Categories: "Prepositions"

С — часть третья (with)

by Don  

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.

С — часть вторая (with)

by Don  

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.

С — часть первая (with)

by Don  

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?"
"With Vera."
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".


by Don  

The word против in Russian means “against” in the sense of being for or against an idea. It can be used adverbially, without an object:

— Мы решили поехать кататься на лыжах. Ты не против?
— Нет, совсем не против. Я с удовольствием поеду.
“We decided to go on a ski trip. Are you okay with that?”
“I'm not at all against it. I'll be happy to go.”

In the above dialog the phrase that is translated “Are you okay with that?” literally means “You aren't against?” This is one of those places where a word for word translation would get the tone of the dialog wrong; instead a good translator will select a phrase in English that matches the emotional content of the original. Another example:

В июне девяносто шестого года Лужкова выбрали мэром Москвы. Девяносто пять процентов населения проголосовало за него, и только пять процентов против. In June of ninety-six Luzhkov was elected mayor of Moscow. Ninety-five percent of the population voted for him, and a mere five percent against.

The word против can also be used as a preposition that governs the genitive case:

Кто не с нами, тот против нас. Whoever is not with us is against us.
Во второй мировой войне русский народ сражался против нацистов. In the second world work the Russian people struggled against the Nazis.

Hm... what other things have the Russians battled against? Ah, yes, here's a glorious reminder of one of the lesser known battles of World War II:

Can you read the sign? That's right: STALIN VERSUS THE MARTIANS! What, dear reader? You didn't know that Stalin saved the planet from evil aliens while also fighting the Nazis? That is because you have an American education and can't tell the pax romana from the chicken pox. This vital battle is commemorated in an RTS game by BWF/DreamLore/N-Game. In short, it's an übersimplified version of Blitzkrieg II (review here). Do you want to know more? Do you want to see Stalin dancing like a raver kid strung out on Ecstasy? Then you need to view this trailer:

Attentive students will notice that Stalin's Russian is not so great. That's because he was an ethnic Georgian who never really perfected the language. Russians love to poke fun at people what can't talk right.

На (часть пятая)

by Don  

Seven-year old Mariana walked into the living room where her father, Alyosha, and I were sitting. She placed an ashtray in front of us and said «Нате». I looked at the two of them in confusion and Alyosha said:

Она думала, что вы тоже будете курить. She thought that you were going to smoke, too.

Alyosha had totally misunderstood the source of my confusion. He thought I was surprised that she thought I would smoke, but really I was confused because I didn't have the foggiest idea of what «нате» meant. It was my first trip to Russia, having had five years of college Russian. It would not have surprised me for someone to say, “Oh, you don't know the difference between ОВИР and УВИР is? The latter is the department where you process the special form that gives foreigners the right to use a public toilet, and the former is the office where that toilet is located. Be sure to bring some small gift to УВИР or they won't put the right stamp on the form, and when you go to ОВИР, be sure to put the seat down when you are done or the babushka who monitors the sinks will yell at you.” That wouldn't have surprised me at all. But to have a little nine-year old Russian girl flummox me with two syllables was downright demoralizing.

It turns out that «на» and «нате» mean “Here you go.” It's used when you are handing something to someone. «На» is used when you are talking with someone in ты form, and «нате» is used when speaking to someone in вы form. That's right. The Russkis have added -те to something that's not a verb. Makes me want to study an easier language, like Pashto or Thai...

«На» and «нате» are very informal words. You will hear them used in homes and among friends. Don't use them in formal circumstances. I once flashed my hotel pass to a doorman in Russia and said «на». He had annoyed me, and my use of «на» really ticked him off. He caused me continual grief for the rest of my stay at that hotel. (It really was rude of me, and I should not have done it. Just because someone is a jerk to you does not mean you should be a jerk to him.)

And here are a couple examples of how it can be used:

— Мам, передай соль.
— На.
“Mom, pass the salt.”
“Here you go.”
Ребята, у меня для вас сюрприз. Я принесла конфеты. Нате, ешьте на здоровье! Kids, I have a surprise for you. I brought some candy. Here you go. Enjoy!

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