Category: "Be"

Быть (not have, there is/are not)

April 24th, 2009 — posted by Don

Every once in a while when you have mastered some grammatical backflip, you discover that one is not enough: you have to do a grammatical double gainer. This is the case to say that someone “doesn't have” something or that “there isn't” something somewhere.

You recall that when a person has something, in Russian we express by saying “At so-and-so is such-and-such.” The person shows up in the genitive case as the object of the preposition у, and the thing the person has shows up in the nominative case, and the “there is/are” is expressed by the word есть:

У Ивана есть книга. John has a book

When the person doesn't have something, the “doesn't have” idea is expressed in the present tense by нет, and the thing he doesn't have shows up in the genitive case.

У Ивана нет книги. John doesn't have a book

The past tense of нет is always не было, and the future tense is не будет. Notice the contrast between these sentences. In the “have” sentences, the verb changes according to the gender/number of the subject. In the “doesn't have” sentences, the verb does not change for the subject because there is no grammatical subject (that is, nothing in the nominative case), and the verb defaults to neuter singular form:

Past У Ивана не было книги.
Future У Ивана не будет книги.

These tricks also apply to sentences expressing sentences with the idea of “there is no” or “there was no”:

Под кроватью есть чемодан. There is a suitcase under the bed.
Под кроватью нет чемодана. There is no suitcase under the bed.
За домом был сарай. There was a shed behind the house.
За домом не было сарая. There was no shed behind the house.
Над городом будут тучи. There will be clouds above the city.
Над городом не будет туч. There won't be any clouds above the city.

Быть (have, there is/are)

April 23rd, 2009 — posted by Don

Every once in a while when you are studying a foreign language, you have to learn to do some grammatical contortion and say something in a way that seems bizarre in contrast to your native language. For us English speakers, learning how to say “have” in Russian is one of those.

In an English sentence like “John has a book.” John is the subject of the sentence. The thing that he has is the direct object. To communicate the same idea in Russian, you have to rephrase the sentence as “At John there is a book.” Specifically, when a person has something, the person shows up in the genitive case as the object of the preposition у, and the thing the person has shows up in the nominative case, and the “there is/are” is expressed by the word есть.

У Ивана есть книга. John has a book

Есть is the present tense form of the verb быть, so if you want to put those sentences in the past or future, you use the past and future forms of быть to say “At John there was a book” and “At John there will be a book.”

У Ивана была книга. John had a book
У Ивана будет книга. John will have a book

When an organization (as opposed to a person) has something, then instead of using the preposition у, the prepositions в and на are used with the prepositional case. Thus “The university will have/has/had a dormitory” comes out:

В университете будет общежитие.
В университете есть общежитие.
В университете было общежитие.

“The post office will have/has/had a fax machine” comes out:

На почте будет факс.
На почте есть факс.
На почте был факс.

Actually these sentences can be translated two different ways. «На почте есть факс» can be translated either “The post-office has a fax machine” or “There is a fax machine at the post office.” If these types of sentences use prepositions other than у-в-на, usually “have” is not the best translation:

Под кроватью есть чемодан. There is a suitcase under the bed.
За домом есть сарай. There is a shed behind the house.
Над городом есть тучи. There are clouds above the city.

Быть (predicate adjectives)

April 22nd, 2009 — posted by Don

The verb быть is also used in sentences with predicate adjectives. You may recall that in copular sentences (“to be” type sentences), the subject is the thing you are talking about. The predicate is everything else:

John wants to be healthy.
John will be healthy.
John was healthy.
John is healthy.

There are two types of adjectives in Russian: long form adjectives, which are the vast majority of adjectives, and short form adjectives.

An adjective that is in the predicate is, not surprisingly, called a predicate adjective. Long form predicate adjectives in Russian normally occur in the instrumental case. The only exception is when it is directly a part of a present tense is/am/are phrase, in which case the predicate is in the nominative case:

Иван хочет быть здоровым.
Иван будет здоровым.
Иван был здоровым.
Иван — здоровый.

A short form adjective in the predicate will always be in the nominative case:

Иван хочет быть здоров.
Иван будет здоров.
Иван был здоров.
Иван — здоров.

Of course feminine, neuter, and plural forms are also possible:

Анна была здорова. Anna was healthy.
Чудовище было здорово. The monster was healthy.
Мы были здоровы. We were healthy.

Быть (predicate nouns)

April 21st, 2009 — posted by Don

The verb быть is also used in sentences with predicate nouns. What is a predicate? In copular sentences (“to be” type sentences), the subject is the thing you are talking about. The predicate is everything else:

John wants to be a doctor.
John will be a doctor.
John was a doctor.
John is a doctor.

A noun that is in the predicate is, cleverly enough, called a predicate noun. Predicate nouns in Russian normally occur in the instrumental case. The only exception is when it is directly a part of a present tense is/am/are phrase, in which case the predicate noun is in the nominative case.

Иван хочет быть врачом.
Иван будет врачом.
Иван был врачом.
Иван — врач.

Быть (location)

April 20th, 2009 — posted by Don

In Russian the most common verb for the “to be” concept is быть. It is imperfective in terms of meaning, but it is unique in that it is the only imperfective verb to have a simple future form:

to be
infinitive быть
Past был
была
было
были
Present -
-
(есть)
-
-
(суть)
Future буду
будешь
будет
будем
будете
будут
Imperative будь
будьте

Although быть has the present tense third person singular form есть and the present tense third person plural form суть, these are used only in specialized contexts. They aren't normally used to say things like “She is pretty” or “He was in Zvenigorod.” Instead you just leave the verb out in the present tense. Examples:

В прошлом месяце мама была в Туле. Last month Mom was in Tula.
Мама сейчас в Туле. Mom is now in Tula.
Завтра мама будет в Туле. Mom will be in Tula tomorrow.
Вчера мой брат был в командировке. Yesterday my brother was on a business trip.
Мой брат сегодня в командировке. My brother is on a business trip today.
Завтра мой брат будет в командировке. My brother will be on a business trip tomorrow.
Где они были? Where were they?
Мы сейчас на даче. We are at our summer cabin at the moment.
Где вы будете завтра? Where will you be tomorrow?