Basic Russian Grammar Explained
You probably remember that a noun is a person, a place, or a thing. In Russian, nouns are categorized based on the final sound:
These words are feminine because they end with an "a" sound:
These words are all masculine because they end with a consonant sound:
There are neuter words which end with an O, but there's comparatively VERY FEW neuter words it's not worth talking about at this stage.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTE:
There are NO NOUNS IN RUSSIAN that end with an "uu" sound in their basic form.
Bear that in mind.
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Russian uses something called the CASE system. What it means is, the ENDS of nouns change depending on how the word is used.
Even your own NAME has many different endings.
This article will look at all six cases in Russian, but let's run through them real quick right here: Let's use someone's name in all six cases:
This is Bill.
"Bill" is his "real" name. Let's call it the dictionary form, or NOMINATIVE case.
Billa, with an 'a' at the end, is his name in the ACCUSATIVE case.
Billa is also his name in the GENETIVE.
Billu - with an 'u' sound - puts his name in the DATVE case.
Billom is in the INSTRUMENTAL
And Billyeh is the PREPOSITIONAL.
To examine these cases, this article will show how ENGLISH would look, if it used the same case system. Pay attention to how the ends of words change, and why.
Let's get started!
What gender is this word? "Soda"
It's feminine, because of the "a" ending
...and this one?
Ok, so far, so good!
Now, the subject of a sentence is the noun that plays the lead role. It's the one that's doing the action.
The word that's the SUBJECT of your sentence doesn't change its ending. It's in the same form as it appears in the dictionary, called the NOMINATIVE CASE. Here's some examples where "pizza" is the subject...note how it plays the lead role in the sentence:
The pizza fell on the floor.
Pizza is the most popular food in America.
But in these next sentences, pizza is not the lead player:
Steve ate pizza.
I ordered a cheese pizza.
In these sentences, someone is doing something to the pizza, Steve ate it, I ordered it, and so on.
(In fancy grammar terms, "pizza" has become the direct object.)
Now we're about to see how English would look if it used a case system like Russian does. (Which, by the way, it used to!)
Watch what happens when we russify these sentences:
Steve ate pizzu.
I'd ordered a cheese pizzu.
Notice the "u" sound? That's not a typo. The "uu"-sounding ending on a feminine noun tells us something has been DONE to that noun. It's now the direct object.
Here's more examples:
I drank sodu.
I ate a bananu.
I bought a sofu.
Next: The name "Sara" is also a feminine noun. If Sara is the subject, she stays Sara:
Sara is nice. Sara has a car. Sara ate some pizzu.
But if we DO something to Sara, Watch how her name changes:
I know Saru. I saw Saru today.
This is called the accusative case, and only feminine nouns are affected. With the exception of people -- what's known as animate nouns -- masculine nouns don't change.
Look at all these examples: These are the russified versions:
I bought a television.
I dropped my telephone.
I broke my bike
See? Masculine words dont change in these situations.
Students then ask: "Do masculine words ever change?"
You bet. Check out these examples:
In regular English: I walked towards the television.
Russified: I walked towards the televisionu.
In regular English: I sent a letter to my boss.
Russified English: I sent a letter to my bossu.
See how important that "u" sound is? When it's added onto the end of masculine words, it changes their meaning to: "to that thing or person". The "uu" sound makes the masculine noun the RECIPIENT of something.
Here's some more examples of this:
Normal English: I gave the book to Steve.
Russified: I gave the book Steve-u.
Normal: I said hello to John.
Russified: I said hello John-u.
Here, "Steve-u" means "To Steve", and "Johnu" means "To John." See how they were the recipients?
Because russians know that "Steveu" means that Steve was recipient of something, they can put the word anywhere in the sentence.
I gave the book Steve-u.
I gave the book to Steve. (Steve-u means Steve is the one who got it.)
But they can also say:
I Steve-u gave book...
...and that STILL means I gave the book to Steve.
Russians use lots of word orders:
I Steve-u book gave....and so on.
When a masculine noun adds this "uu" ending so that it becomes the recipient, it is said to be in the DATIVE CASE.
Do you remember the names of the four cases we've looked at so far?
Nominative. This is the form of words when you look them up in the dictionary.
Accusative. This affects feminine nouns, when you do something to them. See them, buy them, know them, love them.
Genitive: This is the OF case. A friend of, the color of, the side of, and so on.
Dative case: This ending tells Russian that the noun is recieving something. A present, a phone call, a letter
Here are some russified sentences. Try to translate them into regular english:
I Johnu pizzu gave.
Brad Johnu letter sent.
Franku pizzu Steve gave.
How we doing so far? Need a breather? Ok, back to it!
Let's go back to feminine nouns like sofa and Rita.
Check out this new ending:
Normal English: This is the side of the sofa.
Russified: This is the side sofi.
Normal: He is a friend of Rita.
Russified: He is a friend Riti.
Do you follow?
Sofi means "of the sofa" and "Sari" means "of Sara."
So what would be the russified version of this: I like the taste of pizza..
I like the taste pizzi.
Here's how this works with masculine words:
She is a friend of John.
She is a friend Johna.
What's the size of the room?
What's the size rooma?
Note that Russian doesnt have words like "a" and "the," by the way.
Let's make sure we understand this new form, which is called GENETIVE.
What's the translation of these rusified sentences:
Todd is friend Brada.
I like the taste sodi.
Todd is the friend OF Brad. I like the taste OF soda.
We better review everything so far. Here goes:
What do these russified sentences mean?
I bought bananu and gave it Fredu.
Fred stepped on peel banani and slipped.
What is the cost televisiona?
I bought a banana and gave it to Fred.
Fred stepped on the peel OF the banana and slipped.
What is the cost OF the television?
Hope you got those right. Let's forge ahead! Check out these russified sentences:
I went with Steveom to the park.
I'd like coffee with sugarom.
I wrote the letter with a pencilom.
See the pattern?
The word "with" in Russian -- even just the idea of "with" -- requires masculine words to add "om" at the end.
Here's how feminine words change. The sound is a bit odd to an English speaker:
In normal English: I went with Nina.
russified: I went with Ninoi.
I went to the park with a soda in my hand.
I went to the park with sodoi in my hand.
If you understand this much, you've done about a semester or two worth of grammar on the university level.
Just a little more to go...
The words ON and IN -- as in, on the table or in the room --, are very common, and force all nouns -- masculine, feminine and neuter -- to add a "yeh" sound at the end.
Normal English: The book is on the table.
russified: The book is on table-yeh.
And more examples...
The car is in garage-yeh.
He is sitting on the sidewalkyeh.
Let's check to make sure we got those last two cases: Russify these:
I went with Todd to the movies.
I had lunch with Polina.
The keys are on the table.
The chair is in the kitchen.
I went with Toddom to the movies.
I had lunch with Polinuh-ee.
The keys are on the table-yeh.
The chair is in the kitchen-yeh.
Russian grammar is strange to us, but it really isn't that difficult. The rules are pretty straightforward.
I ate pizzu forkum and knifeum, with Alinoi.
I Gregu bananu gave.
The banana was on the counteryeh. I took the bananu, and threw it brotheru.
I mean, do you even need me to translate anymore?
Here's your final exam. Translate these into normal English:
Sara ate pizzu forkum and knifeum, with Alinoi.
Everyone pays taxes govermentu.
The color carpeta is red.
The dishes are in the sinkyeh.
I bet you got all of those. And to any naysayers, of *course* I left lots of stuff out. This was the basics. The fundamentals. The groundwork. To the rest of you, I hope you have a better feel for Russian's complex grammar.