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Thread: Question about "быть" (and a couple other unrelated questions)

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    Question about "быть" (and a couple other unrelated questions)

    I have a question about the use of instrumental case and the past tense with the verb быть. I know that when you want to say something like "When I was a boy", you would use instrumental case like so: Когда я был мальчиком, and I know that to say something like "I had a dog" does not require instrumental case: У меня была собака. However, I'm still not entirely sure exactly when to use the instrumental case with быть, such as in the case of "She was a smart girl". I've seen both cases occur as "Она была умная девушка" and "Она была умной девушкой". What are the rules regarding this? It almost seems to me, that it could be a question of whether the situation has changed. If the girl was smart, and still is, then instrumental is not needed, but as in the case of "When I was a boy", I'm currently no longer a boy, so I would need to use instrumental in this instance. Am I correct?

    My second question: where can I find a Russian dictionary site that explains the meanings of Russian words in Russian, kind of like a Russian version of "dictionary.com"? I've been reading a Russian book, and I make virtual flashcards of all the words I don't know, and I use Google Translate and Wordreference to help, but I know that these sites are not always accurate, because in many cases direct translations between languages don't exist. I think that learning new vocabulary through a dictionary that's not a "Russian-English" dictionary would be great supplemental help.

    Lastly, I have a question about причастия. When I studied in Russia, we covered a lot of Russian grammar, including причастия, and I now feel that I have at least a fairly decent grasp of grammar. However, while I can understand причастия when I encounter them in Russian text, I find it very difficult to use them correctly myself. My question is, how often do причастия appear in actual conversation? Am I correct in presuming that they are more or less only used for literary purposes? This would decrease my frustration with them.

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    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    1) There is no difference in meaning between быть + instrumental and быть + nominative. Instrumental is more common though.
    "У меня была собака" is completely different matter. Here "собака"is a subject and requires nominative only. Literally "A dog was at me." You was misguided by the free word order in Russian.

    2) What you describe is called "толковый словарь", you can try to google. However good Language1 - Language2 dictionaries also contain different meanings and examples of usage. There is good one Онлайн-словари Slovoed Online: англо-русский, испанско-русский, итальянско-русский, немецко-русский, французско-русский онлайн перевод, but it seems it is English-Russian only.

    3) Причастия (participles) are very common in Russian as well as in English and IMHO there is not much difference in usage. What is the problem with them exactly?
    "Россия для русских" - это неправильно. Остальные-то чем лучше?

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    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    When you say things like "He wants to become ..." or "he wants to be a ..." then you would use instrumental. e.g. Он хочет быть доктором. Они хотят быть пилотами.



    And so this is a special case, when it has to do with 'to become'. It is also used for conditional and subjunctive uses. 'If I were ...'

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    Почтенный гражданин bitpicker's Avatar
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    There are several explaining dictionaries on Словари и энциклопедии на Академике - with the radio buttons underneath the search box you can restrict the search to such dictionaries (which is actually the default setting). I very much like this one: Толковый словарь Дмитриева because it uses a set of simple sentence structures for its explanations. I even bought that one as a book. It only covers relatively basic vocabulary though.

    It needs to be mentioned that some of the others are very old and pretty outdated in parts.
    Спасибо за исправления!

    Вам нравится этот форум, и вы изучаете немецкий язык? Вот похожий форум о немецком языке.

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    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by it-ogo View Post
    3) Причастия (participles) are very common in Russian as well as in English and IMHO there is not much difference in usage. What is the problem with them exactly?
    I believe Thatguyoverthere wants to know when it "sounds natural" to use a participial construction в разговорной речи, and when it would sound MORE natural to use a который construction instead.

    And speaking as a non-Russian, my gut feeling is that in SPEECH, it's generally better to use a который clause in most cases, because using a participle would sound overly bookish.

