Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Q&A: Russian Cases

From time to time, I receive questions from my readers about the Russian grammar. I decided to post my answers here, on this blog under the tag "Q&A". You can send me your questions at eugenia@properrusisan.com, and I'll try my best to answer you promptly. Please remember, there's no such thing as a stupid question, all your questions are very welcome!

Question: Can you please explain cases to me? I don't understand them in English nor in Russian what do they do?

Generally, cases show correlations, i.e. how things connect to each other. In Russian, they often do the job of prepositions.

  • Nominative is the case for subjects, the main topic of a sentence.
  • Example: Я люблю грамматику. I like grammar. It is me, who acts here, so I is in nominative here to show who is the subject.
  • Accusative usually shows a direct object. It uses no prepositions both in English and in Russian.
  • Example: Я люблю грамматику. I like grammar. My love to grammar is directed toward grammar. Grammar is a direct object of my passion. So we put it in Accusative: грамматику. Remember, in Russian, word order is flexible, not to say chaotic. Without proper endings, it would be unclear whether it is me who likes grammar, or is it grammar who likes me.
  • Genitive helps to show possessive relations. In English the preposition “of” plays this role.
  • Example: Я люблю грамматику русского языка. Literally: I like the grammar of the Russian language. (Note: adjectives should agree with nouns in numbers and cases). Also, Genitive comes with numbers. Шесть падежей. Six (of) cases. Think of it as a part of the whole (total amount of cases in the world).
  • Dative shows the direction of the action, like the English preposition ‘to’.
  • Example: Он посвятил свою жизнь грамматике. He devoted his life to grammar. There are other meanings of Dative, but all of them indicate the direction of the action in this or that way. Even in the example: "Мне нравится грамматика." the literal translation should be Grammar is pleasant to me (though we translate it in the reverse fashion, as ‘I like grammar’).
  • Instrumental comes where “by/with” comes in English. Instrumental shows your tools, your means.
  • Example: Я объелась грамматикой! I’m fed up with grammar! Your way of getting fed up was by grammar, so we put it into instrumental.
  • Prepositional. Generally, prepositional equals to ‘about’. There are some nuances, but they all could be summarize in the preposition “about”.
  • Example: Мы говорили о грамматике. We talked about grammar.

Some scientists would add another two-three cases, but let me stop here.

The idea is: cases show how one thing relates to another. I hope my explanation wasn’t too confusing.

Photo by Steven Mueller