Inflecting Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and numerals can be a mystery, as asking the right question will decide how you should spell a word.
What kind of sorcery is this? This is Russian declension, or the changing of word endings based on several different factors. Read on for a comprehensive Russian declension survival guide that will tell you everything you need to know about how Russian declension works in theory and practice.
What Is Declension?
We can’t possibly talk about declension without outlining the very basics – what it is and what this term means.
Declension (Russian “склонение”) is in use in many European languages. Needless to say, Russian and declension go hand in hand. To explain the term further, it’s a general linguistic practice, in which nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numerals, adverbs, and even articles are modified based on gender, number, and – sometimes, but not always – case.
How Does it Work?
As mentioned above, cases are the forms of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numerals, adverbs, and articles that represent their grammatical function in a sentence. Typically, word endings are used to build these word forms.
Did you know that endings may be added to words, or that words may just change the ending? What’s more, changes in the word stem can also occur.
Declension in the World’s Languages
Declension occurs in many languages: for example, in language families like Quechuan (native to the Andes), Indo-European (e.g., German, Lithuanian, Latvian, Slavic, Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient, Modern Greek, and Kurdish), Bantu (e.g., Zulu, Kikuyu), Semitic (e.g., Modern Standard Arabic), Finno-Ugric (e.g., Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian), and Turkish.
Does English also use declension? Absolutely. However, unlike Old English, declension is very easy in Modern English. Nouns are modified based on their number – singular or plural – and whether a word is in its plain or possessive form. For instance, the only variations of the word noun would be nouns, noun’s and nouns’.
Clearly, Russian declension is not that easy; otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this guide.
Russian has six cases:
It’s worth noting that words have singular and plural case forms. So, this means that a word can have up to 12 case forms: six forms for singular and six forms for plural.
Don’t start panicking – there are words that have similar forms in different cases or even one form for all of the cases.
Description of the Six Russian Cases
Let’s now take a closer look at the basic functions of the Russian cases!
The nominative case shows the subject or the doer of the action, the predicate.
The genitive case expresses possession. Equally importantly, this case is also often used in negated sentences.
The dative case marks the indirect object, or the receiver of the action.
The accusative case shows the direct object, or the object of the action.
The instrumental case indicates the means – or instrument – of the action, how the action is done.
As the name suggests, the prepositional case is used after prepositions, most often after “о” (about), “в” (in), and “на” (at). It indicates the location, or where the action takes place.
Use of Cases in Russian: Russian Declension Chart
Examples always work better than theory, don’t they? Below, you will find two Russian declension charts with examples for use of the Russian cases in singular and plural, with the focus on Russian noun declension.
|Case||Example of Russian Noun Declension||English Equivalent||Notes|
|Nominative||Собрание скоро начнётся.||The meeting will start shortly.||The word “собрание” (meeting) is the subject in this sentence.|
|Genitive||Сегодня собрания не будет.||There’s no meeting today.||A very good example of the use of genitive in sentences expressing negation.The word “собрания” (of the meeting) is the genitive case form of the word “собрание” (meeting).|
|Dative||Пожалуйста, не забудьте подготовиться к собранию!||Please don’t forget to prepare for the meeting!||The word “собранию” (for the meeting) is the dative case form of the word “собрание” (meeting). It shows the indirect object.|
|Accusative||Можно ли записать собрание?||Is it possible to record the meeting?||The word “собрание” (the meeting) shows the object of the action.The accusative case form of the word “собрание” (meeting) is the same as the nominative case form.|
|Instrumental||Общим собранием мы сможем принять важные решения.||With the help of a general meeting, we will be able to make some important decisions.||The word “собранием” (with the help of a meeting) clearly marks the means of the action.It is the instrumental case form of the word “собрание” (meeting).|
|Prepositional||Боюсь, что не смогу принять участие в собрании.||I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend the meeting.||The word “собрании” (meeting) follows the preposition “в” (translated as in). Together, they mark the location of the action.In this sentence, “собрании” is the prepositional case form of the word “собрание” (meeting).|
|Case||Russian Noun Declension||English Equivalent||Notes|
|Nominative||Собрания скоро начнутся.||The meetings will start shortly.||The word “собрания” (meetings) in its nominative case form is the subject in this sentence.|
|Genitive||Сегодня собраний не будет.||There are no meetings today.||Another example of the use of genitive in sentences expressing negation.The word “собрания” (of the meetings) is the genitive case form of the word “собрания” (meetings).|
|Dative||Пожалуйста, не забудьте подготовиться к собраниям!||Please don’t forget to prepare for the meetings!||The word “собраниям” (for the meetings) is the dative case form of the word “собрания” (meetings). It shows the indirect object.|
|Accusative||Можно ли записать собрания?||Is it possible to record the meetings?||The word “собрания” (the meetings) shows the object of the action.Also here, the accusative case form of the word “собрания” (meetings) is the same as the nominative case form.|
|Instrumental||Общими собраниями мы сможем принять важные решения.||With the help of general meetings, we will be able to make some important decisions.||The word “собраниями” (with the help of meetings) marks the means of the action.It is the instrumental case form of the word “собрания” (meetings).|
|Prepositional||Боюсь, что не смогу принять участие в собраниях.||I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend the meetings.||The word “собраниях” (meetings) follows the preposition “в” (in). Together, they mark the location of the action.In this sentence, “собраниях” is the prepositional case form of the word “собрания” (meetings).|
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