Russian Language Grammar

Four sentences with almost the same meaning: The cat loves fish. The cat is the one who does the loving, the subject of the sentence. The fish is the one who is being loved, the object of the sentence.
Exercises with fingers Упражнения с пальцами
Exercises with hands Упражнения с руками
Functions of Russian cases Значения русских падежей
How did "Exercises with hands" feel Ну и как?
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Учительница: Grammar is something that linguists can argue about. It is some description of a structure of a language. A few sounds joined together make up a word, a few words joined together make up a sentence and every word has its own meaning in that sentence. As for me, the rule doesn't always apply. I love speaking gibberish or gobbledygook Russian (несу белиберду или же галиматью).
Ученик: I don't want to speak gibberish, but Russian.

Учительница: I won't be able to teach you gibberish Russian, that is unachievable. I have learnt English for over 40 years and still can't speak gibberish English, I can only talk nonsense.
Ученик: Thank you.

Учительница: Russian grammar is something that a lot of people struggle with. Don't despair and bear in mind, if you can understand what academics say about it, I will lose my job. If you look at the Wikipedia article about Russian grammar you will notice a large part of it devoted to Russian nouns. Nouns are used to designate living beings, objects or abstract ideas: кот (cat), рыба (fish), любовь (love).

Ученик: Cases, what on earth are they and why do I need to know about them?

Учительница: Well, the order in which you join the words in a sentence isn't that important in Russian, it is a free-word-order language, as opposed to your native fixed-word-order language. It is the case of a noun, but not its position in a sentence as in English, that indicates its function. You won't be able to speak Russian at all without a good understanding of the cases.

The cat loves fish and The fish loves the cat are sentences with a different meaning. Do you agree?

Ученик: They are. Tell me the Russian words and I will tell you the correct sentence in Russian.

Учительница: Here you are: pыба (fish), любит (loves), кот (cat). The nouns кот, pыба are in the nominative case here because I only nominate (name) them: the cat, the fish. There are no articles a, an, the in Russian. What is your sentence?

Ученик: Кот любит рыба.

Учительница: Wrong. The word order means nothing in Russian but the case endings do. They would not understand you. Кот, as the subject of the sentence, should remain in the nominative case but pыба, as an object, should be in the accusative case - pыбу. Only then will your sentence make proper sense to a Russian speaker. What is more pыба and pыбу are considered to be the same word in Russian.

Play Кот любит рыбу. Рыбу любит кот. Любит кот рыбу. Рыбу кот любит.

Ученик: Come on. They should know that cats love fish and not the other way around.

Учительница: OK, you will get away with it there.

Я люблю рыбу.
Рыбу я люблю.
Люблю я рыбу.
Рыбу люблю я.

Why do Russians speak this way

Учительница: What if it was not the cat and the fish but Misha, Maya and Luba (Миша, Майя, Люба) instead? Play Миша любит Майю. Майю любит Миша. Любит Миша Майю. Любит Майю Миша. Кто кого любит?

Ученик: It is so confusing. Why do Russians speak this way?

Учительница: I don't know but they do. Russians don't do it to confuse foreigners, well some might but not all. Personally I think that they do it so that the sentence they produce sounds beautiful. I have some friends that I love just because they speak beautifully. Silly but it is a fact of my life. Russians love beauty, especially in music and speech. As a result, the number of cases is mixed in an ordinary Russian sentence in the most unpredictable way for an English speaker. Not only nouns but adjectives, pronouns and numerals may be in different cases as well. You will have very little chance of understanding who does what, where and with what if you can't master the cases.

Four sentences with almost the same meaning: Misha loves Maya: Misha is the one who does "the loving", the subject of the sentence. Maya is the one who is being loved, the object of the sentence. These sentences don't tell us whether Maya loves Misha or not.

Ученик: Adjectives, pronouns and numerals, what are they? Wikipedia articles look like Chinese to me. You don't really expect me to understand all of that?

Учительница: No, not at all, I want you to use them when you speak Russian. You can have a quick look at our reference Russian grammar online, but it is only reference!

Ученик: How do you expect me to use them? You have not even mentioned anything about verbs yet. At least I know that to compose a sentence you might need a verb.

Учительница: Sometimes, to speak in Russian you don't need any verb. Have a look at my video Очень приятно с вами познакомиться; I speak to you without using any verbs. Can you understand me?
Ученик: What a language. Are you sure that those Russians really can understand each other? No wonder their economy is in such a mess.

Учительница: Are we here to discuss the Russian grammar or economy? You can manage without the verbs now! Anyway, you will be relieved to know that verbs are not as difficult in Russian as in French or Italian. You don't have to learn endless tables by heart!

Four sentences with almost the same meaning: The fish doesn't love the cat. The fish is the one who does the "not loving". The fish the subject of the sentence and therefore it is in the nominative case. The cat is the one who is being not loved. The cat the object of the sentence and therefore it is in the accusative case.

  • The word pыба doesn't change
  • The the word кот becomes кота
  • The ending -a has been added to the end of the word кот
  • The stress in the word кота moved from initial o to the ending -a
  • The vowel o is pronounced more like o in London as the result of the change

Typology of English is Subject-Verb-Object. Russian is a Free-Word-Order language.

Why you can't recognise the familiar Russian words

Учительница: Listen! What do you think fish is saying there? Play Кота не любит рыба. Рыба не любит кота. Не любит кота рыба. Рыба кота не любит. Что такое любовь?

Ученик: I don't know.

Учительница: So you told me that the fish doesn't love the cat?

Ученик: Of course it doesn't.

Учительница: You could not recognise the word кот because it became the word кота! You can recognise the word when you see it written, but you can't recognise the word when you only hear it.

Кота не люблю я. Я не люблю кота. Не люблю кота я. Я кота не люблю. Что такое любовь?

Ученик: Why do Russians don't say the words as they write them?

Учительница: The change of a word’s role in a Russian sentence causes nouns, pronouns, numerals and adjectives to change their form (decline). There are only few simple sentences where these changes don't occur, such as:

  • Я учительница. (I am a teacher.)
  • Это стол. (It’s a table.)

Usually most of the words in a Russian sentence would be phonetically changed (sound different), or as linguists say, they go through consonant and vowel alternation (vowel reduction) as well. Read more about stress and Russian vowels. Russians write the words according to the rules of the Russian orthography. The written Russian has its modern appearance after the spelling reform of 1918. Another orthography reform was proposed in 1964, however, it failed to take root.

Ученик: No wonder, my friend who has lived in Russia for years can only connect two words together. He did not learn any Russian at all! I would like to do better than that.

Учительница: This is a big problem of many students of Russian: when they hear the words spoken but not written, they not able to recall those words at all! Russian orthography doesn't reflect vowel reduction and this can cause confusion for beginning students of Russian. Your friend has to overcome many difficulties in order to connect more than two words together in Russian.

Ученик: What do I do then?

Учительница: The first step in dealing with this problem is to get accustomed to the sounds of spoken Russian and to all the different kinds of the phonetic changes that may occur.

Ученик: Can we do some Russian now, at least the alphabet? You have such funny looking letters.

Учительница: Let's learn Russian alphabet, but don't forget to read lesson Russian phonology after you have learnt the letters.