Рука, часть вторая

by Don  

Since рука means both 'arm' and 'hand,' the Russians use other means to distinguish which part of the arm/hand is involved, and often this involves a distinction between the prepositions в and на. If the preposition в is involved, it usually correlates to 'hand' in English; if на, then 'arm.' For instance:

В руке она держала ключ от новой машины.In her hand she held the key to a new car.
На руках он держала сына брата.She held her brother's son in her arms.

You'll notice that those sentences used the prepositional case; that's because they expressed the location of the thing being held. Russian usually distinguishes motion phrases and location phrases. So if you want to take things into your hands/arms, you end up using the accusative case:

Она взяла котёнка в руки, и котёнок лизнул её в нос.She picked up the kitten [and held it in her hands], and the kitten licked her nose.
Она взяла котёнка на руки, и котёнок лизнул её в щёку.She picked up the kitten [and held it in her arms], and the kitten licked her cheek.
Я взял племянника на руки, и он срыгнул на мою рубашку.I picked up my nephew [and held him in my arms], and he spit up on my shirt.

More importantly, if you want to take someone in your arms, the best way to say it is with the verb обнимать/обнять 'to embrace, hug' which you can use without even mentioning руки: «Я её обнял» “I hugged/embraced her.”

For other entries about the word рука, click on the 'ruka' category.

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