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Thread: Why the "y" in "у меня есть машина"

  1. #1
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    Jul 2012
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    Question Why the "y" in "у меня есть машина"

    I just went over the genitive pronouns today, and for some reason the "y" preposition seems to precede every sentence stating ownership or relative ownership (I.e, I have THE car), yet it is never explained why this is.
    I looked up this preposition, and could only find it means "at", "by", "of", "alongside", or "upon" based on context, but this only adds to a bit of the confusion. Based upon english, this would make no sense, ex: "At/by/of/alongside/upon I own a car." I get that not all languages have even relatively similar translations for the "same thing", but what could the "y" possibly serve in this sentence?

    Please no answers in complete russian, not only would it take me quite a while to translate properly, but chances are I still woudn't completely understand.

  2. #2
    zxc is offline
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    The preposition У+Genitive has several uses, but all of them denote closeness to the object following it in genitive.

    У меня есть машина.

    Literally, you could translate this as "Near me there is a car." In this context, the car isn't literally near the person, though. It's just like in English--if you say "I have a gun!" it usually means you have a gun on your person. If you say 'I have a house' it doesn't imply physical closeness but rather ownership. I guess that's not an exact explanation of why it works that way, but it was the best I could think of putting the concept into English for you. Possession is usually denoted by adding есть after the у + Gen. construct. But I don't think you should add it if you're describing a descriptive quality or condition you have. The way I've always thought of it in regards to possession is that есть denotes availability. So you can say
    У вас есть машина? (Do you have a car?)
    but not
    У нее есть длинные волосы (a characteristic = She has long hair--you could say this if you remove the есть).

    Есть can also be omitted when answering a question--
    У вас есть дети? (Do you have kids?)
    У меня двое детей. (I have two kids.)

    On У in general, it has multiple roles.

    In terms of describing nearness to a location, it's somewhat similar to saying в + a place. It's describing the location of something, it just doesn't quite imply that it's in a place.

    You also use У with animate nouns to describe being at a person's place. If you say Я был у Ивана it usually doesn't mean "I was near Ivan" but translates to "I was at Ivan's place", as in his home.

    You can also use У to describe the origin of something (but not in all contexts, you just have to learn when it's appropriate to use it as you go). So if you said Ребенок украл печенье у бабушки the у бабушки implies that the kid stole the pastry FROM the grandma, not near her.

    Disclaimer: I'm not a native speaker.

  3. #3
    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    In short, that is the most common way to express the idea of possession in Russian. It should be in any basic textbook sooner or later.

    "X is near Y" means "Y has X".
    "У Y (есть) X"
    "Россия для русских" - это неправильно. Остальные-то чем лучше?

  4. #4
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    Thanks for clearing it up, what you said actually makes perfect sense. I've studied several languages, mostly germanic/slavic, and I think swedish uses a similar system (I could be wrong, it's been ages since I've spoken a word of swedish).
    I also knew not to use "есть" when describing ownership of a noun, the collection of websites I'm using, although a bit dated, seem to cover most minor aspects of the language. Even though they tend to leave out the small stuff like what this thread is about

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