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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Private Matter

Частный: private, individual, specific, particular

Частный is an interesting word. The adjective from the noun часть (part of a whole), it describes things that are individual in some way or concern individual people, their money and rights. On my personal complex-o-meter of the Russian language, I give it a five: fairly easy to understand but requiring some thought to determine the best word in English for translation.

Частный can refer to anything that is personal and private — not part of the government, the public or any other organization. For example, you might step into your boss’s office and say: Я к вам по частному делу (I have a personal matter to discuss with you). And your boss might reply: Тогда я отвечу в качестве частного лица (Then I’ll reply in a private capacity).

What? You don’t talk like that in your office? You might be more familiar with this kind of notification from the management: Нельзя использовать корпоративную электронную почту для частной переписки (It’s against the rules to use corporate e-mail for personal correspondence).

Частная жизнь is a person’s private life. Sometimes the phrase is used to distinguish between someone’s public persona and real personality. На экране она играла роль секс-богини, а в частной жизни была однолюбкой (Although she played a sex goddess on-screen, she was a one-man woman off-screen). Or to distinguish between vocation and avocation: После отставки Борис Ельцин ушёл в частную жизнь и не участвовал в политике (After he resigned, Boris Yeltsin retired to private life and didn’t get involved in politics).

Sometimes частная жизнь can be translated simply as privacy: В Англии, Елизавета II обещает наказать папарацци, нарушающих частную жизнь королевской семьи (In England, Queen Elizabeth is threatening to punish paparazzi who invade the privacy of the royal family). In Russia, право на неприкосновенность частной жизни (right to privacy; literally, “the right to the inviolability of private life”) is engrained in the constitution, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t вмешательство в частную жизнь (invasion of privacy). For example, neighbors might call the участковый (beat cop, from the word участок, the local precinct) when the couple in the adjoining apartment go at each other with kitchen knives. But sometimes people don’t get involved in neighbors’ quarrels: Это их частное дело (That’s their own business).

In other cases, частный refers to something privately owned, like частная библиотека or частный дом (a private library or house) or anything owned and run by individuals. Частный сектор экономики is the private sector and индивидуальное частное предприятие is a sole proprietorship, an individually owned business.  

Частный can also be used to mean something specific, particular, not representing the whole. If an employee complains about the broken toilet on his floor at a staff meeting on widget production, the boss might reply: Это частный вопрос. Давайте по теме. (That’s a side issue. Let’s stick to the topic.) If the employee insists that widget production will never increase if his underlings spend half the day running to the 12th-floor bathroom, the boss can say: Ваша проблема — это частный случай (Your problem is a special case). At which point, the disgruntled employee can protest: Бесполезно обсуждать повышение производства вообще. Перейдём от общего к частному (It’s useless to discuss increasing production in general terms. Let’s go from the general to the specific).

And in the best case, the boss will say: Зайдите ко мне позже и решим вопрос в частном порядке (Stop in my office later, and we’ll solve your problem privately).

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