The Instrumental Case in Russian: Usage and Examples

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The instrumental case in Russian is an indirect case and answers the questions кем/чем (kyem/chem)—with whom/with what.

This case indicates which instrument is used to do or make something, or with whom/with the help of what an action is completed.

Quick Tip

The Instrumental case answers the questions кем/чем (kyem/chem)—with whom/with what—and shows which instrument is used to do or make something, or with whom/with the help of what an action is completed. It can also be used to talk about something that you are interested in.

When to Use the Instrumental Case

The instrumental case gets its name from the instrumental function that it performs. Here are some of the instances when you can use the instrumental case:

Instrument

When an action is performed with a tool or an instrument, the instrumental case can be used.

Example:

- Он резал хлеб ножом. (on RYEzal HLEP naZHOM)
- He was slicing the bread with a knife.

Means

Similar to the instrument function, this function uses the instrumental case.

Example:

- Я люблю рисовать акварельными красками. (ya lyuBLYU risaVAT' akvaRYELnymi KRASkami)
- I like to paint with watercolor paints.

Agent

Use the instrumental case when something is made or done by someone (agent).

Example:

- План был придуман и приведен в исполнение самим Сашей. (plan byl priDOOmal i priveDYON v ispalNYEniye saMEEM SAshey)
- The plan was designed and executed by Sasha himself.

Reason

Used with the verbs cтрадать (straDAT')—"to suffer from"—, болеть (baLYET)—"to be ill/sick with"—, мучиться (MOOchitsa)—"to suffer from/to be tortured by"—, маяться (MAyatsa)—"to suffer from/to be disturbed by."

Example:

- Он долго болел гриппом прошлой зимой. (on DOLga baLYEL GRIpam PROSHlai zeeMOI)
- He had the flu for a long time last winter.

Measurement

Use the instrumental case when describing an action as a quantity. Note that the nouns are always in plural when used this way.

Examples:

- Письма приходили сразу пачками. (PEES'ma prihaDEEli SRAzoo PACHkami)
- The letters were coming in packs.

- Воду таскали вёдрами. (VOdoo tasKAli VYOdrami)
- The water was carried by the bucketful.

Comparison

This function is often used in established idioms but can be also seen in new phrases where the noun that is being declined in the instrumental case is used as a simile.

Example:

- Он пулей вылетел из кабинета и побежал по коридору. (on POOley VYletel iz kabiNYEta i pabyeZHAL pa kariDOroo)
- He ran out of the office like a bullet and ran down the corridor.

Time

This is one of the most common roles of the instrumental case and can be used with singular nouns depicting a single moment in time, such as "in the morning" or "late Sunday afternoon," as well as with plural nouns that describe a lasting and repeating action in time.

Examples:

- Ночами она читала всё, что попадалось под руку. (naCHAmi aNA chiTAla VSYO, shtoh papaDAlas POD rookoo)
- Her nights were spent reading anything and everything.

- Ранним утром они отправились в путь. (RANnim OOTram aNEE atPRAvilis f POOT')
- Early in the morning, they set off.

Trajectory

Another common function of the instrumental case in Russian, this role is used when describing the trajectory of someone's journey and is used with such verbs as ехать (YEhat') —"to go/ride"—, идти (itTEE)—"to go/walk"—, плыть (plyt')—"to swim/go by water"—, etc.

The trajectory function is also used when describing traveling by a form of transport.

Example:

- Потом ехать автобусом километров двести. (paTOM YEhat' afTObusam kilaMYETraf DVESti)
- Then it's a bus ride for about two hundred kilometers.

Patient

This function is used with a number of verbs that contain some kind of information on owning or managing the noun.

Example:

- Департамент, ведавший школой, находился в центре города. (deparTAment, VYEdavshiy SHKOlai, nahaDEELsya f TSENTre GOrada)
- The department that was overseeing the school was located in the center of the city.

The Instrumental Case Endings

Declension (Склонение) Singular (Единственное число) Examples Singular (Единственное число) Examples
First declension -ой (-ей),

 

-ей (-ею)

улыбкой (ooLYPkai) - smile
or
улыбкою (ooLYPkayu) - smile

папой (PApoi) - Dad
-ами (-ями),

 

-ми

улыбками (ooLYPkami) - smiles

папами (PApami) - dads
Second declension -ом (ем) столом (staLOM) - table

полем (POlem) - field
 
-ами (-ями),

 

-ми

столами (staLAmi) - tables

полями (paLYAmi) - fields
Third declension печью (PYECHyu) - stove -ами (-ями),

 

-ми

печами (peCHAmi) - stoves
Heteroclitic nouns -ей, -ею, -ем временем (VREmenem) - time -ами (-ями),

 

-ми

временами (vremeNAmi)

Examples:

- Временами он совсем забывал о своем несчастном положении. (vremeNAmi on savSYEM zabyVAL a svaYOM neSHASnam palaZHEniye)
- At times he completely forgot about his miserable situation.

- Они долго шли полями. (aNEE DOLga shlee paLYAmi)
- They walked through the fields for a long time.