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Thread: Strategy for learning cases... Help!

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    Strategy for learning cases... Help!

    Hi,

    I'm having great difficulty with the idea of cases. I don't really understand what a case is in English, let alone Russian.

    One stumbling block for me is why are the cases called what they are called? Why is the genitive case called genitive case? Would the word 'genitive' tell me anything helpful if I understood why it is used? to me, genitive suggests "concerned with the origin of..." Is this correct in any way?

    Accusative... who or what is being accused? Dative... absolutely nothing to do with dates, in any sense of the word. I'm not being facetious, I just think I'd understand something about what cases are if I knew why they had those apparently random names.

    Would it be better for me to stop trying to understand this at this point? would I do better if I found a list somewhere of thousands of Russian sentences, with an indication of what case is used in each sentence? that way maybe I'd understand gradually as I start to see and predict patterns in what I'm reading.

    I really don't want to have to learn by rote; I need to get through this by thinking and applying rules, not remembering every possible permutation of subject and object.

    Does anyone have an idea about how I should proceed? All paths seem to lead to frustration at the moment...

    Richard B

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    Увлечённый спикер Leha von Stiller's Avatar
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    The names of the cases are Latin, not English. And I think they are quite logical. "Dative", for example, is from the Latin verb "dare" (to give) In Russian there is a very similar verb "дать", so the case is called "дательный". It really has absolutely nothing incommon with English "dates".

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    Okay, that's interesting! The fact that it describes something about what it refers to (ie giving) is reassuring!

    thanks

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    Почтенный гражданин Demonic_Duck's Avatar
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    You could always learn the names of the cases in Russian... именительный (nom.), родительный (gen.), дательный (dat.), винительный (acc.), творительный (inst.), предложный (prep.)

    Can be somewhat helpful. It's also interesting to see how they relate to other Russian words:
    именительный - имя (name)
    родительный - родитель (parent) (also род, родной, родом, etc. - all words to do with origin)
    дательный - дать (to give, as Leha mentioned)
    винительный - I don't know, but I always think of it as possibly having the same root as the English word "final"? I could be wrong though
    творительный - no idea
    предложный - предлог (preposition)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Demonic_Duck View Post
    Can be somewhat helpful. It's also interesting to see how they relate to other Russian words:
    именительный - имя (name)
    родительный - родитель (parent) (also род, родной, родом, etc. - all words to do with origin)
    дательный - дать (to give, as Leha mentioned)
    винительный - I don't know, but I always think of it as possibly having the same root as the English word "final"? I could be wrong though
    творительный - no idea
    предложный - предлог (preposition)
    Именительный - from имя (name)
    Родительный - from родить (to give birth), and as Demonic_Duck mentioned all related words fit here too.
    Дательный - from дать (to give)
    Винительный - from винить (to blame, to accuse)
    Творительный - from творить (to create)

    Предложный - from предлог (preposition)

    Latin (or English) names of cases mean pretty much the same.

    You may also find useful this explanation from "Russian for Dummies":

    In a Russian sentence, every noun, pronoun, and adjective takes a different ending depending on the case it’s in. What’s a case? In simple terms, cases are sets of endings that words take to indicate their function and relationship to other words in the sentence. If you’ve studied languages such as Latin or German, you know that different languages have different numbers of cases.
    Russian has six cases, which isn’t that bad compared to Finnish, which has fifteen!

    Nominative case / Именительный падеж

    A noun (or a pronoun or an adjective) always appears in the nominative case in an English-Russian dictionary. Its main function is to indicate the subject of the sentence.

    As a rule, the subject behaves the same way in Russian as it does in English. It answers the question “Who or what is performing the action?” For example, in the sentence "Бренда изучает русский язык" (Brenda studies Russian), the word Бренда (Brenda), indicating a woman who (like yourself) studies Russian, is the subject of the sentence and consequently is used in the nominative case.

    Genitive case / Родительный падеж

    You usually use the genitive case to indicate possession. It answers the question “Whose?” In the phrase "книга Анны" (Anna’s book), Anna is in the genitive case (Анны) because she’s the book’s owner.

    Genitive case also is used to indicate an absence of somebody or something when you combine it with the word "нет" (no/not), as in "Здесь нет книги" (There’s no book here). "Книги" (book) is in the genitive case because the book’s absence is at issue.

