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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Full Steam Ahead

Вперёд: forward, onward, ahead, in advance, move, go

Time for a pop quiz. The correct way to translate the title of President Medvedev’s blog article “Россия, вперёд!” is: a) Go, Russia! b) Forward, Russia! c) Move Ahead, Russia! d) all of the above e) none of the above f) cut to the chase already.

OK, it’s a trick question. “Correct” and “translation” are two words I rarely use together since translation always depends on context, setting, audience and a dozen other factors. And then вперёд is what I call a multifunctional word.

It is related to перед and перёд, two words distinguished solely by those little dots over the “е.” Перёд is not used much these days, but it means the front or forepart of something: Перёд платья испачкан (The front of the dress is dirty). Перед is a preposition that means “before” or “in front of” time or space. Мы стояли перед домом и любовались видом (We stood in front of the house and enjoyed the view).

Впереди is an adverb that means to be stationary in front or ahead of something. У тебя всё впереди (You’ve got your whole life ahead of you). Thirty years ago, you could have heard it as an assertion of the advanced nature of Soviet society: В области балета мы впереди планеты всей! (In ballet we’re the best on the whole planet!)

Вперёд is another adverb that refers to an action moving toward either a physical space that lies ahead or a time in the future. Войска шли вперёд (The troops moved forward). Весной мы переводим часы на час вперёд (In the spring, we set our clocks ahead one hour). It can also refer to actions done in advance of something. Когда заказываешь мебель, надо платить вперёд (When you order furniture, you have to pay in advance). This is sometimes what Americans call cash on the barrelhead.

In folkier speech, вперёд can mean “ahead of time.” Вперёд подумай, а потом скажи (Think before you speak). Or it can even refer to an action that gets ahead of itself: Часы идут вперёд (The clock is fast).

You often hear вперёд in common expressions. Я сделал один шаг вперёд, два шага назад (I took one step forward and two steps back). Собака бегала взад и вперёд по тротуару (The dog ran back and forth on the sidewalk). Он застрял в грязи и не мог двинуться ни взад ни вперёд (He got stuck in mud and couldn’t move forward or backward).

Вперёд can also be used to command or urge people forward. Depending on the context and era, the battle cry “Вперёд!” might be translated as Forward! Onward! or even Attack! One of the standard appeals to the nation during the Soviet era was “Вперёд, к победе коммунизма!” (Onward, to the victory of communism!) When a child is dawdling, an adult losing patience might urge: Вперёд! (Keep going!) Sports writers often apply this to their favorite team when it’s heading towards victory: Вперёд, Спартак! (Go Spartak!) You might also hear this in the boardroom when the boss is spurring the commercial troops onward and upward: Все поняли задачу? Тогда вперёд! (Did you all understand the task? Now get to it!)

So what about Mr. Medvedev’s command, “Россия, вперёд!”? Even though the article was a blog post, “Go!” or “Move ahead!” strike me as being a bit too slangy for such a serious subject, and “Onward!” smacks too much of Communist slogans. I’d probably go with “Forward, Russia!”

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.