Growing up in the US, children commonly say things like "Me and Johnny went to the store." Although it sounds perfectly normal to many people, it is considered terrible written style (and also bad style for public speaking), and grade-school teachers make a great effort to break kids of this habit. The only acceptable written form is "Johnny and I went to the store."¹ If we transform that word-for-word into Russian, we get the sentence «Иван и я ходили в магазин». Although every Russian will understand such a sentence, it is not the most typical way to say it. Instead the more common way is:
|Мы с Иваном ходили в магазин.||John and I went to the store.|
The phrase «мы с Иваном» is actually ambiguous. It can mean "John and I" or it can mean "We (a group of two or more people) and also John". The same holds true for the phrase «мы с ним», which can mean "he and I" or "we [two or more people] along with him." For instance, if my wife and I are having pity on our poor, miserable bachelor friend, John, I can say:
|Нам с женой очень жалко Ивана, поэтому мы с ним часто ходим в кино.||
My wife and I feel really sorry for John, so we three often go to the movies.
My wife and I feel really sorry for John, so we often go to the movies with him.
Although the second translation is the more natural way to put it in English (and thus the better translation on this occasion), the first translation captures the idea that John is included in the concept of мы in the sentence.
On the other hand, if I go to the movies with John but my wife does not come along, the same construction just means me and John:
|Мне очень жалко Ивана, поэтому мы с ним часто ходим в кино.||I feel really sorry for John, so he and I often go to the movies.|
The same ambiguity holds for the phrase «вы с Иваном», which can mean "you [one person] and John" or "you [more than one person] and John. For instance, let's say I'm talking to a female friend about her son Женя. If I want to ask whether she often argues with him, I might ask:
|Вы с Женей часто ссоритесь?||Do you and Zhenya argue often?|
Or if I am taking to both her and her husband, I might say the same thing with a different meaning:
|Вы с Женей часто ссоритесь?||Do you [two] and Zhenya argue often?|
The same holds true for phrases with они, which can be interpreted a variety of ways. Let's say I'm talking about my female friend who is feeling sorry for another female friend. This sentence could result:
|Ей очень жалко Веру, поэтому они с ней часто ходят в кино.²||She feels really sorry for Vera, so the two of them often go to the movies.|
Of course, if my friend's husband also feels sorry for Vera, we could have a parallel sentence:
|Им очень жалко Веру, поэтому они с ней часто ходят в кино.||They feel really sorry for Vera, so the three of them often go to the movies.|
The same situation also of course applies if my friend is a man:
|Ему очень жалко Веру, поэтому они с ней часто ходят в кино.³||He feels really sorry for Vera, so the two of them often go to the movies.|
To review, the phrases «мы с ним», «вы с ним», «они с ним», «мы с ней», «вы с ней» and «они с ней» are ambiguous in that they can refer to groups of two or more people.
¹ Actually, the teachers do too good a job of breaking us of that habit without explaining the situation more thoroughly. In fact many teachers overgeneralize and just teach their students that any time they are tempted to say "me and you" (or any other combination of "me and..."), they must replace it with "you and I" (or "... and I"). Even very educated people — sad to say that among them are my own mother and sister — thus will say things like, "Just between you and I, I think that is a bad idea." The correct thing to say in that context is "Just between you and me..." But just try to convince them of that... it's a lost cause.
² In this context with the third-person plural pronoun, some native speakers prefer «Ей очень жалко Веру, поэтому она с ней часто ходит в кино», but in rapid speech the «они с ней часто ходят» form is entirely possible.
³ In this context with the third-person plural pronoun, some native speakers prefer «Ему очень жалко Веру, поэтому он с ней часто ходит в кино», but in rapid speech the «они с ней часто ходят» form is entirely possible.
We mentioned the other day that the preposition "с" + the instrumental case means "with." There is another context where it means "with," but we don't translate it as "with," and that is when two nouns are joined together as the subject (or object) of a sentence. In these contexts we must translate "с" as "and." For example:
|Глеб с Анной издевались над иностранцами.||Gleb and Anna taunted the foreigners.|
|Милиционер остановил Петю с Андрюшей и попросил документы.||The policeman stopped Pyotr and Andrei and asked for their identification.|
|Мама дала Вере с Таней изюм.||Mama gave some raisins to Vera and Tanya.|
|Моя сестра постоянно болтает об Анжелине с Брэдом.||My sister constantly chatters about Angelina and Brad.|
In this context translating "с" as "with" sounds terrible in English and is a grammatical error.
The preposition "с" has several meanings and can be used with several cases. When "с" means "with" it is followed by the instrumental case:
|Я работаю с девушкой, которая говорит на четырёх языках.||I work with a woman who speaks four languages.|
|— Ты хочешь чёрный кофе?
— Нет, со сливками.
|"Do you want your coffee black?"
"No, with cream."
|— С кем ты ходил в кино?
— С Верой.
|"Who did you go to the movie with?"
|Я люблю пирожки с капустой.||I love cabbage pirozhki.|
One thing a beginner has to watch out for is that sometimes you must NOT use "с" in translating the English word "with." This is particularly true when indicating the "means by which" you do something. This is the "pure instrumental" meaning of the instrumental:
|Русские обычно едят торт ложкой.||Russians usually eat cake with spoon.|
|— Чем ты пишешь? Карандашом?
— Нет, ручкой.
|"What are you writing with? A pencil?"
"No, a pen."
|Саша ударил Ваню кулаком.||Sasha hit Vanya with his fist.|
In those last three examples it would be wrong in Russian to include "с".
The word он is a personal pronoun that declines like this:
The «н» versions of the pronoun occur when the pronoun is the object of a preposition.
Он refers to masculine singular nouns, which can be either people or things, so sometimes it is translated as he/him, and sometimes it is translated as it. In other words, if you are refering to a врач doctor, then the sentence must be translated with he/him, and if you are refering to a грузовик truck, the same sentence must be translated with it:
|Где он?||Where is he/it?|
|Я вижу его.||I see him/it.|
|Дети танцевали вокруг него.||The children were dancing around him/it.|
|Мы поговорили о нём.||We had a chat about him/it.|
|Я подошёл к нему.||I walked up to him/it.|
|Перед ним стоял иностранец.||A foreigner stood in front of him/it.|
In casual conversation it's common in America to say things like “Me and John went to the store,” especially when we are children. Schoolteachers then try to beat us out of that habit and make us say “He and I went to the store.” Because of that influence, English speakers may be tempted to say things like «Он и я ездили в магазин» in Russian. While theoretically one can say that in Russian, no one ever does. Instead it gets rephrased as “we with him” «мы с ним». Of course, it would be ridiculous to translate that as “we with him” in English; you still want “he and I” or just plain old ‘we.’
|Мы с ним ходили в кино.||He and I went to the movies.|
|Мы с ним поспорили с вышибалой, и нас выгнали из клуба.||He and I argued with the bouncer, and they threw us out of the club.|