“In eight o’clock of morning, at January 8th, on the 2013…” Posted by on Jan 8, 2013 in General reference article, language, Nouns and their grammar, Numbers and counting, Russian for beginners

…this post are scheduled for to be auto-publishing’ed over blog Transparent! 😉

A Russian learning English might make these exactly these sorts of
stereotypical blunders with English предлоги (“prepositions”) — saying “at January 8th” instead of “on January 8th,” for instance.


But an English speaker learning Russian faces faces exactly the same problem of sounding like the “comical foreigner” in the punchline of a joke — only, perhaps, it’s worse for the student of Russian, because even if you can remember the correct предлог, certain Russian prepositions can take more than one падеж (“noun case”), thus offering you even more grammar pitfalls.

So, in this post, let’s take a look at the various prepositions and cases that are used when speaking about times, dates, and years. (Although we won’t say too much about Clock Times — e.g., «Поезд пришёл без двадцати пяти одиннадцать вечера» — because Yelena already covered those expressions pretty thoroughly в конце ноября, “in late November”.)

В каком-нибудь веке, году, месяце? (в + [prep.])

To say “in a particular century/year/month,” Russian uses в followed by the prepositional case of the noun. And when you need to express a given century or year, the noun is preceded by an ordinal number. But remember that for large “compound ordinal numbers,” such as (the) 843rd, only the final element of the number is actually rendered by an ordinal form; the parts before use the cardinal counting forms. Thus:

В каком веке? — In what century?
В восемнадцатом веке. — In the 18th century (A.D.).
В двадцать восьмом веке до нашей эры. — In the 28th century B.C.

В каком году?
В тысяча девятсот восемьдесят четвёртом году. — In the one-thousand, nine-hundred, eighty (and) fourth year.
В будущем году. — In a future year.

В каком месяце? — In what month?
В марте. — In March.
В прошлом месяце. — Last month (i.e., before the current one)
В прошедшем месяце. — In the previous month (i.e., prior to some month in the past).

На какой-нибудь неделе (на + [prep.])

But to ask “in such-and-such a week?”, we use the preposition на instead, though it also takes the prepositional case. Since weeks don’t have numbers or special names in Russian (or English), you’re most likely to use this construction with words expressing “this week” or “last week,” etc., or with descriptive adjectives:

На какой неделе? — In what week?
На этой/прошлой/следующей неделе. — This/last/next week.
На самой же неделе, как… — In the very same week as…
На праздничной неделе — During the holiday week.

В какой-н. день, в какой-н. час, в какую-н. минуту/секунду (в + [acc.])

But for some reason, segments of time shorter than a week use в followed by the noun in the accusative, not the prepositional:

В какой день? — On what day?

В среду
. — On Wednesday.
В обыкновенный день. — On an ordinary day.

В последний час. — In the final hour.
В ту же минуту… — At that very minute…
В роковую секунду, когда — In the fateful second, when…

Again, however, see Yelena’s earlier post for a discussion of the numeric constructions that express precise hours and minutes by the clock.

Какого-н. числа месяца (On the [N]th date of a month)

Although “on a given day” is usually в (какой-нибудь) день, there’s a significant exception: When numbering dates within a particular month. In that case, the date uses an ordinal number in the genitive singular neuter (logically agreeing with «число», which is usually omitted), optionally followed by the name of the month in the genitive. And if you feel like specifying the year, then that also goes into the (ordinal) genitive — even though months and years would be в + prepositional when the specific date isn’t given.

Она родилась в тысяча семьcот сорок пятом году.
She was born in 1745.


Она родилась двадцать шестого (сентября) (тысяча семьcот сорок пятого года).
She was born on the 26th (of September) (1745).

On the other hand, if you simply want to name a date without saying that something happened ON a date, the number of the day goes into the nominative neuter — but anything after that, such as the month and year, is again in the genitive:

Она родилась в прекрасный день осенью. Было двадцать шестое (сентября, 1745-го года).
She was born on a beautiful day in autumn. It was the 26th (of September, 1745).

And finally, if you’ve awoken in a stranger’s apartment in an unfamiliar city with a major похмелье (“hangover”), owing to some hilarious miscalculation of vodka-dosage at the баня (“public steam-bath”), and you can’t remember what day it is, you can ask, Какой сегодня день? — “What day is today?”

