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Russian Cases: A Beginner’s Guide

Most first-time language learners find Russian cases complicated. But what are they? In this post, we provide a brief overview of and introduction to the grammatical cases in Russian. To learn more Russian grammar, or for an in-depth discussion on unique aspects of the language, order a Russian lesson with one of our expert tutors.

What Are Grammatical Cases?

When used in sentences, the forms of nouns, pronouns, numbers, and adjectives change through the addition of different endings. These forms are called cases.

Grammatical cases also exist in modern English, specifically, the nominative and genitive cases. In German, there are four cases, but in Russian, there are six.

Look at the example to see how the case of the noun “карандаш” (karandash – pencil) changes.

  • In the genitive case: Несколько карандашей (neskol’lo karandashei – a few pencils)

  • In the instrumental case: Писать карандашом (pisat’ karandashom – to write with a pencil)

The Six Cases in the Russian Language

In Russian, the six cases are the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional cases. What’s the difference between them?

The Nominative Case

Nouns in the nominative case answer the questions “what?” and “who?” In dictionaries, nouns always appear in the nominative case.

  • Учитель пишет (Uchitel’ pishet). – The teacher writes.

The Genitive Case

The genitive case indicates that something belongs to someone; thus, it is used to express possession. It’s the equivalent of the apostrophe or the preposition “of” in English.

  • лапа собаки (lapa sobaki) – the dog’s paw

The Dative Case

The dative case shows that something is given or addressed to someone (or something).

  • подарить твоей дочери (podarit’ docheri) – to give your daughter a present

The Accusative Case

The accusative case denotes the object of a transitive verb.

  • написать статью (napisat’ stat’iu) – to write an article

The Instrumental Case

The instrumental case is used to indicate an instrument (it can be a person, as well) with the help of which (or whom) something is done.

  • Статья написана студентом (stat’ya napisana studentom) – The article was written by a student.

In this example, you can see the use of both the nominative and instrumental cases. The word “статья” (stat’ya – article) is in the nominative case. Nouns in the nominative case are usually the subject of the sentence.

The Prepositional Case

The prepositional case is used to denote a person or a place that is an object of speech. It is always used with prepositions “на” (na – on), “в” (v – in), “о” (o – about), and others.

  • Говорить о любви (govorit’ o liubvi) – to talk about love

Learn Russian Grammar with a Tutor

This covers the basics of Russian cases—there’s a lot more to learn. To improve your Russian grammar, work with a tutor.

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