    But I would qualify this in two ways:

    (1) Any of the four participle types (present active, present passive, past active, past passive) may be likely to appear in speech if they're part of a traditional "fixed expression" involving a particular verb, or if a participle has "taken on a life of its own" as an commonly used adjective. For example, as in говорящая обезьяна, "a talking monkey" -- говорящий is a present active participle, but it's used so often that you (as a foreigner learning Russian) might as well memorize it as an adjective.*

    (2) However, the past passive participles (PPP) are, I would guess, probably used in speech more often than the other three types of participle -- especially because the short forms of PPPs can be used as predicate adjectives. (Город был разрушен в землетрясении, "The city was destroyed in the earthquake.")

    * However, Thatguyoverthere, compare these two sentences:

    1. Мальчику снился сон о говорящей обезьяне.
    (The boy had a dream about a talking monkey.)

    2. Мальчику снился сон об обезьяне, говорящей по телефону.
    (The boy had a dream about a monkey talking on the telephone.)

    The first sentence (with the participle functioning as an adjective) would be totally normal in colloquial speech, but my guess is that the second sentence (with the participle introducing a subordinate clause) would be less common in speech, and instead people would be more likely to use a relative clause with который:

    3. Мальчику снился сон об обезьяне, которая говорит по телефону.
    (The boy had a dream about a monkey, who was talking on the telephone.)

  6. #6
    kib
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    Quote Originally Posted by Throbert McGee View Post
    in SPEECH, it's generally better to use a который clause in most cases, because using a participle would sound overly bookish.

    1. Мальчику снился сон о говорящей обезьяне.
    (The boy had a dream about a talking monkey.)

    2. Мальчику снился сон об обезьяне, говорящей по телефону.
    (The boy had a dream about a monkey talking on the telephone.)

    The first sentence (with the participle functioning as an adjective) would be totally normal in colloquial speech, but my guess is that the second sentence (with the participle introducing a subordinate clause) would be less common in speech, and instead people would be more likely to use a relative clause with который:

    3. Мальчику снился сон об обезьяне, которая говорит по телефону.
    (The boy had a dream about a monkey, who was talking on the telephone.)
    Hello! I think you are quite right. Причастия и деепричастия sounds bookish in speech. We don't say "автомобиль, едущий на красный свет" (a car going on a red light) or "выйдя на улицу, я увидел..." (having left the house I saw...) we say rather "автомобиль, который ехал на красный свет" and "когда я вышел на улицу, я увидел..."

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    kib
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    By the way "Город был разрушен при землетрясении" "The city was destroyed in the earthquake.

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    Завсегдатай Throbert McGee's Avatar
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    Thanks for the confirmation and correction, kib!

    By the way, with regard to normal English usage of participles, I would say that a present active participle construction such as "I saw a car going on a red light" would be completely normal even in the most colloquial speech (i.e., not at all "bookish"). Past passive participles ("The boy learned a dirty word from graffiti written on a wall.") are also very common in speech. And now that I think about it, present passive participles are also sometimes used in colloquial speech ("The police were looking for a green van being driven by two Middle Eastern men.").

    However, past active participles are rare or non-existent in English, even in the most formal writing -- one must, instead, use a relative construction with "that" or "which." (I just Googled on "past active participle," and ALL of the hits were discussing non-English languages.) Theoretically, the past active participle would look like "The soldier brought a message from the regiment having taken the enemy position" -- but that simply isn't used in English, either in writing or speech. Instead we can only say "He brought a message from the regiment that had taken the enemy position."

    As to the English equivalents of the деепричастие, where a participial clause functions adverbially: a construction like "Having left the house, I saw..." is possible in speech, but sounds slightly bookish -- although one might expect to hear it in speech from a witness giving testimony in a courtroom, for example.

    But in informal speech, "After I left the house, I saw..." would sound much better.
    Говорит Бегемот: "Dear citizens of MR -- please correct my Russian mistakes!"

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    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    Indeed, деепричастия are reserved mostly for the written speech. But причастия itself are very common in all kind of speech. Побитая собака and ржущая лошадь are much, much better than собака, которую побили and лошадь, которая ржет. The bookish are long причастные обороты (participle construction). But short причастные оборотыare also rather common in colloquial speech.
    "Россия для русских" - это неправильно. Остальные-то чем лучше?

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