Categories: "Declension"

Что (часть первая)

by Don  

The Russian word for ‘what’ is что. Although it is written with the letter ч, the nominative/accusative form of the word is most commonly pronounced [што]; in the other cases we do pronounce ч as ч. It occurs in all six cases:


Notice that the only difference between the prepositional and instrumental forms is the двоеточие “double dots” over the prepositional form.¹ Remember that the Russians usually do not usually write the double dots, so context will have to tell you how to pronounce those forms. Some sample sentences:

— Что ты купил?
— Овощи и чай.
“What did you buy?”
“Vegetables and tea.”
Что там лежит на столе? What's that lying on the table?

Somewhere in school every American is taught the rule “never end a sentence with a preposition.” For English it's an assinine rule that has no reasonable justification in the living language.² However, for Russian the rule is real and alive. It's not an artificial rule, as in English, but rather a subconscious part of the living language: no Russian will ever end a sentence with a preposition, not even accidentally. So whenever you are translating a question from English to Russian, and the question ends with a preposition, you need to move that preposition to before its object and then translate. Thus:

Chart showing movement of prep to beginning of sentence

Other examples:

— В чём живут пчёлы?
— В ульях.
“What do bees live in?”
“In hives.”
— Из чего сделан тот сарай?
— Из досок дуба.
“What's that shed made of?”
“It's made of oak boards.”
— Чем ты написал сочениние?
— Карандашом.
— Тогда надо переписать ручкой, а то не примут.
“What did you write your composition with?”
“With a pencil.”
“Then you'll have to rewrite it with a pen, otherwise they won't accept it.”
— К чему стремятся глобалисты?
— К унифицированию всего человечества.
“What are the Globalists striving for?”
“For the unification of all humanity.”
— Мы встретились перед памятником Пушкину.
— Перед чем?
— Перед памятником Пушкину.
“We met in front of Pushkin's monument.”
“In front of what?”
“Pushkin's monument.”

Notice in the last example we can leave the preposition out of the response in English, but in Russian you must retain the preposition to justify the case of памятник.

¹ The double dots symbol is often called a diaeresis or an umlaut. The former is theoretically used to indicate that a vowel is pronounced as a complete vowel (not a diphthong) when preceded by another vowel with which it might blend. The latter is theoretically used to indicate that vowel is fronted. Since neither of those instances prevails in the е/ё distinction, “double dots” is a sensible name for the symbol.

² Of course, one can't mention this rule of English without mentioning Winston Churchill's famous definition: “A preposition is a word you can't end a sentence with.” I actually doubt that Churchill said it, but it's too fun not to mention.


by Don  

The word я ‘I’ is a personal pronoun that declines like this:


In American English there are a couple of problems with the word ‘I.’ First off, in conversational English we often say ‘me’ where we should say ‘I’ in the literary language. Thus kids often say things like “Me and John went to the store” or “It's me” when theoretically we should say “John and I” or “It is I.” The Russians never make that mistake. They always use subject/nominative form in the right place:

Иван и я ходили в магазин. ¹ John and I went to the store.
— Кто там?
— Это я.
“Who's there?”
“It's me.” ²

Other examples:

Не дашь мне тысячу рублей? Could you give me a thousand rubles?
Вокруг меня летал рой пчёл. Мне было страшно, так как я не знал, что пчёлы вообще не кусаются, когда роятся. A swarm of bees flew all around me. I was scared since I didn't know that bees usually don't sting when they are swarming.
В августе на меня наехала машина, и я лежал в больнице целый месяц. In August I was hit by a car, and I lay in the hospital for an entire month.
Со мной работает много иностранцев. A lot of foreigners work with me.
— Почему ты всегда сплетничаешь обо мне?
— Потому что ты всегда делаешь всякие глупости.
“Why do you always gossip about me?”
“Because you always do such stupid stuff.”

¹ Although this sentence is theoretically okay, the Russians usually say it differently. We'll address the better usage in an upcoming entry on the word мы.
² Although theoretically one should say “It is I” in this context, no normal American will do so. Only pedants say “It is I.”


by Don  

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.

Один, тот же

by Don  

There are several ways in Russian to express the idea of “the same” in the sense of “the same house” or “the same country.” One way is to use один (which is also used as a cardinal number), and another way is to use «тот же». For instance, if you are just starting a conversation, you could say:

Мы с Димой живём в одном доме. Dmitri and I live in the same building.