    Russian uses genitive case after many common prepositions, such as около (near), у (by, by the side of), мимо (past), из (out of), вместо (instead of), and без (without).

    Accusative case / Винительный падеж

    The accusative case mainly indicates a direct object, which is the object of the action of the verb in a sentence. For example, in the sentence "Я люблю русский язык" (I love Russian), the phrase "русский язык" is in the accusative case because it’s the direct object.

    Some frequently used verbs like читать (to read), видеть (to see), слышать (to hear), and изучать (to study) take the accusative case. Like in English, these verbs always take direct objects.

    The accusative case is also required in sentences containing verbs of motion, which indicate destination of movement. For instance, if you want to announce to your family that you’re going to Россия (Russia), Россия takes the form of the accusative case, which is "Россию".

    You also use the accusative case after certain prepositions, such as про (about) and через (through).

    Dative case / Дательный падеж

    Use the dative case to indicate an indirect object, which is the person or thing toward whom the action in a sentence is directed. For example, in the sentence "Я дал учителю сочинение (I gave the teacher my essay), учителю (teacher) is in the dative case because it’s the indirect object. (“My essay” acts as the direct object, which we cover in the previous section.)

    Some frequently used verbs, such as "помогать" (to help) and "позвонить" (to call), force the nouns that come after them into the dative case. The implication with these verbs in Russian is that you’re giving help or making a call to somebody, which suggests an indirect receiver of the action of the verb.

    Instrumental case

    As the name suggests, the instrumental case is often used to indicate the instrument that assists in the carrying out of an action. So, when you say that you’re writing a letter with a "ручка" (pen), you have to put "ручка" into the instrumental case, which is "ручкой".

    Use the instrumental case after certain prepositions such as с (with), между (between), над (over), под (below), and перед (in front of).

    Prepositional case

    Prepositional case got its name because it’s used only after certain prepositions. Older Russian textbooks often refer to it as the locative case, because it often indicates the location where the action takes place. No wonder it’s used with the prepositions в (in) and на (on).

    The prepositional case is also used after the prepositions o (about) and об (about). So when you say to that special someone, “I am constantly thinking about you,” make sure to put "ты" (you; informal singular) in the prepositional case, which is "тебе": Я постоянно думаю о тебе.

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    Почтенный гражданин bitpicker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by grafrich View Post
    Hi,

    I'm having great difficulty with the idea of cases. I don't really understand what a case is in English, let alone Russian.
    Here's the theory: the various Indo-European languages, which include, among others, English and Russian, include three different options to indicate what role a given noun in a sentence takes over. Cases (from the Latin word casus) are one option: by changing the word grammatically the role is defined. English only does that in pronouns such as he -> him -> his and when it uses its genitive form as in "my father's house".

    The second option is using prepositions, which English does a lot. "My father's" can be expressed as "of my father", and likewise English uses pronouns exclusively where other languages use grammatical inflection. English says "with a hammer" where Russian uses the Instrumental case: молот -> молотом. You can think of the ending as a kind of appended "with". In fact, most languages of this family use a mixture of these and combine cases with prepositions for further roles. Finnish, which the Dummies excerpt mentions, might have fifteen cases, but they are very regular and there are no or only few prepositions, as far as I know (which in the case of Finnish isn't very far). I've been told that you could just as well perceive these cases as prepositions glued onto the word endings. Like if you had cases in English giving you "tableon, tableunder" instead of "on the table, under the table".

    The third option is position in the sentence. When you look at the English sentence "the dog bites the man" you know who bites and who is bitten because of the position of the nouns. You cannot have the nouns swap the position without changing the meaning: "the man bites the dog" is not the same thing. In languages which distinguish nominative and accusative cases you can swap the words around: собака откусывает мужчину / мужчину откусывает собака both mean the same thing because -у is the accusative ending and -а the nominative ending. Swap the endings on the nouns, and only then, regardless of the position of the words, does the man bite the dog.

