Russian cases

What are the Russian cases?

Unlike in English, Russian grammar uses a case system. In Russian, there are six cases:

  • Nominative case (именительный падеж): The subject of the sentence
  • Accusative case (винительный падеж): The direct object of the sentence that is the recipient of the verb
  • Genitive case (родительный падеж): Indicates ownership or attribution, i.e. “of”, “whose”
  • Dative case (дательный падеж): The indirect object of the sentence that is the beneficiary of an action, i.e. “to”
  • Instrumental case (творительный падеж): Indicates the noun is the instrument “by,” “with,” or “from” which the subject achieves an action
  • Prepositional case (предложный падеж): Used in combination with certain prepositions, i.e. “in,” “on,” “at,” and “about”

For example:

  • Студент читает интересную книгу = The student (nom.) is reading an interesting book (acc.)
  • Брат Ивана любит Лондон = Ivan’s (gen.) brother (nom.) loves London (acc.)
  • Я помогаю этой девушке = I (nom.) am helping this girl (dat.)
  • Я ем борщ со сметаной = I (nom.) eat borsch (acc.) with sour cream (inst.)
  • Я живу в Москве = I (nom.) live in Moscow (prep.)

As you can see, using Russian cases involves the formation of different word endings in both nouns, adjectives. While this may seem complicated – and it is – the case system also opens up a certain beauty to the Russian language. Because of their word endings, the cases of Russian words are much more easily identifiable than in English. As a result, word order is typically not crucial to the meaning of a sentence in Russian.

For example:

  • Анна любит Вронского = Anna loves Vronsky
  • Вронского Анна любит = Anna loves Vronsky / It’s Vronsky that Anna loves

Not being constrained so much by word order makes Russian an incredibly poetic language. The limitless opportunities for beautiful sentence structure have definitely contributed to Russian literature becoming so well regarded and powerful to consume.

Nominative case

The nominative case (именительный падеж) is the subject of the sentence. When you see Russian nouns and adjectives listed in dictionaries or on this site, they will be in the nominative case.

With the nominative case alone you can form many simple sentences. For example:

  • Кто это? Это Иван. = Who is this? This is Ivan.
  • Ребёнок спит. = The child is sleeping.
  • Москва – столица России. = Moscow is the capital of Russia.
  • Сказка рассказана бабушкой. = The fairy-tale is narrated by the grandmother.

Accusative case

The accusative case (винительный падеж) is used for the direct object of the sentence – the thing or person to which or whom a verb’s action is being performed.

There are two important things to remember about the accusative case: animate objects in the masculine gender decline like the genitive case; and when using with prepositions of direction, the accusative implies motion.

Animate vs. inanimate objects

For nouns and adjectives in the feminine and neuter genders, the accusative declines the same for animate and inanimate objects. However, for nouns and adjectives in the masculine gender, inanimate objects decline like the accusative case, and animate objects decline like the genitive case. For example:

  • Я люблю музыку. = I love music.
  • Я люблю маму. = I love my mother.
  • Я вижу море. = I see the sea.
  • Я люблю брата. = I love my brother.
  • Я вижу стол. = I see the table.

Prepositions of direction

The prepositions “в” and “на” combined with the accusative case denote direction. For example:

  • Я еду в Москву в эти выходные. = I am going to Moscow this weekend
  • Я иду на пляж. = I am walking to the beach

This contrasts with the meaning of “в” and “на” combined with the dative case, which instead denotes location in, rather than direction to.

Genetive case

The genitive case (родительный падеж) primarily indicates ownership or attribution – i.e. the word “of.” That means the genitive is also used to denote the apostrophe “s” we use in English. For example:

  • Это берег реки. = This is the bank of the river.
  • Это собака Анны. = This is Anna’s dog.
  • Брат Ивана любит читать газету. = Ivan’s brother loves to read the newspaper.
  • Буду стакан молока. = I’ll have a glass of milk.

To have – “у”

The genitive case is also used in the common impersonal construction of the expression “to have” – “у” + genitive. When you say “I have something” in Russian, you are literally saying “there is to me something.” For example:

  • У меня есть книга. = I have book.
  • У нее есть собака. = She has a dog.

Negative constructions

Negative expressions in Russian use the negative case – literally meaning “not / none of something.” For example:

  • У меня нет книги. = I don’t have the book.
  • У нее нет собаки. = She doesn’t have a dog.
  • Его нет дома. = He isn’t home.
  • У меня не было денег. = I didn’t have money.
  • Летом в Техасе нет дождей. = In Summer there is no rain in Texas.

Numbers and quantities

The genitive is used in numbers and quantities greater than one.

Numbers ending in one take the nominative or accusative. For example:

Дай мне двадцать один доллар. = Give me 21 dollars.

Один мальчик читает. = One boy is reading.

Numbers ending in two, three, four end in the genitive singular. For example:

Две рубля. = Two books.

Три собаки. = Three roubles.

