A semantic and contrastive analysis of the phrases kak možno lučše and kak nelʹzja lučše

2021. № 2 (42), 65-82

Victor S. Xrakovskij
Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences
(Saint Petersburg, Russia)


The paper proposes a contrastive semantic and syntactic analysis of the Russian phrases
kak mozhno and kak nelzja in their uses with the comparative form of the adverb khorosho
‘well’: kak možno lučše ‘as possible better’ and kak nel’zja lučše ‘as impossible better’, which
predominantly serve as adverbial modifiers of manner with verbal predicates. My analysis of
their contexts shows that, figuratively speaking, the two phrases are polar opposites. Firstly,
kak možno lučše combines with agentive verbs, while kak nelʹzja lučše mostly occurs with
non-agentive verbs. Correspondingly, the first participant of an agentive-verb situation is invariably
the Agent, in contrast to the first participants in non-agentive verb situations that can
never function as Agents. Secondly, kak možno lučše, rather than with finite agentive verb
forms, mostly combines with their modal verb constructions or occurs in imperative / purpose
constructions, whereas kak nelʹzja lučše, on the contrary, prefers finite forms of non-agentive
verbs. The fundamental difference in the distribution of kak možno lučše and kak nelʹzja lučše
clearly demonstrates their semantic difference as reflected in their definitions, proposed in the