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There are two russian words for "now": сейчас and теперь.

  • How does the use of these words differ?
  • Is one of them more formal than the other?
  • Which one is the most commonly used word?
  • What's the etymology of them?
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    Language-specific grammar and usage questions are off-topic here unless primarily concerned with linguistics rather than usage. There is a Russian language-specific site where such questions are welcomed.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 9, 2014 at 16:12
  • Oh, I see, sorry about that. Considering I have recieved two very good answers (thanks a lot!), I hope the question can stay here though. Especially since the answer by yourself included some information about the connection to other languages.
    – Daniel R
    Jan 10, 2014 at 8:04

2 Answers 2

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The difference could be described as that between past-perfectiveness (теперь) VS durativeness / progressivness (including future perfectivness) (сейчас).

These categories are not normally distinguished in Russian language analytically, but rather as a synthectical form of a verb, or by a corresponding adverbal (теперь VS сейчас), or by the both methods.

Теперь я Чебурашка. (= Now I am Cheburashka; a fictional character from a story for children, meaning 'After some previous history I am what I am').

Сейчас я Чебурашка. (= Now I am Cheburashka, but focusing on the speaker's state at the moment of speech).

Теперь отправлю пост. (= 'Now I am going to send the post'; meaning that after a sequence of preceding events, the speaker is going to send the post).

Сейчас отправлю пост. (= 'Now I am going to send the post'; meanig that the speaker is going to publish the post right now, or that (s)he is focusing on the nearest future, cf. the previous example.

In other words, теперь marks a present moment as referred to a preceding (past) state of things, or something new (rhema, topic or comment) while сейчас is 'right now' or 'from now on'. On the other hand, both adverbs can mark a topic/commentary as well, since in Russian a meaning can be derived not from just grammar or syntax or word order, but from an intonation as well.

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I would like to make an addition to what Manjusri said in his in all respects correct answer.

Cейчас, unlike теперь, can mean "just wait a bit", "in a moment", like in

— Иди сюда! (— Come here!)

— Сейчас, я занят! (— Just wait a bit, I'm busy!)

Also, сейчас can refer not only to the nearest future when it is used with a verb in the future tense, as Manjusri said, but also it can refer to the nearest past, in this case it is used with a verb in the past tense:

Где ты сейчас была? (Where have you been recently?)

As you can see, the two words have slightly different meaning, that's why their usage is not determined by the style, or by how formal/informal your speech is, but only by what you actually want to say.

The etymology of сейчас is transparent for the speakers of Russian, it is derived from сей час (this hour, this time). Теперь is not that obvious, but it also comes from a noun phrase. In the early attested form it was топрьво which can be analyzed as "то прьво" (тот первый, that first). It has cognates in other Slavic languages, like Ukrainian тепер or Polish dopiero (only, until), while сейчас has none, it is attested only in Russian.

And in Russian there is the third word that means "now", that is the cognate of the all-Indo-European n-word with this meaning, it is ныне. In Modern Russian it has the stylistic coloring of being elevated, poetic, and archaic. It is a cognate of Latin nunc, Germanic nun/nu (including English now), Sanskrit , etc.

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