But the question is potentially ambiguous, and the answer might be either Сегодня вторник (“Today is Tuesday”) or Сегодня восьмое января (“Today is January 8th”). So if you specifically need the date of the month (not the day of the week), you can ask, Какое сегодня число?

P.S. Let’s not forget that in Casablanca, everyone understands what the Leuchtags mean when they say things like “Which watch? Such much!” So as my first piece of advice на Новый год: Do try to remember which prepositions go with which cases in which contexts, but never sweat so much over the grammar that you’re afraid to speak Russian at all! I screw up constantly with Russian — especially in speech — but 95% of the time, native speakers have no difficulty comprehending what I mean to say. So, while you should make every effort to be correct, never feel shy or embarrassed about “sounding like Tarzan.”

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  1. Bob:

    “but never sweat so much over the grammar that you’re afraid to speak Russian at all”

    — This is something my Russian professor has been trying to beat into me for years, but it’s easier said than done for me, Rob.

    In high school, I took 2 years of French and 2 years of German. While getting my BS degree I took one semester of Norwegian. Russian has been the only language that I’ve had the drive and desire to speak perfectly.

    According to my Russian professor (who’s from St. Petersburg), “Even Russians don’t speak Russian perfectly!” That’s somewhat comforting, but I really want to be a few notches above the typical американский турист.

    My problem is that I get so caught up in making sure my case endings are correct that my speech is sometimes broken and halted.

  2. Sarah:

    Great post! I have an unrelated translation question for you/Yelena, if you don’t mind. I’m translating the rules of a board game from Russian to English and I’ve come across this name for one of the cards, “малява в подземный ход”. I know what it means; it’s a pass to let the player travel underground, but what’s the best way to translate it into English? Mалява is блатной жаргон/prison slang for документ, записка, ксива, письмо, свидетельство, удостоверение. I can’t think up any equivalent slang in English. Any ideas? If it needs to it can simply be “underground access pass”, but I was curious if there was anything better out there. (And Rob, if you don’t want people to ask you about prison slang you probably shouldn’t pimp out your Дед Мороз… or your lime tree :D…) Thanks!

  3. Rob:

    My problem is that I get so caught up in making sure my case endings are correct that my speech is sometimes broken and halted.

    Since you mentioned MST3K in a recent comment, Bob, I’d suggest:

    “If you’re wond’rin’ whether it’s «при КЕМ» or «при КОМ»,
    And other grammar facts,
    Then repeat to yourself: It’s just a язык,
    I should really just relax!”

    Seriously, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I’ve always had the same problem. All I can say is that with practice, your speech will gradually become LESS broken and halted, even if it’s slow. It’s the difference between the car stalling and shuddering when you’re first learning to drive stick-shift, and being able to drive smoothly in first gear.

    I don’t know any easy solutions, although building up a stock of multi-word словосочетение (“word combinations; phrases”) can help. (In the same sort of way that children progress from reading a word letter-by-letter to recognizing quite long words as a single visual unit, rather than a letter-sequence.)

  4. Rob:

    “малява в подземный ход”. I know what it means; it’s a pass to let the player travel underground, but what’s the best way to translate it into English? Mалява is блатной жаргон/prison slang for документ

    Good question, Sarah! From Googling, I find that “ducat” is apparently English-language prison slang for a type of pass that is issued to prisoners, though I can’t remember ever hearing that term before in movies.

    In the U.S. Boy Scouts, the word “chit” can refer to a certain type of written license that is given to younger scouts, indicating that the scout has proven himself responsible enough to be trusted with matches and/or a pocketknife. (There was a “Fireman Chit” and a “Whittling Chit” that new scouts were expected to earn — and that could be revoked without warning for improper knife/fire etiquette, such as handing someone a knife blade-first.)

    So “underground travel chit” came to my mind, but I’m not sure if it would make sense to everyone — since the more common meaning of “chit” is something closer to “receipt” or “IOU” (not a license that grants permission/privilege to do something).

    P.S. I’ve heard that some English-speaking diplomats casually refer to the laissez passer document as either a “lazy pass” or an “ell-pee.” (It sounds agreeably slangy to me, even though it’s not actual prison slang.)

  5. Sarah:

    Thanks! I like laisser passer the best, since, like you, I hear chit and I think receipt (It’s too British for my American ears perhaps). That’s what I’ll use. 🙂