Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q&A: What Words To Put In What Cases?

How do I know, for which words in a sentence i need to use what case. I understand what each case is used for and how I form the word, but when it comes to which word i need to change I'm lost, especially when its more than one word. Any help? :/

Hi! I think, what you’re struggling with is transferring your knowledge into a practical skill. When it comes to second language acquisition, it is not enough to learn about your target language and understand its grammar. You should deal with the language, absorb it through reading meaningful texts, listening to it and practicing it actively, for example, by posting short texts on lang-8 daily.

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with lang-8 and have never received payments from them.

Now about cases. How do you know when to use what preposition in English? It is the same with Russian cases. Russian cases indicate relationships between things/words - possession (= of in English), direct object (no preposition as in I saw her), instrumentality (=by/with), direction (=to) etc. Here is a quick cheat sheet that may help you:
  • Nominative - for subjects, who/what did smth.
  • Genitive = of (part of, possession of, a number of + a word in the Genitive case)
  • Dative = to (give it to + a word in the Dative case)
  • Accusative - direct object
  • Instrumental - by/with (done by/with + a word in the Instrumental case)
  • Prepositional - about/of, indirect object, location (in/on + place in the Prepositional case or I think about + a word in the Prepositional case)
Please do not rely on this correlation cheat sheet too much, there are many other positions where you have to pick this or that case, but you can start with that.

Again, everything comes with practice. You’ll memorize constructions, not forms of words, and the more you deal with Russian, the bigger you “sample library” will become.

Good luck!

Photo by Steven Mueller

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Passive Voice In Russian

Photo by Andrew McKee
The passive voice is a very convenient grammatical category. When something has happened, we usually can tell who did what, but sometimes, we don’t want to name the agents. We may want or need to report the event itself, but would prefer to shift our focus away from the actors to the action itself. This is where the Passive voice may help. Instead of saying, “Minister X stole tax money”, a speechwriter from the anti-crisis PR-management department may write, “The tax money was stolen by Minister X”. The passive voice may go further in its desire to smooth the situation and skip the real subject at all - “Mistakes were made”.

Since the need for social lubricants and vague language is universal, the passive voice is common to many Indo-European languages. Russian is no exception here. Unlike in English, however, Russian verbs do not have one regular active-passive structure opposition. There is more than one way in Russian to make passive voice out of active and obscure a subject.

Perfective verbs: construction with short past participles.
  • Сальвадор Дали написал эту картину в 1931 году vs. Картина была написана Сальвадором Дали в 1931.
  • Salvador Dali painted this picture in 1931. vs. This picture was painted by Salvador Dali in 1931.
So there is a perfective verb написать for active voice and its past participle написанный, with the short form написан/ написана/ написано.

Imperfective verbs: constructions with -ся.

With imperfective verbs, you should form the passive voice by adding the reflexive postfix -ся to a verb.
  • Сальвадор Дали писал картину в течение всего 1931 года. Vs. Картина писалась Сальвадором Дали в течение всего 1931 года.
  • Salvador Dali was painting that picture during the whole year 1931. Vs. The picture had been painted by Salvador Dali during the whole year 1931.
Писать is imperfective (a process of writing something or working on a painting). For the passive voice structures, add -ся /сь, and, of course, switch subject and object.
Because of this S-O switch, most of the imperfective verbs in the passive voice are in the form of the 3d singular or plural. Since we are not talking about “I” or “you” as agents, we make objects the center of our sentences, and so we need the verbal form for he/she/it/they.

Like in English, you may skip the subject in the passive voice and never mention who actually did this or that. In our examples, it would be like this:
  • Perfective: Картина была написана в 1931 году.
  • Imperfective: Картина писалась в течение 1931 года.
It would be just right if your readers already know that you are talking about one of Dali’s works. Or if, for some reasons, the name of the artist is not important or unknown.

Another way to obscure subject.
In Russian, there are the so called general sentences with the dummy (usually skipped) subject “they”. The mysterious "they" don't exist, of course, it is just a grammatical structure that helps to obscure the figure of real actors. If you check Russian news websites, you may encounter news headlines like this: Деньги налогоплательщиков украли - literally, “They stole the taxpayers’ money”. Who were they? Ah, who cares…

I tried to list the most common and frequently used passive voice structures. There are verbs - both perfective and imperfective - that don’t follow the major schemes. There are contexts that take unusual structures. I believe what I described here covers about 80% of the cases, so you can use it as a guide for your Russian practice. Good luck!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Q&A: How To Answer "How Are You" In Russian?

I was wondering if you had a post or if you could make a post about emotions. I want to learn more ways to respond to 'Как дела?' than simply "Я хорошо" and such. If not, could you direct me to a place where emotions in Russian are listed? Спасибо!
Hi! Here are some options how you can respond on “Как дела?”

Note: very often, Russians start telling you how they are in great detail, because we naturally believe you really care since you’ve asked…
  • У меня всё хорошо. I’m doing all right.
  • У меня всё ужасно. I’m doing just awful (=things are going really bad)
  • Мне скучно. I’m bored
  • Мне плохо. I’m not feeling well. (physically or emotionally)
  • Плохо (without мне) - things are bad.
  • У меня всё прекрасно! I’m doing extremely well!
  • У меня всё нормально. I’m fine. (neutral response)
  • Ничего, спасибо. lit. Nothing (wrong with me), thanks. Another neutral response.
  • Мне страшно. I’m scared.
  • Я ужасно расстроена (f)/ расстроен (m) - I’m so pissed off!
  • Я злюсь. I’m mad (at smb).
  • Дела терпимо. Lit. I can tolerate how things are going. - it is good for mentioning that you’re experiencing troubles, but believe that you can keep up.
  • Потихоньку. Little by little.

Here you can find more words for emotions, and here I wrote a bit about apologizing and expressing support.


Photo by Steven Mueller