Every speaker of Russian, native or not, is aware that there are two Russian adverbs Здесь (Zdes’) and Тут (Tut) for what would be rendered in English as the adverb of location here. What is not known, however, are the rules governing their distribution: are the two interchangeable, and if not, what accounts for this difference? In this paper, I shall attempt to explore this problem, though by no means conclusively, and lay the groundwork for further study.

It is apparent from studying the two occurrences of these two words, that there are indeed differences between zdes’ and tut, and that these differences operate on a number of different levels.

The Physical Dimension of Тут: The More Specific “Here”

The first level on which these words operate is a purely physical one in which zdes’ and tut serve to describe deictic1Deictic usage (or deixis) refers to the usage of words describing a person, place or time in context. For example, deictic words are those like here, there, now, then, you, and I, whose meanings depend entirely on who is saying them, and where and when they are said. location, that is, the physical space which is closest to the speaker (S1) in a speech event. In this way, they both serve as an opposition to the word там tam “there,” which is used deictically to represent that which is away from the speaker. Observe the very number of phraseologisms present in Russian pertaining to this contrast:

  1. Одна нога здесь, другая там.
    Odna noga zdes’, drugaya tam.
    One leg here, the other there.
  2. Одна нога там, другая тут.
    Odna noga tam, drugaya tut.
    One leg there, the other here.
  3. Там и тут.
    Tam i tut.
    There and here.
  4. То там, то тут.
    To tam, to tut.
    One there, one here.
  5. Там… а здесь…
    Tam… a zdes’…
    There… but here…

It is here where they begin to diverge in their meanings. While both zdes’ (“here”) and tut (“here”) do stand in opposition to some tam “there,” tut oftentimes conveys a much more specific “here” in relation to the speaker (S1), allowing one to set off a ‘here-there’ type of contrast within a given zdes’. Witness the following example from Pushkin:

  1. Здесь зачинитель Варклай, а здесь совершитель Кутузов. Тут Аполлон—идеал, там Ниобея печаль.
    Here (zdes’) is the pioneer Varklai, and here (zdes’) is the performer Kutuzov. Here (tut) Apollo—the ideal; there (tam) Niobe’s sorrow.

In (6) above, we see that there can exist within a given deictic “here” various degrees of proximity to the S1. When such a need arises, it is tut that is utilized to represent this relative relationship.

The Speakers’ Knowledge of the Here-Now

This raise the question of the role of what people know in any given conversation, what we refer to as the “knowledge sets” of the participants in a “speech event.” In order to establish such a contrast as tut and tam within a given zdes’ or “here,” it is necessary that the knowledge of the ‘here-now’ be the same in the minds of both the speaker (S1) and addressee (S2). If the S1 and S2 do not share the same perceptions as to what the ‘here-now’ of a speech event is, then it is necessary to establish one. In order to reorient an addressee’s perceptions of the ‘here-now’ zdes’ is used.

  1. Здесь в Москве, они держали Совет, и Юрий, по словам летопища, дал гостью «обед силен».
    Here (zdes’) in Moscow, they held a Council, and Yuri, in the words of the annals, gave a guest a “strong lunch.”
  2. «А зори здесь тихие…» [B. Vasiliev]
    But the dawns are quiet here (zdes’)
  3. Мне здесь одно непонятно.
    One thing is not clear to me here (zdes’)

Note well that in (9) the word zdes’ serves to direct the attention of the S2, to refer him to some object, to bring him into some context. If that sentence were rendered with tut: мне тут одно непонятно, it would not refer so much to some kind of object, but rather to a situational context. Zdes’ is used to bring an interlocutor into a physical, deictic locational frame of reference.

Object versus Context

More evidence of this dichotomy is found in the following, where zdes’ implies an actual reference to some object, and tut implies a contextual referent:

  1. Я тут стихи написал.
    I’ve written poems here (tut).
  2. Я здесь стихи написал.
    I’ve written poems here (zdes’).

In (10) above, there is no actual spatial referent. The utterance indicates the existence of poems in some sort of situational context (perhaps a writer submitting some works to an editor)—What have I done? I’ve written some poems here—whereas (11) would place a focus on the actual physical presence of the poems in question: Where did I write? I’ve written some poems here.

Characterization of the Speaker

In addition to the actual spatial references that both zdes’ and tut present, there is yet another level that must be dealt with: characterization of the S1 in a speech event. It becomes apparent that the choice of words on behalf of the speaker says as much about the speaker himself as it does about the physical reality surrounding him.

The Speaker’s Emotional Closeness to the Environment

One of the most important things that it relates is the closeness, or personal attachment the speaker feels toward the place she describes as “here.” The more emotional attachment a person feels toward a given “here” the more likely she is to use tut to refer to that “here.”

  1. —Позвольте узнать… здесь живут Най–Турс? —Никаких Турс тут нету.[Bulgakov]
    “Please let me know… do the Nai-Turs live here (zdes’)?” “There isn’t any Turs here (tut).”
Russian dictionary entry for здесь

The use of tut here shows the emotional closeness felt by the speaker to the place she calls “here.” Using zdes’Никаких Турс здесь нету—would indicate greater emotional distance between the speaker and her environment. This is most likely the reason why it is rather offensive for an addressee to hear her home referred to as zdes’, as if it were merely some public place, lacking the personal intimacy of tut.

Conversely, when lack of an emotional attachment is expressed, zdes’ is used. In the following example taken from Bulgakov’s Belaia Gvardia, the location is a morgue:

  1. —Нам нужно найти убитого… здесь он, вероятно? —…А где же профессор?…
    —Они здесь, только они заняты…
    “We need to find the deceased… He’s probably here (zdes’), right?” “But where’s the professor?” “They’re here (zdes’), but they’re busy.”

