November 01, 2021

It's Now or Never

It's Now or Never
Victor Bogorad

When you begin to learn Russian, you may be a bit puzzled by two “nows”: теперь (now in the general sense, at present) and сейчас (now in the immediate sense, right now, at this moment). But after a while you’ll find them so handy, you’ll wonder why we don’t have the distinction in English. 

Теперь refers to a long period of time: these days, at present, currently. Of course, the world of теперь keeps changing. Как раньше говорили, проклятое царское прошлое, а теперь, проклятое советское прошлое. (The way they used to say "that damn tsarist past" they're now saying about “that damned Soviet past.”) Morals and standards change so quickly that sometimes “then” and “now” aren’t even a generation apart: Я работал в банке семь лет и всё это время носил галстук, потому, что было положено. А теперь необязательно. (I worked in a bank for seven years and always wore a tie, because it was what you did. Now it’s not required.) In a word, whatever and whenever the “time before now” was, теперь всё это в прошедшем времени (now that’s all in the past).

Теперь is also used when a speaker moves from one topic to another. In this sense, it is almost a synonym of затем (then) and easy to remember, because English uses the same construction: Рассмотрим теперь техническое задание. (Now we’ll take a look at the work specifications.) It’s also used a lot in cooking shows: Нарезанный зелёный лук и ломтики картофеля выложить в салатник. Теперь приготовим соус. (Put the sliced scallions and pieces of potato into the salad bowl. Now we’ll make the dressing.)

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