The Logic of the Russian Sentence Grammar

"In the beginning was the Word…"

The Bible. According to St. John

Verse 1, Chapter 1

The concept of a language in the modern world is a means of interaction. However, the Russian word ‘language’ has two meanings. The first one is an anatomic organ (a tongue); the second one is a system of sound interaction between people. These two different meanings are connected in terms of formation of most of the sounds with the help of a tongue. Ancestors of the modern Russian people invented this old name, which was used to emphasize that a sound lies at the root of a language interaction. The sounds grouped in a certain way are called a word in the Russian language. An image is assigned to every word. It is passed over by organs of speech from one person, who pronounces a word, to another person, who listens and visualizes the image delivered with this word. One word is often not enough for communicating a certain idea; therefore, people compose a sentence from several words and pronounce it. The Russian word ‘предложение’ [sentence] means something that is presented for comprehension to another person. 

Later on people learned how to record the words they pronounced. An alphabet was invented for this purpose as well as rules of recording its letters in words and sentences. Writing turned out to be very important for recording of ideas and communication of information to other people. We use writing right now to tell you how the Russian speech works. 

Different words are used in a sentence; they play a different part in formation and transferring an image. Such words have different names. In order to learn how to speak Russian correctly it is necessary to understand how these words are connected with each other in a sentence.

The Noun [Имя существительное]

Everything that exists [Russian - существует] around us (living beings, objects, notions) has its name. Such words in the Russian language are called with one general word – существительное (from Russian verb существует) [the noun]. It would be more correctly to say «имя существительное». Each noun has two very important features that are necessary to know in order to use nouns correctly in a sentence. 
The first feature is the gender. The following options of the feature are possible: the masculine gender, the feminine gender and the neuter gender. 
Example: Цветок (Flower) – the masculine gender. Дерево (Tree) – the neuter gender. Пчела (Bee) - the feminine gender. 
The second feature of nouns is the number. If there is one object, it is considered to be singular. If a word denotes many objects, it is considered to be plural. 
The good news for those who learn Russian is that for denotation of a noun in plural the same word is often used as for denotation of a noun in singular plus sounds ‘и’, ‘а’, ‘я’ or ‘ы’ are added.

Единственное число [Singular] Множественное число [Plural]
Цветок (Flower) Цветы (Flowers)
Дерево (Tree) Деревья (Trees)
Пчела (Bee) Пчелы (Bees)

A sentence is a self-contained idea expressed by means of a language. The simplest sentence may consist of one word. We show children an object and name it. 

Цветок (Flower). Дерево (Tree). Пчела (Bee). The same rule holds good for plural objects. 

Цветы (Flowers). Деревья (Trees). Пчёлы (Bees). We can name other nouns in the same way and introduce them to those, who do not know the Russian language. 

When we introduce to each other, we name our given names that are also nouns. These nouns are particular, however, and we call them proper names. These nouns are special; and therefore they always start with a capital letter in a sentence, for example: Иван (Ivan), Анна (Ann).

The Verb [Глагол]

Nouns alone are insufficient for communication of information about actions, which take place with living beings, objects and notions. People invented other words for this purpose, and their name is verbs. If we want to say that a person is carrying out an action, we have to connect the noun ‘человек’ (man) with the verb, that denotes this action, for example, ‘бежит’ (is running): человек (man) + бежит (is running) = человек бежит (a man is running). 

If the man, who is running, is called Иван (Ivan), then we could replace the word ‘man’ in this sentence with the word ‘Иван’ (Ivan).

Иван бежит (Ivan is running).

The Pronoun [Местоимение] 

We can use the word ‘он’ (he) instead of the name Иван (Ivan). 

Он бежит [He is running]. 

The pronoun ‘он’ [he] is used instead of the name Иван [Ivan] (compare Russian words: вместо имени [instead of the name] and местоимение [the pronoun]). If the woman, whose name is Анна (Ann), is running, we will say ‘она бежит’ [she is running]. If an animal is running, we will say ‘оно бежит’ [it is running]. He, she and it are the pronouns, which denote a third person. These pronouns are used if I, acting as a narrator (the first person), communicate to my conversation partner (the second person) about actions of the third person (he, she, it). 

