Category: "Pronouns"


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.

Ничто, ничего

by Don  

The word for nothing in Russian is ничто. Grammatically we call it a negative pronoun, and as a pronoun of course it occurs in all six cases:

Nom ничто
Acc direct object: ничего
after prepositions: ни во что, ни на что
Gen ничего
Pre ни о чём
Dat ничему
Ins ничем

The first curious thing to note about the word is that you rarely encounter the nominative case form; instead you often find the genitive. For instance, if you wanted to say “nothing helped,” you might expect the translation to be «ничто не помогло». That is a perfectly grammatical sentence, but more often you would hear something like this:

Я попробовала разные лекарства, но ничего не помогло. I tried various medicines, but nothing helped.

That's not to say you won't ever see ничто. Back around 1997 there was an advertising campaign in Russia for Sprite. It began with posters of sexy models that said «Имидж ничто…» “Image is nothing…” and followed a while later by another set of posters with sexy models that said «Жажда всё» “Thirst is everything.” I remember being confused when I saw the first set of signs because they had nothing about Sprite on them, but weeks later I understood it when the second set of signs appeared that included Sprite images. Apparently the campaign worked: even a decade later you can still find people playing with the phrase. For instance, at the beginning of this month there was an article on entitled «Имидж ничто, ответственоость всё» “Image is nothing; responsibility is everything.” The phrase has even penetrated popular humor:

“Image is nothing; thirst is everything. I won't let myself dry out.”

It's worth remembering that once you put a form of ничто in a sentence, you must also include the negative particle не before the verb. And if ничто is the object of a preposition, the ни separates from the rest of the word and moves in front of the preposition:

Я ничего не понимаю. I don't understand anything.
— О чём ты говорил?
— Я ни о чём не говорил.
“What were you talking about?”
“I wasn't talking about anything.”
Книжный шкаф упал, когда на него влез ребёнок, так как он ничем не был прибит к стене. The book shelf fell over when the child climbed up it because it wasn't attached to the wall with anything.
Раненый солдат ни на что не смотрел, просто сидел тихо, не тратя силы. The wounded soldier didn't look at anything. He simply sat quietly without wasting his energy.

In conversation ничего acquires a wide range of meanings:

— Как дела?
— Ничего.
“How are you doing?”
— Спасибо за деньги.
— Ничего.
“Thanks for the money.”
“No big deal.”
— Как новое платье?
— Ничего себе!
“What do you think of my new dress?”
“Wow! It's so beautiful.”

Thus in the end nothing means a lot of different things. Ironic.

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