    One stumbling block for me is why are the cases called what they are called? Why is the genitive case called genitive case? Would the word 'genitive' tell me anything helpful if I understood why it is used? to me, genitive suggests "concerned with the origin of..." Is this correct in any way?
    There is a certain historical problem here. The words we use for the cases and for many other grammatical features of languages in general are of Latin origin. This is because the Romans actually thought about the inner workings of their language. Afterwards, Christianization and its suppression of scientifical thinking created a kind of inferiority complex. Only during the age of Humanism and Enlightenment did people begin to think about languages other than Latin as being actually worthwhile to look at and to analyze the grammar of. Still, Latin was at first seen as the model of a perfect language, from which all other languages more or less deviate because of "devolution". So with only Latin grammar books at hand as a model people used the grammatical terms from them to describe their own languages, and in some cases even tried to change the rules they observed in these languages to better fit the Latin model. You may have heard of the silly rule that English sentences should not end in prepositions (because Latin sentences don't), which, as is often contributed to Churchill, is something up with which we should not put.

    The irony in this is that even the Romans had a similar inferiority complex towards Greek, for which grammar books and language philosphy existed long before the Romans began to think about such things. A language which contains a separate declension for pairs of things (dual between singular and plural) clearly is superior... :P So actually even the Romans modelled their rules of grammar, as they perceived them, after the Greek model, and sometimes used terms which even then did not really fit the reality of their language. It's like a hand-me-down: The words fit ancient Greek well, are a bit tight around the hips in Latin, much too tight for most modern European languages and practically the wrong sex for English.

    For example, we learned in school (in German lessons) that "if you don't know what category the word is, lump it into adverbs". The tense we stubbornly call Imperfekt in German is the absolute opposite of anything imperfect, it's as finished as can be. And the list goes on. Essentially, grammar books use terms which you have to learn because you cannot understand them. Sometimes knowing that "accusative" means "the case with which I accuse" may help, for example in German and Russian, but not in English, where you use what we would call dative (I saw him). That comes from Latin "dare", to give", and in "I give him the book" "him" does fulfil the intended role of dative.

    I really don't want to have to learn by rote; I need to get through this by thinking and applying rules, not remembering every possible permutation of subject and object.
    If you ask me, rules alone aren't going to get you very far. You should use them as tools to analyze what you see and talk about it, but you really need to do what every child does: learn the language by example. The rules do not pre-exist the language, so to speak, they are created by observing the language at work (with sometimes weird results, as explained above). As I wrote elsewhere on this forum recently, they are the map but not the territory. You can't get from A to B by just looking at the map, you need to walk the distance.

    You should use the language in real-life contexts, use it here, read Russian, talk in Russian to yourself and (more important) to others, listen to Russian and see how the language is being used. The real-life context is very important into goading your brain, which is by definition a very lazy organ, into accepting this as something of real importance. The brain likes to store only useful information, and learning in a clinical environment (exercises, textbooks, vocabulary lists and so on) tends to be weak learning because the brain then does not learn for life but for "school". And you may remember from school how much you learned only in order to pass the test and conveniently forgot immediately after. I have seen so many students who were able to figure out the most complex English if-clauses on exercise sheets because they recognized patterns and followed mutational rules, but never managed to form a single correct if-clause when actually talking English because they never really understood what the slippery buggers were for.

    Never be afraid of making mistakes. You learn much more from mistakes (if corrected by someone who knows better) than from rules. And you learn from successes, too. If you write a longer text and you find many corrections, don't forget to look at what you apparently got right as well. Learning a language is never complete, it will always go on unless you give up. But each little step you take makes you more proficient in it.
    Спасибо за исправления!

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  7. #7
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    Bitpicker's advice is great, I would advice you to follow all of his advice.
    Gromozeka's summary is fantastic.

    However, Bitpicker has an advantage: He already knows Dative, Accusative from practical experience because they are used in German, his mother tongue. It's much harder when you do not have that familiarity. That is what makes people consider German a "hard" language even though many other things about it are not hard at all. But it's just the beginning of the challenges with Russian!

    If you are serious about Russian, you MUST learn these concepts though!
    If nothing else helps, try to simply memorise it, and give some examples. When I did Russian in school, one of the first things we had to do, was memorise all the cases, including a silly but funny song with examples. Unfortunately at the time, I was too lazy to make the effort - which meant that I couldn't follow the lessons afterwards and eventually dropped off! Don't make the same mistake! In Russian, cases are not optional....