Четыре газеты. = Four newspapers.

Numbers ending in five, six, seven, eight, nine, zero, and the teens end in the genitive plural. For example:

Мне восемнадцать лет. = I am 18 years old.

Десять долларов. = Ten dollars.

Сто рублей. = One hundred roubles.

Quantity words: words denoting quantity take the genitive plural as well. For example:

  • Сколько тебе лет? = How old are you?
  • В Москве есть много достопримечательностей. = In Moscow there are many tourist sites.

Dative case

The dative case (дательный падеж) is used in Russian to denote the indirect object of a sentence to whom an action or object is given. Generally, this meaning corresponds to the English words “to” or “for.” For example:

  • Алексей даёт цветы Марии. = Aleksei gives flowers to Maria.
  • Дайте мне совет, пожалуйста! = Give me advice, please!

Verbs used with the dative case

Some verbs are followed by the dative case. For example:

  • Даша радуется солнцу. = Dasha is happy at the sun.
  • Я помогаю Александру. = I am helping Alexander.
  • Саша звонит Андрею каждый день. = Sasha calls Andrei every day.
  • Почему Фродо доверяет Голлуму? = Why does Frodo trust Gollum?

To like – “наравится”

Typically, the phrase “to like” in Russian is formed by the impersonal construction “нравится” + dative (literally, it is pleasing to someone).

  • Она тебе не нравится? = You don’t like her.
  • Мне нравятся дети. = I like the children.
  • Восемь из десяти человек сказали, что им понравился продукт. = Eight out of ten people said that they liked the product.

Expressing feelings

In English, we say “I feel something.” In Russian, you say “there is some feeling to me” – “мне что-то.” For example:

  • Мне холодно. = I’m cold.
  • Нам скучно. = We are bored.
  • Мне не было ее жалко. = I didn’t feel sorry for her.

Saying your age

In Russian, you don’t say “I have,” but instead “there are to me” however many years old. For example:

  • Мне тридцать три года. = I am thirty three years old.

Instrumental case

In Russian, the instrumental case (творительный падеж) denotes that the noun is an instrument “with” or “by” which the subject achieves an action. For example:

  • Пишу письмо ручкой. = I write the letter with a pen.
  • Она режет мясо ножом. = She cuts the meat with a knife.

Verbs that use the instrumental case

The object of some Russian verbs takes the instrumental case. Here are some common examples:

  • быть = to be, have
  • заниматься / заняться = to be occupied, engage
  • интересоваться / заинтересоваться = to be interested in
  • оказываться / оказаться = to find oneself, turn out to be
  • оставаться / остаться – to remain, stay
  • пользоваться – to use, take advantage of
  • становиться / стать – to stand; become
  • являться / явиться – to appear, seem, be

Instrumental with the preposition “с”

The preposition “с” (or “со” when followed by two consonants) means “with.” This common preposition has a number of common and colloquial uses in Russian. For example:

  • Мне нравится борщ со сметаной. = I like borsch with sour cream.
  • Дмитрий с Анастасией идут в кафе. = Dmitrii and Anastasia are going to the cafe.
  • Мы с Анастасией идём в кафе. = Anastasia and I are going to the cafe.
  • С днём рождения = Happy birthday!
  • С Рождеством! = Merry Christmas!
  • С новым годом! = Happy new year!
  • С легким паром! = Have a good bath! (lit. with an easy steam!)

The instrumental denoting time and seasonality

The instrumental forms of times of day and the seasons gives the general meaning of “in that period.” For example:

  • утро → утром = in the morning
  • день → днём = in the afternoon
  • вечер → вечером = in the evening
  • ночь → ночью = at night
  • лето → летом = in summer
  • осень → осенью = in autumn
  • зима → зимой = in winter
  • весна  → весной = in spring

Prepositional case

The prepositional case (предложный падеж) is used in combination with certain prepositions, i.e. “in,” “on,” “at,” and “about”

The prepositional case and location

The prepositional case in Russian designates the place or where the object is, using the prepositions “в” and “на.” For example:

  • Я живу в Нью-Йорке. = I live in New York.
  • Она на вокзале. = She is at the station.
  • На столе книга и ручка. = On the table are a book and a pen.
  • В море плывёт корабль. = A ship is sailing in the sea.

This is different from the meaning of the accusative case with these prepositions, which denotes movement towards something.

The prepositional case and “about”

When you want to express something “about” someone or something, use the preposition “о” + prepositional case. For example:

  • Расскажи мне о себе. = Tell me about yourself.
  • Давайте поговорим о погоде. = Let’s talk about the weather.

Typically this will accompany these verbs:

  • думать = to think
  • мечтать = to dream
  • говорить = to talk
  • писать = to write
  • рассказывать = to tell
  • спорить = to argue

The prepositional case and dates

The prepositional case is used to tell in what month something happened. For example:

  • Это было в апреле. = This was in April.

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