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Падежи: everything you ever wanted to know about Russian cases! Posted by on May 14, 2008 in language

Today I woke up to find hundreds of posters taped up on the walls inside of the dormitory building where I live. Though the service adverticed by Tomas Life Coaching is clearly not directed at me (it is actually rather unclear as to whom it is directed, but I guess we shouldn’t get further into that) it caught my attention nevertheless. How? And why? The answer is simple – it’s attention-grabbing employing of three dative compositions in one tiny sentence. This awoke an old dream of mine to write a post about the six loveble cases of Russian language, and try to sort things out as much as possible (because there’s always some serious sorting out needed when it comes to the Russian cases, no matter if you’ve studied it for ten years or ten weeks). Let’s take the sentence above and work on it for a while like an example of ‘sorting out’: first up we’ve got the verb «учить» which when paired with a noun in dative form means “to teach” [«я учу тебя русскому языку» = I teach you Russian], but when paired with one in accusative form “to study, to learn” [«я учу русский язык» = I study Russian]. Next up is an impersonal construction using an adverb predicatively, in this case «полезно» (useful, healthy, good), which next to a noun in dative forms tells something about this noun, rather than the other way around [«ему полезно есть кашу по утрам» = it is healthy for him to eat porridge in the mornings]. The last so called (in my vocabulary) ‘dative composition’, includes the brand new word of «тренинг» (taken straight from the English word “training” and plainly Russified to fit the Russian language), and pairs it with the «предлог» [preposition] «по», which can be paired both with dative and accusative. What we’re focusing on in this case is, of course, what it means when with a noun in dative. «Тренинг по соблазнению» (do note that no stress falls on the preposition in this expression), is grammatically speaking the same as «тренинг по боксу» [training in boxing, box training] or «тренинг по плаванию» [training in swimming, swim training]. In this context the preposition in need of dative can be translated as “on (in the field of)”.


In English a noun doesn’t have any other forms but genitive and plural, which is probably one of the reasons as to why it was chosen to be ‘the world language’. In Russian it’s a little bit trickier than that – Russian nouns are declined, a process called «склонение» [declension], which gives the words different endings, in singular and in plural in six cases: именительный падеж [nominative], родительный падеж [genitive], дательный падеж [dative], винительный падеж [accusative], творительный падеж [instrumental], and предложный падеж [prepositional].

Именительный падеж (кто? что?): nominative presents the noun in it’s original form, the form in which words are given in dictionaries.

«Она врач» – she’s a doctor.
«Врач работает» – the doctor is working.

Родительный падеж (кого? чего?): genitive shows the owner of an object, as well as the absence of something.

«Собака мальчика» – the boy’s dog.
«Нет собаки здесь» – there is no dog here.
«Мальчика тут нет» – the boy is not here.

Дательный падеж (кому? чему?): dative can show, for example, the indirect object of an action.

«Мама подарила собаку мальчику» – mom gave a dog to the boy.
«Мама родила сына мужу» – mom gave birth to a son for [her] husband.
«Муж купил сумку от Louis Vuitton ей» – the husband bought a Louis Vuitton bag for her.

Винительный падеж (кого? что?): accusative is both the trickiest case (because male nouns describing things remain in their nominative forms while male nouns describing humans take their genitive form in it) and the easiest – it shows the direct object.

«Я вижу мальчика» – I see the boy.
«Мальчик видет девушку» – the boys sees the girl.
«Он открывает окно» – he opens the window.

Творительный падеж (кем? чем?): instrumental can be difficult at first for a foreigner, especially one coming from a native tongue without any cases, as it thouroughly changes the word, adding a (sometimes even stressed) large ending. It can stand for the object with which an action is performed.

«она пишет карандашом» – she writes with a pencil.
«мы едем поездом» – we go by train.
«Сергей работает трактористом» – Sergey works as a tractor driver.

Предложный падеж (о ком? где? о чём?): prepositional shows, for example, the place where someone or something is located. This case can only be paired with such prepositions as в [in], на [on], о [about].

«Он живёт в Магадане» – he lives in Magadan.
«Они учатся на философском факультете» – they study at the faculty of philosophy.
«Я говорю о нём» – I talk about him.

Some Russian words of foreign origin, like «метро» [subway], «такси» [taxi], are not declined according to these rules.

«Сколько ехать на метро – how long does it take to go by subway?
«Давайте поедем на такси – let’s take a cab!

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  1. Anya:

    Thank you for this grammar review. I’m a native speaker and I still have trouble with cases and declensions!

    Some interesting notes:

    1. Classical Latin also contains many cases and declensions, and may have influenced the development of the Cyrillic grammar rules.

    2. Just as non-native speakers of Russian complain about complicated cases, non-native speakers of English complain about complicated articles (the & a) and prepositions (to, from, of, off, in, on, upon, in, etc.) These multiuse prepositions in English serve the same purpose as cases in Russian and Latin, indicating relationships between the subject and object in the sentence.

  2. peggy:

    For my money this is the best blog on the Net.I much prefer to study grammar in context, and to know the why of things, and not just learn by rote. Add to that a personal and sometimes quirky view of aspects of Russian life – brilliant! I hope you get as much fun out of writing then as I do out of receiving them!
    When I studied Latin I could never see the point of putting English into Latin, so never became an adept at using cases. This laziness is now coming home to roost!My spoken Russian is sadly lacking in accurate grammar.I am gradually appreciating the cases more, thanks to Tolstoy and your blogs!

  3. Stas:

    I remember in school when we were first introduced the cases it was difficult to remember them all as well as their order. My mom told me how they memorized it:
    Иван (именительны)
    Родил (родительный)
    Девчёнку (дательный)
    Велел (винительный)
    Тащить (творительный)
    Пелёнку. (предложный)

    Just writing it I remembered couple things like that but from geometry:

    1. Биссектриса – это такая крыса, которая бегает по углам и делит угол пополам.

    2. Пифагоровы штаны во все стороны равны.

    I let you translate it yourself. I guess it would be more fun this way.

  4. James Stanhope:

    RE: Second comment reading “… this is the best blog on the Net.”

    ABSOLUTELY! Every English-language Eastern European blog should link to this blog.

    RE: First and third comments referencing Classical Latin:

    I also studied Latin, and it was my understanding that the “academic” grammars (i.e., as taught in native-language secondary schools) of the non-Romance European languages were deliberately modeled on Classical Greek and Latin grammar as part of the “Westernization” of higher education in Central and Eastern Europe, since, from the Renaissance onward, classical languages were part of the education of Western European elites. I’m pretty sure that modern ‘academic’ German grammar is modeled on Classical Greek and Latin grammar, and I think, from the 18th century onward, German and possibly Polish higher education (from the 17th century?) did serve as models for higher education further east in Europe.

    Again, this is an outstanding blog. I will try to reference this blog on other English-language Eastern European blogs.

  5. Александр:

    Just a little note. You wrote «Мальчик видет девушку» – the boys sees the girl.

    It should be видит.