    Take it in small steps.
    Just learn one every week, or something. If you try to learn it all too fast, like you were cramming for an exam, then it will not stick.

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    Wow!

    I think I now have all the advice I'l ever need! Thank you all. The key seems to be to learn in context, get to know the rules but don't expect to be able to apply them yet, and ignore the silly names! That's a very clear path now, which is what I was looking for. I don't feel unsure about where to commit my attention to any more.

    The root of this is because English doesn't really use cases, I think. I'll try to bear in mind what each case is used for in Russian, but I'll try not to be too exasperated when I find exceptions, which I gather there are a lot of...

    Thanks again all of you, I feel thoroughly prepared now!

    Rich B

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    Почтенный гражданин Demonic_Duck's Avatar
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    English does contain clues as to where cases might be used when a sentence is translated into Russian. Ex:

    Replace the word with first person pronoun. If it's "I", it's nominative. If it's "me", it's accusative or one of the other cases.
    If it's "to [noun]", chances are it's dative. (Also if "to" could be inserted into the sentence and it would still make sense, e.g. "give me" = "give to me")
    If it's "of [noun]", chances are it's genitive.
    If it's "with [noun]", chances are it's instrumental.
    If it's "in [noun]", "on [noun]" or "about [noun]", chances are it's prepositional.
    If it's none of these things, chances are it's accusative. Also bear in mind that whilst "to" = dative and "in/on" = prepositional, "into/onto" = accusative.

    These are only very rough guidelines and there are many exceptions (and probably other rules, too). For example, "I am talking to you" = «я говорю с тобой», and «тобой» is instrumental, not dative.
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    Thanks Demonic one...

    That's a good 'pocket sized' way of remembering which case does what, I'll use that. But like you said, there are exceptions all over the place!

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    In your last example of 'I am talking to you', I suppose you could put it as 'I am talking with you'... Although to be strictly instrumental, I think it would then be interpreted as ' I am using you as the instrument of my talking', which is just odd... I think I'll just mark that one up as an oddity, and move on...

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    Почтенный гражданин bitpicker's Avatar
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    There is a "with" preposition in Russian, с, which is used with the Instrumental case whenever the noun in instrumental is not actually the means of achieving the goal. Only use the bare instrumental when you could replace "with" with "using". I am smashing the window with / using a hammer = instrumental. I am talking with you, but not using you, so not just bare instrumental.
    Спасибо за исправления!

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    Завсегдатай it-ogo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bitpicker View Post
    собака откусывает мужчину / мужчину откусывает собака
    собака кусает мужчину / мужчину кусает собака
    "Россия для русских" - это неправильно. Остальные-то чем лучше?

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    Почтенный гражданин bitpicker's Avatar
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    Thanks, it-ogo, beats me why pons.eu does not give кусать when you look up the German word "beißen", while the other way round it works perfectly. It seems I still can't get three words of Russian right in a row.
    Спасибо за исправления!

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  15. #15
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    If you've never learnt a language that works with cases, you'll find everything mind blowing. The fact that a name like "Mark" can change when I say "I talk with Markon", "I see Marka" or "I give Marku a book" can make your brain melt down.

    My best piece of advice is to practice speaking as often as possible so cases go naturally out of your mouth. But be careful if you don't learn them properly the first time you won't get them right never ever.

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    Yes, I think it's just going to have to be:-

    learn each word on it's own
    assume nothing
    be delighted if some pattern of predictability emerges occasionally.

    And yes, like everything language related, I can't afford to learn it wrong, or it will stay that way, I'm sure! My English is bad enough, and I started speaking that wrong about 40 years ago...

    Rich B

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    Почтенный гражданин Demonic_Duck's Avatar
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    THIS and THIS should help you to learn the cases and test yourself.
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    Носитель английского языка, учу русский язык.
    Пожалуйста, исправьте мои сообщения!

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    Wow, didn't know there were tests for this! Thanks.
    I'm only using pronouns at the minute, and adverbial sentences, so as to avoid having to learn verbal and adjectival stuff yet. When I've got ready for it, I will definitely have a go with this site, looks good,
    Rich B

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