The 6 Cases in Russian Grammar

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The Russian language has six cases to show what function a noun has in a sentence: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional.

The endings of Russian words change depending on the case they are in. It is best to learn the words and the way they sound in different cases by heart. Learning the cases is the fastest way to sound more fluent in Russian. 

Russian Sentence Word Order

Each Russian case has its own purpose and answers a particular set of questions. One of the reasons that cases are so important in the Russian language is the flexibility of the Russian sentence word order. As sentences can be put together in so many ways, cases help distinguish the sentence's subject from its object.

Example:

In all the following sentences, "Masha" is in the nominative case while "kasha" is in the accusative case.

  • Neutral: Маша ела кашу (MAsha YElah KAshu) - Masha was eating kasha.
  • Emphasis on who was eating the porridge: Кашу ела Маша (KAshu YElah Masha) - Masha was eating kasha.
  • Emphasis on the action of eating: Маша кашу ела (MAsha YElah KAshu) - Masha was eating kasha.
  • Emphasis on what Masha was eating: Ела Маша кашу (YElah MAsha KAshu) - Masha was eating kasha.
  • Emphasis on Masha's action: Ела кашу Маша (YElah KAshu MAsha) - Masha was eating kasha.
  • Emphasis on either the food that was being eaten or the action: Кашу Маша ела (KAshu MAsha YElah) - Masha was eating kasha.

All these phrases mean the same thing. As you can see, in Russian, each word can be used in any position in this sentence. While the general meaning remains the same, the word order changes the sentence’s register and adds subtle meanings that in English would be conveyed by intonation. It is the cases that allow this word order flexibility by pointing out that Masha in all these sentences is the subject and kasha is the object.

These are the six Russian cases and examples of how to use them.

Nominative Case (Именительный падеж)

The nominative case answers the questions кто/что (ktoh/chtoh), meaning who/what, and identifies the subject of a sentence. The nominative case exists in English, too. In Russian dictionaries, all nouns are given in the nominative case.

Examples:

Наташа сказала, что приедет попозже.
Pronunciation:
naTAsha skaZAla shto priYEdyt paPOZzhe.
Translation:
Natasha said that she would come over later.

In this example, Natasha is in the nominative case and is the subject of the sentence.

Собака бежала по улице, виляя хвостом.
Pronunciation:
saBAka byZHAla pa OOlitse, vyLYAya hvasTOM.
Translation:
The dog was running down the street, wagging its tail.

The noun собака is in the nominative case and is the subject of the sentence.

Genitive Case (Родительный падеж)

The genitive case answers the questions кого (kaVOH), meaning "whom" or "of whom," and чего (chyVOH), which means "what" or "of what." It shows possession, attribution, or absence (who, what, whose, or what/who is absent). It also answers the question откуда (atKOOda)—from where.

In English, this function is fulfilled by the genitive, or the possessive, case.

Examples:

У меня нет ни тетради, ни ручки.
Pronunciation:
oo myNYA nyet ni tytRAdi, ni ROOCHki.
Translation:
I have neither a notebook nor a pen.

In this sentence, the words тетради and ручки are both in the genitive case. Their endings have changed to "и":

тетрадь (tytRAD') - "a notebook" - becomes тетради (tytRAdi) - (absence of) a notebook
ручка (ROOCHka) - "a pen" - becomes ручки (ROOCHki) - (absence of) a pen

Я достала из сумки книгу.
Pronunciation:
ya dasTAla iz SOOMki KNIgu.
Translation:
I took out a book out of the bag.

The word сумки is in the genitive case and answers the question "from where": из сумки - from the bag/out of the bag. The ending has changed to reflect the genitive case:

сумка (SOOMka) - "a bag" - becomes сумки (SOOMki) - out of the bag.

Dative Case (Дательный падеж)

The dative case answers the questions кому/чему (kaMOO/chyMOO) – to whom/(to) what, and shows that something is given or addressed to the object.

Example:

Я повернулся к человеку, который стоял справа от меня.
Pronunciation:
ya paverNOOLsya k chelaVYEkoo, kaTOryi staYAL SPRAva at myNYA.
Translation:
I turned to the person/man who was standing on my right.

In this sentence, the word человеку is in the dative case and answers the question "to whom." Note the change in the ending:

человек (chelaVYEK) - "a man/a person" becomes человеку (chelaVEkoo) - "to a man/to a person."

