The Conjunction ПОКА "While"
The subordinating conjunction пока means "while", "as long as", or "for the time being". It may be used alone as a farewell greeting when the speaker knows that he will be seeing the addressee soon; it is the equivalent of the English See you later. As a conjunction it refers to the duration of time, e.g. Друзья ждали, пока я ехала домой "My friends waited while I drove home." The conjunction serves to indicate that the time required to carry out the action of the verb in the subordinate clause is equal to that required to carry out the action of the verb in the main clause.
An interesting gap in Russian is the lack of a conjunction meaning "until". To work around this lacuna, Russians use a special construction based on пока. Since the durational meaning of пока semantically requires an imperfective verb, Russians use this same conjunction with a negated perfective verb to express "until": Друзья ждали, пока я не приехала домой "My friends waited until I arrived home." Remember, (1) the verb must be perfective and (2) it must be negated for пока to be interpreted as "until".
One final thing to keep in mind: Russian does have a preposition meaning "until": до+Gen. Don't confuse this preposition, which can only have a noun or noun phrase object, with the conjunction which connects a subordinate phrase. The until in I don't work until next week is a preposition with next week its object.
Here are a few examples to mull over. Read them carefully, comparing them with the translations and notice how the meaning of пока . . . не plus the perfective somehow makes sense, meaning in the sentence above, something like "while Simone does not successfully arrive at home."
Митя спокойно спал, пока профессор читал лекцию.
Mitya slept peacefully while his professor lectured.
Митя спокойно спал, пока профессор не прочитал лекцию.
Mitya slept peacefully until the professor finished lecturing.
Даря читала газету, пока Маша убирала комнату.
Darya read the paper while Masha cleaned up her room.
Маша читала газету, пока сестра не убрала комнату.
Masha read the newspaper until her sister finished cleaning up the room.
Some Delightful Exercises
In the following exercises, choose the Russian sentence most closely expressing the sentiment of the English sentence above by clicking the corresponding radio button. If you choose the wrong sentence, the explanation box will tell you exactly what your mistake is, so that you may quickly correct it.
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© 1996 Robert Beard