Oddly enough, in that context you cannot say «в том же доме». What's the difference? Essentially it's this: in order to use «тот же» the noun must have previously been mentioned in the conversation. For instance:

Дима раньше жил в доме № 17 на улице Плеханова. Моя бабушка жила в том же доме. Dmitri used to live in building #17 on Plekhanov street. My grandmother lived in the same building.

Another example. If you are for the first time mentioning your transportation over the weekend, you might say:

Мы с Таней ехали в Санкт-Петербург в одном вагоне. Tanya and I went to St. Petersburg in the same train car.

But if you have already mentioned the train car, then you use the other phrase:

Во втором вагоне шумели два хулигана, но слава Богу в том же вагоне были четверо милиционеров, которые их уняли. In train car number two there were a couple of punks making noise, but thank heavens there were four policemen in the same car who quieted them down.

Of course, the phrases can be used in other cases as well:

Мы с братом влюбились в одну девушку. Не можешь представить себе, как это было сложно. My brother and I fell in love with the same girl. You can't imagine what a mess it was.
Моя сестра была арестована молодым милиционером, и через неделю я был арестован тем же милиционером. My sister was arrested by a young policeman, and a week later I was arrested by the same policeman.

Sometimes один and тот же combine into a single phrase «один и тот же», but we'll save that phrase for another time.

Друг друга, друг дружку

by Don  

The Russian phrase for “each other” is formed by saying the word друг twice in a row. The second друг occurs in a case other than the nominative, i.e. you can find these five forms:

Accдруг друга
Genдруг друга
Preдруг о друге
Datдруг другу
Insдруг другом

The case of the second друг depends most often on the verb in question. If the verb requires a direct object, the second друг shows up in the accusative case; if the verb requires a dative object, the second друг shows up in the dative case. Likewise genitive — genitive, and instrumental — instrumental. Here are some examples:

Мы хорошо знаем друг друга. We know each other well.
Мы с женой часто покупаем друг другу подарки. My wife and I often buy each other gifts.
Американцы и русские раньше боялись друг друга. Americans and Russians used to be afraid of each other.
Несмотря на их взаимную подозрительность, русские и американцы интересовались друг другом. Despite their mutual suspicion, Russians and Americans were also very interested in each other.

If the verb requires a prepositional phrase as its complement, then the preposition comes between the two другs:

Мои сёстры постоянно сплетничают друг о друге. My sisters constantly gossip about each other.
Когда мы были детьми, мы с братом постоянно ссорились друг с другом. When we were boys, my brother and I constantly argued with each other.
Во время дуели противники стреляют друг в друга. During a duel the contenders shoot at each other.
Улитки медленно подползали друг к другу The snails slowly crawled toward each other.

Native English speakers, of course, will be tempted to write things like «Мои сёстры постоянно сплетничают о друг друге». And truth to tell, native Russians will say or write something like that, but it is not considered good written style.

Interestingly enough, sometimes the Russians substitute дружка for the second друг. Thus you get:

Accдруг дружку
Genдруг дружки
Preдруг о дружке
Datдруг дружке
Insдруг дружкой

That makes the phrase much more informal and conversational. For instance:

Солистки «ВИА Гры» ненавидят друг дружку лютой ненавистью. (source) The singers of [the pop group] “VIA Gra” hate each other bitterly.

I was interested to find the phrase as well in a site devoted to Russian folk magic. Here is a spell people use to help repair a family fracas:

Жгут ладан на сковороде
и обходят с ним дом.
Burn incense in a frying pan
and walk around the house with it.
Читают следующее:
Ночь с луной,
звезда с звездой,
я со своей семьёй.
Read the following:
Like the moon and the night,
like star with star,
so me and my family.
Как любит Христос свою мать, As Christ loves his mother,
так чтобы мы все друг дружку любили, so may we love each other
а не грызлись
и друг друга не били.
may we not squabble
nor beat each other.
Ладан, лад дай,
мир и клад. Аминь.
Incense, give us amity
peace and order. Amen.

You'll notice that жгут, обходят and читают are not command forms but third person plural verbs. In the translation they are rendered as imperatives to make the English flow better.

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