На (часть четвёртая)

by Don  

The next use of the word на with the accusative case is equivalent to the English word “by” in contexts where you are comparing one thing to another.

Моему брату сорок три года, а мне сорок восемь лет. Значит, я старше его на пять лет. My brother is 43 years old. I'm 48. That means I'm older than him by five years. ¹
Ростом я сто восемьдесят три сантиметра. Мой брат сто семьдесят восемь сантиметров. То есть, я выше его на пять сантиметров. I'm 183 centimeters tall. My brother is 178 centimeters. That is, I'm taller than him by 5 centimeters.
Новгород находится в четырёхстах девяноста километрах от Москвы, а Санкт-Петербург на сто сорок километров дальше. Novgorod is 490 kilometers from Moscow, and St. Petersburg is 140 kilometers farther.
У Бригама Янга было пятьдесят пять жён, а у Джозефа Смита было лишь сорок четыре. Значит, у Смита было на одиннадцать жён меньше, чем у Янга. Brigham Young had fifty-five wives, whereas Joseph Smith had only forty-four. That means that Smith had eleven wives less than Young. ²

That last example brings us to an interesting point. When you are counting differences in numbers of people, you get the following quirk with the numbers two, three, and four:

Детей у Смирновых пятеро, а у Ивановых только трое. Значит, у Ивановых на два ребёнка меньше, чем у Смирновых. There are five children in the Smirnovs' family, but there are only three in the Ivanovs'. That means the Ivanovs have two kids less in their family than the Smirnovs.

If this were the true accusative after на in this meaning, we would expect «на двух человек» or «на двоих людей», not «на два человека». Other examples:

Ежеминутно в США прибывает на два человека больше, чем эмигрирует. (source) Every minute two more people arrive in the US than emigrate from it.
Нижегородцев-миллиардеров в 2008 году стало на три человека меньше. (source) In 2008 there were three billionaires less in Nizhni Novgorod [than in the previous year].
Небоевые потери российской армии в июне 2009г. составили 23 человека, что на четыре человека меньше, чем в мае с.г.
Russian Army noncombat losses in June 2009 were 23, which is four people less than in May of this year.

This shows us one of two things: either a) the accusative case is not entirely stable in modern Russian, or b) на in this meaning actually uses a separate case that is minimally distinct from the accusative. I argued for the latter in my doctoral dissertation, although the former is probably true as well.

¹ Yes, I know that the “correct” way to say it is “I'm older than he,” but any normal American is going to say “I'm older than him.” It's time for the pedants to catch up to the living language: “than” has become a preposition in such contexts.
² Yes, I know that the “correct” way to say it is “eleven wives fewer,” but normal people don't talk that way. It's time for the pedants to catch up to the living language: “less” is perfectly normal these days when dealing with count nouns.


Comment from: Vadim [Visitor]

“То есть, я выше его на пять сантиметров.”

насколько я понимаю, это ошибка, на самом деле запятая после “то есть” не нужна.

11/29/09 @ 15:30
Comment from: snow.patrol [Visitor]

Looking at the following example:

I’m 183 centimeters tall. My brother is 178 centimeters. That is, I’m taller than him by 5 centimeters.

I wonder whether it’s possible (and acceptable) to say:

I’m 5 centimeters taller than him. Any comments?

11/29/09 @ 02:37

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