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Thread: на instead of в for "in" some countries?

  1. #1
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    на instead of в for "in" some countries?

    For example I came across someone saying я живу на Мальте. How come? Is there a rule?

  2. #2
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    Мальта - остров. На Кубе.

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    Почтенный гражданин Hoax's Avatar
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    Я живу...
    ...на острове.
    ...в городе.
    ...в стране.
    ...на улице.

    Я живу на Самуи (= на острове).
    Я живу в Санкт-Петербурге (= в городе).
    Я живу в Англии (=в стране).
    Я живу на Маршала Жукова (=на улице).

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    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    Basically there are "на-words" and "в-words" in Russian. It is not only about countries. There are some rules to put these words in groups and memorize but they aren't absolute and aren't always clear as often require in-depth knowledge of word history.

    As for countries, yes, most islands are "на-words" and most other countries are "в-words".

    на Мальте = in Malta; на Мальту = to Malta
    в Италии = in Italy; в Италию = to Italy

    See also this.
    "Россия для русских" - это неправильно. Остальные-то чем лучше?

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    Do they really say "In Malta"? I thought it should be "On Malta" since it is an Island

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    Thanks for the clarification. I guess it is only small singular Islands so New Zealand, Japan, Britain would be "in"? Bob yes we do say "I live in Malta" but yeah "I live on an Island". I guess technically you don't live in Russia either, well maybe you live in a cave :P

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    Oh thanks for the link it-ogo, very helpful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GMMCD View Post
    I guess it is only small singular Islands so New Zealand, Japan, Britain would be "in"?
    On the one hand, you are right. New Zealand consists of two islands, Japan is located on an archipelago with four major islands. On the other hand, there are a lot of counter-examples. I would explain it in a different way.

    The most important thing, I think, is that all those country names and in -ия (the most typical ending of a country name), so they are treated grammatically more like countries rather than islands. So, we say: в Новой Зеландии, в Японии, в Британии (в Великобритании). The same comes for Ireland and Iceland: в Ирландии, в Исландии.

    I would say, the general rule is: if the country name is the same as the island name or an archipelago name, and it does not end in -ия, they are treated grammatically as islands with the preposition на: на Мальте, на Кубе, на Ямайке, на Мадагаскаре (it's a very big island!), на Таити, на Фиджи, на Филиппинах (the latter three are archipelagoes rather than single islands). The same, we say на Гавайях, на Сахалине, на Хонсю (they are not independent countries, but just island or archipelago names). The same we do for peninsulas (на Камчатке, на Чукотке, на Аляске), for mountainous areas whose names are used in singular (на Урале, на Кавказе, на Алтае - they are names of mountainous regions). But if the name of a mountainous area is used in plural, we use "в": в Гималаях, в Альпах, в Пиренеях, в Кордильерах, в Андах).

    Most of those examples can be logically explained. If the same name is used for an island and for a country (like Мадагаскар), it is more important (from the point of view of Russian grammar) that it is an island. So, we do not make difference between islands which are countries, and islands which belong to a country as its part (like Сахалин): на Мадагаскаре, на Сахалине. BTW, how would you say in English - in Sakhalin or on Sakhalin? (It's the biggest island of Russia).

    However, -ия is perceived as a clear sign that it is a country. So, if a name ends in -ия, the fact it is a country becomes more important. We say в России, в Германии, во Франции, в Испании (not islands) and в Японии, в Исландии, в Ирландии (islands).

    Then, a peninsula is "полуостров" in Russian (literally, it is "semi-island"). Therefore they are treated the same way as islands.

    If a name of a mountainous area is used in singular (Алтай, Урал, Кавказ), it is treated as a single whole, and we use "на" because the mountainous area is perceived as a "roof" of a single whole.
    However, if it is used in plural (Альпы, Пиренеи, Кордильеры, Анды, Гималаи), we use "в", since the mountainous area as perceived as a set of separate multiple mountains, and it is more like "among the mountains", "somewhere in the middle of them".

    Moreover, there are some places which are called "край" (literally, "edge") - they are parts of a bigger country, and often (but not necessarily!) located at the edge of the country (in the geographical sense). It is more of a language tradition. So, we say на Кубани (a region in southern Russia), на Рязанщине, на Смоленщине. Logically, it is because we say "на краю" - "on the edge". However, "край" (edge) actually has lost its original meaning when being used geographically, and it became just a synonym of "region".

    BTW, do you say "ON the edge", or is it another way?

    And the most disputable thing is "на/в Украине". Traditionally, we have always been saying на Украине. Etymologically, Ukraine (Украина) is derived from the root "край" (edge). It was the only way to use it when Ukraine was a part of the USSR. After Ukraine became an independent state, some people there started claiming it should be used as "в Украине" since then. They do it in order to emphasize its independence. However, the most of Russian speaking people believe "в Украине" contradicts to Russian grammar, since "на Украине" has been traditionally fixed with "на", and this usage has nothing to do with politics, it is merely the question of grammar and language intuition.

    Finally, there are some exceptions. We say "в Крыму" in spite of the fact Крым (Crimea) is a peninsula.
    The old name of Sri Lanka (both an island and a country) is Ceylon (Russian: Шри-Ланка, Цейлон). When the old name is used, it only takes "на": на Цейлоне (that corresponds to the common rule). But with the new name, both на Шри-Ланке and в Шри-Ланке are possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by GMMCD View Post
    Bob yes we do say "I live in Malta" but yeah "I live on an Island".
    Thank you, I'll remember that.

    Quote Originally Posted by GMMCD View Post
    I guess technically you don't live in Russia either, well maybe you live in a cave :P
    Sorry, I did not fully get your joke. Why do I not live in Russia technically? I understand you play with the preposition "in". But what is wrong with it here?

  9. #9
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    I don't think there's a clear rule in English for on/in when talking about islands. I'd say that when you mention the name of a country that happens to be an island, you would say "in" - "in Iceland," "in Malta." But if you were talking about the geographical features of the island of Malta, you might use "on" - "the tallest mountain on Malta."

    For other islands, I think you could use either, though I would say that for very small islands you would almost always say "on", and for larger islands both are possible:

    - "I have a cottage on an island"

    - "many tribes live in (or "on")New Guinea"

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