The Case System

  • Posted on: 23 June 2015
  • By: Tatiana Shutova

During this lesson we are going to speak about general idea of Russian Case System.

A case is a grammatical concept that tells you what role a noun (or pronoun) is playing in a phrase. What does it mean? Let’s take a look at English example: ‘Ann kicked the ball to Ben.’

‘Ann’ is the subject of the sentence: she is ‘doing’ the verb (the ‘kicking’). The ‘ball’ is the direct object of the sentence: it is having the verb ‘done’ to it. ‘Ben’ is the indirect object of the sentence: he is indirectly affected by Ann’s kick. In English – as in many languages – we tend to use a combination of word order and prepositions to communicate who is doing what to whom. On the other hand, in Russian it’s possible to convey the same information without a fixed sentence structure, and without the preposition ‘to’. To do this, the ending of each noun is changed to fit the pattern of a certain case.

Languages such as Ancient Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Hungarian, Tamil, Russian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Slovak and Finnish have extensive case systems, with nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and determiners all inflecting (usually by means of different word endings) to indicate their case. A language may have a number of different cases (Latin and Russian each have 6; Polish, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian have 7; Finnish has 15; Hungarian has 18). 

Russian has six cases. Cases in Russian affect nouns, adjectives, and pronouns ('I', 'me', 'my', 'your', etc). Adjectives modify a noun, and take the case ending that corresponds with whatever case the noun is in. This is true of possessive pronouns as well. Nouns and adjectives also change according to gender (masculine/feminine/neuter) and number (singular/plural).

The case system in Russian does two things. First, it marks the grammatical functions of nouns which are indicated by word order in English, that is, the subject, object and indirect object of the sentence. (This means that these nouns are free to be ordered almost anywhere in the sentence since their function is clearly indicated by their form.) Second, cases mark certain adverbial functions such as the time, manner, and means of carrying out an action, which are marked by prepositions in English, e.g. "by foot", "on Sunday", "with pleasure". This function leads to the case system being associated with prepositions. NB! In Russian all prepositions are associated with a case which is attached to their objects. Since only nouns can express case, this means that only nouns may be objects of prepositions.

There are 6 cases in Russian: Nominative, Accusative, Genitive, Dative, Instrumental, Prepositional.
Before going into details let’s review them very quickly:

Nominative is the basic form found in dictionaries for nouns. This case is used when the noun is the subject of the sentence (Анна видит музей. - Anna sees the museum).
Accusative shows the direct object of the action, the noun to which something is done (Анна видит собаку. - Anna sees a dog).
Genetive is the case of possession. This is similar to the posessive's in English or of  (машина брата - my brother's car, car of my brother).
Dative indicates that something is being given to someone (Антон дал книгу Анне. - Anton gave the book to Anna).
Instrumental is used to refer to an instrument that helps to make something (Я пишу ручкой. - I write with a pen).
Prepositional refers to a place (Он сидит на стуле. - He is sitting on the chair).

I've introduced you only the general idea of Russian Case System. I'd like to mention that each case has more than one meaning. So we are going to speak about them in detail during our next lessons.


Let me give some advice to help you learn the cases:

- Don't try to learn the endings of all the six cases at one and the same time. You'll get confused and it'll take ages before you manage to use all endings correctly.

- Don't learn the endings of the adjectives at the same time as the endings of the nouns. Begin with nouns and try to get used to the nouns at first.

- Don't learn the plural form for each case at the same time as the singular one. Wait to be at ease with the singular form at first.


You can also check:

Gender of nouns


Plural of nouns

and share the knowledge if this material is useful ;)