|« Понедельник||С — часть вторая (with) »|
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.
Even in English (and in most if not all Indo-european languages) the second person plural is ambiguous.
It makes no distinction between whether the person(s) addressed is/are included or not. In Malay and related languages they have two different words for “we", depending whether the person/persons addressed is included or not.To confuse things further, in several UK dialects “us” is often used where standard English uses “me", and many Geordies (N/E England) take it a stage further and use the “Royal We” instead of “I”