provided that this is not a misrepresentation of the real age of a person talking about him(her)self?
     
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    egz03

    Member
    English
    I read a paper where someone mentioned a situation where it's your colleague's birthday, but you don't know how old he's turning, so you have to guess. Apparently here it's fine to express his age as лет тридцать, but not приблизительно тридцать лет or 30-35 лет. Would this be because the latter two options imply that you know approximately how old he is (e.g. you remember him having his 28th birthday a year or two ago) whereas the former implies that you're totally guessing? Or could this have something to do with the latter two options being more continuous in range, obscuring the fact that it is his birthday?
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    I'd say that the second reasoning is correct - both приблизительно 30 лет and 30-35 лет do not sound precise enough for the context.

    Also, "ему тридцать - тридцать пять лет", while being grammatically correct, sounds rather artificial - we're more likely to say "ему от тридцати до тридцати пяти".
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    Sure. The following is from a 2006 paper by Asya Pereltsvaig from the 14th annual meeting of Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics:

    Consider the following situation: Masha is going to a colleague's birthday party and is asked how old that colleague is. Since she doesn't know him very well, she is guessing his age from his looks, etc. In this situation, Masha's reply can use the approximative in version in (19a), but not any other approximative strategy, such as using priblizitel'no 'approximately' or an interval:

    (19)
    a. Let tridcat'
    years thirty
    b. # Priblizitel'no tridcat' (let)
    approximately thirty years
    c. # 30-35 let
    30-35 years
    'Approximately thirty years'
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    Sure. The following is from a 2006 paper by Asya Pereltsvaig from the 14th annual meeting of Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics:

    Consider the following situation: Masha is going to a colleague's birthday party and is asked how old that colleague is. Since she doesn't know him very well, she is guessing his age from his looks, etc. In this situation, Masha's reply can use the approximative in version in (19a), but not any other approximative strategy, such as using priblizitel'no 'approximately' or an interval:

    (19)
    a. Let tridcat'
    years thirty
    b. # Priblizitel'no tridcat' (let)
    approximately thirty years
    c. # 30-35 let
    30-35 years
    'Approximately thirty years'
    Here's the nuance. The person is turning exact age today, therefore, any approximation must reflect that, leaving much less choice. Alternative to (19a) would be около 30, but I'd rather say Ему, наверное, (стукнет) тридцать (стукнет is appropriate in informal conversation.), or Ему что-нибудь тридцать.
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    What if it weren't the guy's birthday? Would приблизительно тридцать лет or 30-35 лет be more appropriate then, or would they imply that you know more than you actually do (i.e. that you're not taking a wild guess)?
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    What if it weren't the guy's birthday? Would приблизительно тридцать лет or 30-35 лет be more appropriate then
    It would be appropriate as well as other expressions. The numbers 30-35 are margins of your reasonable estimate and, probably, less precise, than приблизительно тридцать лет. How much else could you guess?
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    What if it weren't the guy's birthday? Would приблизительно тридцать лет or 30-35 лет be more appropriate then, or would they imply that you know more than you actually do (i.e. that you're not taking a wild guess)?
    Outside the birthday context, all of these are acceptable.

    (Actually, приблизительно is an unusual word to be used in informal speech here. We'd rather say около тридцати, порядка тридцати or в районе тридцати. Приблизительно makes it sound like a police officer describing a potential suspect, or somesuch.)
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    But just тридцать лет would be inappropriate, because it would indicate that you know he's approximately 30 (under the vague interpretation on тридцать)?
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    It could be or it could not be. For example, if you are asked in such a way that you are expected to name an exact age if you know it, or state that you don't, then, naturally, you wouldn't.

    Unlike "под тридцать" etc, I don't think that usage of the plain "тридцать лет" is specific to Russian, but rather common in most languages. I'd be using English "thirty years" in absolutely the same way.
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    So the context were some casual conversation (versus, say, filling out insurance forms) where his exact age makes no difference, I could say тридцать лет, even though it's purely a guess? I suppose I'm confused because of this:

    'Лет тридцать' would be used when the speaker is making an estimate of an unknown quantity.

    'Тридцать лет' would be used when the speaker either knows the quantity but is deliberately rounding it because it's really irrelevant to use greater precision; or knows its estimate to be around that.
    I took that to mean thatit's not appropriate to say тридцать лет when you're just guessing. Is that not really the case?
     

    Escogido

    New Member
    Russian
    If you're asked "сколько ему?" and you answer "ему тридцать", it implies that you're sure he's 30 and neither 29 nor 32.

    If on the other hand you said "Пора бы ему завести семью, тридцать лет человеку" it could mean that he might actually be 32. (Kolan above objected to this usage, which is strictly speaking is indeed incorrect, but people do use that a lot, especially when talking about inanimate objects, as in "моей машине уже десять лет".)

    In neither case you indicate you're guessing however. For comparison, if in the first example you didn't know for sure, your answer "ему тридцать" would likely have been interpreted as if you're actually sure - which is probably not your intent.
     

    KSSLW

    Member
    Russian
    But couldn't I also know that he's 29, or that he's somewhere from 29 to 31?
    As Kolan stated before Ему тридцать лет is an affirmative phrase, so there is no doubt that person knows exact age. You can play with the meaning of this phrase adding another words like in this case:

    Пора бы ему завести семью, тридцать лет человеку
    The meaning also can change depending on how you build the sentence.
     

    egz03

    Member
    English
    How about this scenario:

    You're talking to an acquaintance, and she tells you her brother was born in the year of the ox, which for present purposes I'll say means he's 11, 23, 35, 47, 59, 71, or 83. This acquaintance is in her thirties, so your best guess would be that her brother is 35 (as opposed to 11, 23, etc.).

    Could you say Ему лет тридцать пять in this context?
     

    Kolan

    Banned
    Russian (CCCP)
    You're talking to an acquaintance, and she tells you her brother was born in the year of the ox, which for present purposes I'll say means he's 11, 23, 35, 47, 59, 71, or 83. This acquaintance is in her thirties, so your best guess would be that her brother is 35 (as opposed to 11, 23, etc.).

    Could you say Ему лет тридцать пять in this context?
    After all this math (in the aftermath :)) - no, you can't, unless you are terribly bad in math. Because normally you would come to this numeric conclusion undoubtedly.
     
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