Accusative Case (Винительный падеж)

The accusative case answers the questions кого/что (kaVOH/CHTO) – whom/what, and куда (kooDAH) – where.

Its equivalent in English is the accusative, or objective, case (him, her).

Examples:

Я покупаю новый телефон.
Pronunciation:
ya pakooPAyu NOvyi teleFON.
Translation:
I am buying a new phone.

The word телефон is in the accusative case and is the object of the sentence. Note that the ending does not change in this example:

телефон (teleFON) - "a phone" - remains the same.

Какую книгу ты сейчас читаешь?
Pronunciation:
kaKOOyu KNEEgu ty syCHAS chiTAyesh?
Translation:
What book are you reading right now?

The word книгу is in the dative case and is the object of the sentence. The ending of the word has changed: книга (KNEEga) - "a book" - becomes книгу (KNEEgoo).

Instrumental Case (Творительный падеж)

Answers the questions кем/чем (kyem/chem) – with whom/with what.

This case 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.

Example:

Иван интересуется китайской культурой.
Pronunciation:
iVAN intyeryeSOOyetsa kiTAYSkay kool'TOOray.
Translation:
Ivan is interested in Chinese culture.

Культурой is in the instrumental case and shows Ivan's interest. The ending has changed here: культура (kool'TOOra) becomes культурой (kool'TOOray).

Prepositional Case (Предложный падеж)

Answers the questions о ком/о чем (ah KOM/ah CHOM) – about whom/about what, and the question где (GDYE) – where.

Example:

Я постараюсь проснуться на рассвете.
Pronunciation:
ya pastaRAyus prasNOOT'tsa na rasSVYEtye.
Translation:
I will try to wake up at dawn.

На рассвете is in the prepositional case. The ending has changed: Рассвет (rassVYET) - "dawn" - becomes на рассвете (na rassVYEtye) - "at dawn."

Endings in Russian Cases

Склонение (sklaNYEniye) means declension. All Russian nouns belong to one of the three declension groups.

First Declension

Includes all feminine and masculine nouns ending in а and я (plural ы and и).

Case Singular Example Plural Example
Nominative а, я мама (MAma) - mom ы, и мамы (MAmy) - moms
Genitive ы, и мамы (MAmy) - of mom --, ей мам (mam) - of moms
Dative е, и маме (MAmye) - to mom ам, ям мамам (Mamam) - to moms
Accusative у, ю маму (MAmoo) - mom --, ы, и, ей мам (mam) - moms
Instrumental ой, ою, ей, ею мамой (Mamay) - by mom ами, ями мамами (Mamami) - by moms
Prepositional е, и о маме (a MAmye) - about mom ах, ях о мамах (a MAmakh) - about moms

Second Declension

Includes all other masculine and neutral words.

Case Singular Example Plural Example
Nominative -- (masculine), o, e (neutral) конь (KON') - a horse а, я, ы, и кони (KOni) - horses
Genitive а, я коня (kaNYA) - of a horse --, ов, ев, ей коней (kaNYEY) - of horses
Dative у, ю коню (kaNYU) - to a horse ам, ям коням (kaNYAM) - to horses
Accusative -- (masculine), о, е (neutral) коня (kaNYA) - a horse а, я, ы, и коней (kaNYEY) - horses
Instrumental ом, ем конём (kaNYOM) - by a horse ами ями конями (kaNYAmi) - by horses
Prepositional е, и о коне (a kaNYE) - about a horse ах, ях о конях (a kaNYAKH) - about horses

Third Declension

Includes all other feminine words.

Case Singular Example Plural Example
Nominative -- мышь (MYSH') - a mouse и

 
мыши (MYshi) - mice
Genitive и мыши (MYshi) - of a mouse ей мышей (mySHEY) - of mice
Dative и

 
мыши (MYshi) - to a mouse ам, ям мышам (mySHAM) - to mice
Accusative -- мышь (MYsh) - a mouse и

 
мышей (mySHEY) - mice
Instrumental ю мышью (MYSHyu) - by a mouse ами ями мышами (mySHAmi) - by mice
Prepositional и

 
о мыши (a MYshi) - about a mouse ах ях о мышах (a mySHAKH) - about mice