Here it is unlikely that the speakers would feel any closeness toward the morgue, and this is reflected through their use of the word zdes’. It serves to put some emotional distance between them and their deictic “here.” Such a choice to reflect intimacy or the lack thereof is also related to the question of style.

Здесь, Тут, and Style

The choice of tut over zdes’ is often a stylistic variant. Witness the following question asked by a patron of a hotel to a clerk in that hotel:

  1. Какое здесь напряжение?
    What’s the voltage here (zdes’)?
  2. *Какое тут напряжение?
    What’s the voltage here (tut)?

Utterance (15) is a stylistic violation. One would never use tut with a perfect stranger, just as one would never ask the following question of someone on the street:

  1. *Где тут телефон?
    Where is a telephone here (tut)?

Such a question, which would normally be Где здесь телефон? Gde zdes’ telefon?, would, through the use of the word tut, imply greater intimacy between S1 and S2. When one needs to indicate greater specificity (as tut was shown to demonstrate above) the word ближайщий blizhaishchii (“nearest”) is added to convey the concept of immediacy. Likewise, directions given to a cab driver are indicative of this phenomenon:

  1. Остановите здесь, пожалуйста… Вот как раз тут.
    Stop here (zdes’), please. Right here (tut).

Note that here we have an instance of the aforementioned case where tut cannot be used to describe a ‘here-now’ unless it has already been defined by some zdes’ .

Closeness between the Speakers

Through all of this, we see that usage of the word tut not only conveys the closeness of the speaker to the deictic “here,” but also the closeness of the S1 to the S2 in a given speech event. In this way, we see the stylistic effects of the choice of words to describe the deictic center.

  1. Какое тут напряжение?
    What’s the voltage here (tut)?
  2. Где тут телефон?
    Where’s the telephone here (tut)?

The above sentences (18) and (19) would express stylistically a level of intimacy that was impermissible in the earlier contexts. Here, such a question is most likely asked by someone who is on very close personal terms with their collocutor. These utterances show a higher level of intimacy between S1 and S2. To wit, observe the following:

  1. —Что вы тут делаете? —Мы тут играем в карты.
    “What are you doing here (tut)?” “We’re playing cards here (tut).”
Russian dictionary entry for тут an adverb like здесь

Here a level of intimacy between the person asking the question “What are you doing here?” and the person answering, “We’re playing cards here” is clearly expressed. This explains the contention of many Russian language texts that the word tut is just a more conversational variant of zdes’. Indeed, tut is more conversational than zdes’ if for no other reason than the fact that one tends to speak conversationally with those with whom one is closest. Furthermore, this explains the fact that the word тутошний tutoshnii “local,” is far more colloquial that its near synonym, the neutral sounding здешний zdeshnii. It only stands to reason then, that usage of tut brings about a closing of the distance between S1 and S2. Distance is often purposely increased or decreased between two people for purposes of politeness.

Inverting Intimacy: Taking Offense

People who speak to each other на ты (na ty “on thou,” i.e., using ty, the intimate second person pronoun) will switch to speaking на вы (na vy “on you,” i.e., using vy, the formal second person pronoun) and vice-versa when in a confrontational situational. In the same way, the stylistic usage of tut versus zdes’ can be adjusted to fit similar situations.

  1. —Проша! Где вы? —Кто вам тут «Проша»?
    “Prosha! Where are you?” “Who here (tut) is ‘Prosha’ to you?”

In the above example, we witness a violation of a politeness code on behalf of the first speaker. She has become too familiar with her conversant by addressing him as Проша Prosha instead of Прохор Prokhor, and he responds in kind by using tut. This is the process of style-matching at work. Had he answered “Кто вам здесь «Проша»?” Kto vam zdes’ ‘Prosha’? it would have been as stylistically absurd as a comparable English retort, “Please go to hell, sir.” Here, the sudden closeness between S1 and S2 evidenced by the use of tut is in direct reaction to the disregard of standards of politeness on behalf of the first speaker addressing the second speaker by a familiar nickname.


As we have seen, the words zdes’ and tut operate on different levels. On one hand, they describe an actual physical deictic location relative to the speaker, and on the other they characterize the speaker who uses them in a given speech event. This is perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of the entire phenomenon, that two words which seem so similar can convey quite different messages in regard to both physical reality, speaker’s perception of emotional closeness, and stylistic effect. These apparently simple words are truly remarkable.

We have seen that on a purely physical deictic level, in addition to being synonymous with zdes’ in its opposition to tam “there,” tut is often used to differentiate a ‘here-there’ distinction within a predefined zdes’. Furthermore, tut is utilized to express both the S1’s emotional closeness to the ‘here-now’ of a speech event, as well as their emotional closeness to the S2.

While this examination is by no means complete nor exhaustive, I trust that it has served, to some extent, to define both the problem of the words zdes’ and tut, to provide some clues, and to establish a direction for further study.


Bulgakov, Mikhail, Master i Margarita, Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, Moscow 1984.

Nikolaevna, T.N., “Deikticheskii chasticy i izolirovannaia situacia”, Russian Language Journal, vol. 9, no 198, 1985.

Vinogradov, V.V., Slovar’ lazika Pushkina, vols. 2,4. Akademiia Nauk SSSR, Moscow 1957.

Yokoyama, Olga T., “Shifters and Non-Verbal Categories of Russian.” Harvard University 1988. Znakomims’ia s russkoi i sovestskoi literaturoi, ed. T.D. Tikhomirova, Russkii lazik, Moscow 1988.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *