Walking a Dog or More About Transitive and Intransitive Verbs Posted by yelena on Sep 20, 2012 in Literature
Last week I did a post about whether to use nouns in accusative or genitive case after verbs. If you missed the post and don’t feel like reading it now, here’s the rule in the nutshell:
If a verb is transitive, then use the accusative case.
If a verb is intransitive, then use the genitive case.
Simple enough, isn’t it? Aha! But remember, нет правил без исключений (there are no rules without exceptions) which explains the following real-life sentences by native speakers of Russian:
Лужков заявил, что его “ушли” в связи с выборами 2012 года – Luzhkov (former mayor of Moscow) states that his firing is connected to the 2012 elections. (See original article.)
Решили ночевать в аэропорту, с целью выспать там ребёнка – We decided to spend the night at an airport so that the child gets enough sleep. (Original source is here)
Проснуть кошку – To wake up a cat (a cat video; careful here, don’t get sucked into watching cat videos instead of reading this post)
Родители её и в институт поступили и на работу устроили – Parents both got her into college and found her a job (just some water cooler gossip).
Кто девушку ужинает, тот её и танцует – The one who pays for the girl’s dinner gets to dance with her (for example, watch this interview at 0:38)
У пилота есть работа – он летает самолёт – A pilot has a job – he flies a plane (enjoy, especially at 0:40)
So what’s going on here? Уйти (to go away), спать (to sleep), просыпаться (to wake up), ужинать (to have supper), танцевать (to dance), летать (to fly) are all intransitive verbs. Yet the nouns are in the accusative case instead of genitive (его, ребёнка, кошку, её, девушку, самолёт).
What’s going on here?
First, a bit of trivia. Do you know that there are a lot more intransitive verbs in Russian than transitive verbs? (Some sources say the ratio is 2:1, others say it’s closer to 3:1).
Here’s something else – all transitive verbs in Russian language have intransitive counterparts:
мыть – мыться
Вася пошёл мыть руки (Vasya went to wash hands)
Вася решил, что пора мыться (Vasya thought it was time to bathe.)
читать – читаться
Маша читает книгу (Masha is reading a book)
Эта книга очень легко читается (This book is easy to read)
строить – строиться
Николай строит дом (Nikolay is building a house)
Этот дом строится уже много лет (This house is being built for many years now)
However, the reverse is not true – not all Russian intransitive verbs have transitive forms. Those that do frequently rely on prefixes to convey transitivity:
К нам едет ревизор (An auditor is on his way)
Ревизор объедет все учреждения (An auditor will make his way to all agencies)
По вечерам я гуляю (In the evenings I go on walks)
По вечерам я выгуливаю собаку (In the evenings I take my dog for a walk)
Yet many intransitive verbs simply don’t have transitive forms, including скучать (to be bored), просыпаться (to wake up), смеяться (to laugh), летать (to fly), and many more. If you do want to say that someone enacted these verbs onto an object (or perhaps onto yourself), you’d say:
На меня навели скуку (I was bored) or мне это наскучило (I was bored by this)
Меня разбудили (I was woken up)
Меня рассмешили or Меня насмешили (I was moved to laughter)
Я лечу на самолёте (I am on a plane) or Я пилотирую самолёт (I am piloting a plane)
But, as you can see from the examples at the beginning of the post, sometimes intransitive verbs are forced to act as transitive. Such речевой оборот (turn of phrase) is used mostly in an informal, conversational language. It is used purposefully by the native speakers to inject the situation with a dash of humor or irony:
Два месяца назад этот подлец уволил меня, а теперь его самого ушли (Two months ago this scoundrel fired me and now he himself got canned)
Кто девушку ночует, тот её и завтракает (The one who sleeps with a girl serves her breakfast)
It is also used a lot by young children who, obviously, do not yet know the whole truth about transitivity of Russian verbs. For example, my child loves nothing more than, as he says it, проснуть маму, instead of разбудить маму (to wake up mom) at the crack of dawn. I recently overheard a 3-year old say Саша меня смеёт instead of Саша меня смешит (Sasha is making me laugh).
Back to the simple rule of “accusative with transitive; genitive with intransitive”. While you probably won’t hear a native Russian speaker say я гулял собаку, many “accusative with intransitive” phrases pop up in (absolutely authentic) casual conversations.
P.S. Russian grammar got you confused? Are you feeling frustrated or lost? Let us know what you’re struggling with and we’ll jot a (hopefully) illuminating post or two just for you.