Russian Language Blog

Russian Cases: «Родительный падеж» [Genitive] part I Posted by on Apr 11, 2009 in Culture, language

I really hope that the problem with the pictures will be solved soon, because it’s as frustrating for me not to be able to show you the pictures as it is for you not to see them! The graffiti on a wall above: «Я без тебя умру» [I will die without out] shows that after the preposition «без» [without] the noun is always in genitive case because of the rule we’re going talk about today – genitive in sentences with negation! (If you can’t see the picture, you should use this very same rule in the following way: «я не вижу фотки!» [I can’t see the picture!], using genitive form instead of the accusative «фотку», or why not: «почему сайт не показывает фоток?» [why doesn’t the site show the pictures?]).

Today we’re going to start our extensive discussion about the thrilling genitive case in Russian language – «родительный падеж». Since this case is no «именительный падеж» [nominative case] but a little bit «потруднее» [harder], I have decided to make three posts about this exciting case. The first one, today’s post – “part I” as I have chosen to call it – contains two basic and essential moments: genitive with possession and genitive in sentences with negation. The first one – possession – will not be too difficult for anyone with a native language belonging to the Indo-European family of languages, since that’s the one case that almost all of those languages have, though it might be the ONLY case that’s remained until this very day (for example, the genitive ‘s in English and Swedish, the two other languages I know fairly well). That’s part I, thus today. In part II we’ll take a closer look at the different prepositions that demand genitive, other than just the ones about negation, and in part III I’ll try and give an «обзор» [roundup] of a few Russian verbs that also command genitive case from nouns paired with them. But before we go any further today, let’s have a look in «этимологический словарь М. Фасмера» [M. Vasmer’s etymologic dictionary] (did you see how I slipped in some genitive right there – smooth, eh?):

«Родительный падеж – калькирует от латинского слова genitivus, «род, вид», первоначально «падеж, обозначающий вид». (Сравни ещё вариант родъно падение старый «родительный падеж», как предложил Роман Якобсон.)» [Genitive case – it is a loan translation from the Latin word genitivus, which means “family; sort; kind; gender; genus; and look; appearance; state; condition; view; kind; sort; form; aspect”, originally “the case that indicates appearance”. (Compare also with the possibility of ‘family decline’ as the old “genitive case” suggested by Roman Jakobson.)]

Let’s have a look at genitive with nouns in sentences about possession. Note that in Russian language the genitive attribute always stands AFTER the noun. In other words – it’s the complete opposite word order in comparison with English language, for example, something that can be a little tricky at first, but is more than possible to get used to. With time and practise, of course! Here are a couple of sentences to illustrate this grammatical rule:

«Поэма Пушкина» [A (long) poem by Pushkin; Pushkin’s (long) poem].

«Роман Толстого» [A novel by Tolstoy; Tolstoy’s novel].

«Стихи Лермонтова» [Poetry by Lermontov; Lermontov’s poetry].

«Балет Чайковского» [A ballet by Tchaikovsky; Tchaikovsky’s ballet].

«Картина Репина» [A painting by Repin; Repin’s painting].

«Фильм Эйзенштейна» [A movie by Eisenstein; Eisenstein’s movie].

«Парк культуры и отдыха имени Горького» [Park of Culture and Rest named in the honor of Gorky].

«Проспект Ленина» [Lenin Prospect (there’s one of those in every single Russian and/or former Soviet city!)].

«Улица Маяковского» [Mayakovsky Street (also a very common name for a street in Russia)].

«Переулок Гагарина» [‘Gagarin’s Side Street’ (now, honestly, I think this name for a ‘side street’ is impossible logically speaking, considering this country’s enormous respect for the first man in space, though the name is grammatically correct and all)].

Here we have another genitive paired with both a verb and a preposition requiring just this very case: «Как предохраняться от нежелательной беременности[How to protect oneself from unwanted pregnancy?]. I came across this sign on a information stand in the female section of a Russian hospital, a fact that I think will surprise little to no one…

Another rule worth remembering by heart already right now when trying to figure out this case, is that it ALWAYS affects the noun after the verb «быть» [to be; exist; in present tense it is almost always left out in Russian!] when paired up with the negation «нет» [no; in speech you’ll often hear «нету», which means the exact same thing] and «не» [not]. Let’s take a closer look at how this works, shall we not? Note that the verb, when paired with genitive case, is always in second person singular; both in future and past tenses! In present tense you should only remember the first rule – to leave out the verb entirely and be happy with that. And perhaps feel a little more Russian because of it!

«У меня нет времени» [I don’t have time].

«У меня не будет времени» [I will not have time].

«У меня не было времени» [I didn’t have time] (note how the stress falls only on the «не» and not on the verb in this construction!).

There are a couple of other verbs that mean pretty much the same thing in Russian; thus they are all about the fact that something is missing, nonexistent, lacking and so on and so forth. They all also need to be followed by the genitive case. Here are a few of them in sentences:

«Совершенных людей не существует» [‘Perfect people don’t exist’; or more accurately – there are no perfect people].

«В кассе театра не осталось ни одного билета» [In the theater’s ticket office there was not even one ticket left].

«Ничего особенного не произошло» [Nothing special happened].

«На вечернике не встречалось ни одной симпатичной девушки» [At the party there wasn’t even one pretty girl].

The last thing we’re going to have a look at today is called ‘object genitive’ and is used in sentences with negation of the following kind: (Compare with the ‘positive’ sentences, in which the case to use is accusative!)

«Я не понял вопроса» [I didn’t understand the question].

«Я понял вопрос» [I understood the question].

«Я не видел картины» [I didn’t see the painting].

«Я видел картину» [I saw the painting].

«Я не получал письма» [I didn’t receive the letter] (note that the verb is in imperfect!).

«Я получил письмо» [I received the letter] (but now it is in perfect – I guess we’ll have to discuss that rule sooner or later, too!).

I hope I’m not boring you all to tears with this heavy load of Russian grammar? I know a few of you might find posts like these useful, whereas others will be shaking their head to and fro in deep boredom, and some will not even read them out of pure fear to face their dread of grammar (I should know – I used to be one of them!). But in the next post we’ll take a break from all of these rules and regulations, and direct our attention to the fact that the month of April has lots and lots of great dates of importance to Russian history – Gagarin becomes the first man in space, Mayakovsky commits suicide and, of course, who could ever forget? – Lenin’s b’day!

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  1. Roger:

    I am still not getting the pictures.

  2. Gey Mikhalovich:

    Thanks Josefina. Russian language is way to complicated to learn with sober head. Just the way we like it, I’ll drink to that.
    About Homophobia in Russia, whats that? Do you realize that during 50’s we used to kill gays (gov. policy), in 1960s-80s we often sent gays to prison. And now we just hate them and think that they are extremely perverted. I don’t know about you but I think its huge improvement! In 2039 we going to have a gay-parade in Kremlin, Moscow.
    Josefina here is a little advice for you – never compare Russia to West European Country, instead compare Russia(n) to the previous generations and see if there is any improvements. Obviously according to your Swedish mind, Russia is homophobic country. But according to Saudi Arabian mind, Russia is paradise for gays, ‘Different strokes for different folks’.

  3. Bruce Dumes:

    Josefina – I love the grammar posts!! What’s amazing is that even in these simple examples, you have shown me a few things that were never covered in my two years of Russian studies at UCLA! For example, “Я не понял вопроса.” I would not have known to put вопрос in genitive. Thank you so much!! By the way, in English we call them imperfective and perfective verbs, not imperfect and perfect. But that is a wonderful example to display the choice of aspect as well as the genitive case. Well done!

  4. Alan:

    Josefina, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the work you do. I have copies from No 1, because I study them continually and learn Grammar better than my course, culture and facts I have not found anywhere else.
    Somewhere I will find a translation for ..”I need all the help I can get”. In English it is humourous, in Russian it sounds like begging. Can anyone help ?

  5. Piuma:

    Wonderful post, wonderful lesson , as always. Thanks. You wrote: …note that the verb, when paired…is always in second person singular. Isn’t будет third person singular? And isn’t было (with был and былa) the neutre for first, second and third person singular?

  6. Josefina:

    Piuma! Thank you for reading my post so closely, of course it should say “third person singular” and not in any case “second person singular” – I must’ve been to into the grammar to notice when I made that mistake! Yes, negation with оно! Всегда! Спасибо за то, что заметили 🙂

  7. Alex:

    ‘I will die without out’ – you should translate ‘I will die without you’