Единственное число [Singular] Множественное число[Plural]
я [I] мы [we]
ты [you] вы [you]
он [he] они [they]
она [she]
оно [it]

Pronouns have a plural form, which helps in the sentences, when one group of people (мы [we]) addresses another group (вы [you]) and tells what other people do (они [they]). Example: Анна [Ann] + Иван [Ivan] = она [she] + он [he] = они [they]

Verb Conjugation [Спряжение глагола]

Let us return to verbs to explain one of their important features. One and the same verb in the Russian language changes a little in combination with different pronouns. Let us take the verb ‘лететь’ [to fly] as an example. It changes (conjugates) according to different persons in the present tense the following way:

Person Единственное число [Singular] Verb Множественное число[Plural] Verb
First я [I] лечу [am flying] мы [we] летим [are flying]
Second ты [you] летишь [are flying] вы [you] летите [are flying]
он [he] летит [is flying] они [they] летят [are flying]
она [she] летит [is flying]
оно [it]
летит [is flying]

This may seem difficult at the beginning, however, you will quickly get used to pronunciation and spelling with the help of our special training techniques. You will definitely learn how to use verbs correctly. 

If we say about something, that is being done by somebody else (the third person), we always use the same form of a verb. For example, if we want to say that an object is moving in the air, at first we name this object (or a pronoun in the third person), and then we add to it the word ‘летит’ [is flying]. ‘Летит’ [is flying] is a form of the third person of the verb ‘лететь’ [to fly]. For example: самолёт летит [an airplane is flying], птица летит [a bird is flying], облако летит [a cloud is flying] (он летит [he is flying], она летит [she is flying], оно летит [it is flying]). Let us assume that we have learnt how to compose a simple sentence consisting of two words only, for example, ‘пыль летит’ [dust is flying]. It means that we already can report about all objects, living beings, phenomena that can fly, on condition that we know how they are called of course.

Compose a Sentence

Let us choose something alive, let it be a bee [пчела]. In this case we replace the word ‘пыль’ [dust] in our sentence with the word ‘пчела’ [bee] and add the verb ‘летит’ [is flying]. The main word of this new sentence is ‘пчела’ [bee]. The second word is the verb. It tells us what the bee is doing. 

Пчела летит. 
[A bee is flying]. 

The verb ‘летит’ [is flying] is connected with the main word and is used in a certain aspect (form). Recall that the noun ‘пчела’ [bee] is feminine and can be replaced with the word ‘она’ [she]. Therefore, we choose the necessary form of the verb ‘лететь’ (to fly) the following way: a bee is she. She is the third person, thus the verb ‘лететь’ [to fly] needs the form ‘летит’ [is flying]. 
It is important that all the words in this sentence, which we are going to use hereafter, are connected with this main word ‘пчела’ [bee].

The Preposition [Предлог]

Let us assume that we want to report that the bee’s flight takes place in a certain direction. Prepositions ‘из’ [from], ‘к’ [to], ‘над’ [over], etc. are used in the Russian language for communication of direction or position in space. If a preposition and a new noun are pronounced after the main word and the verb, the former denotes where the action of the main word is directed to. 

For example: ‘пчела летит из дупла’ [a bee is flying from the knothole], ‘пчела летит к дуплу’ [a bee is flying to the knothole], ‘пчела летит над дуплом’ [a bee is flying over the knothole].

You can discuss this topic here 

The Case [Падеж]

(Translator’s note: For English translation it is impossible to distinguish the questions for different cases, so it is important to understand and learn the difference of these words in Russian. To that reason there will be no translation in English for questions names for cases.) 

We can see that the ending of the word ‘дупло’ (knothole) changes a little when used with different prepositions. This changing of word endings in the Russian language is called case inflection of a word. 
There are all in all six cases in the Russian language. Do not be afraid, it is not too many. For example, there are seventeen cases in Hungarian. The additional pleasure is that the first of these cases is the noun itself in the form presented in dictionaries. It is called the nominative case. 

Cases of words in a Russian sentence are defined by questions, since there is one-to-one association between the question and the word ending. The questions are also very easy to use, since six different questions would be enough for defining a case of any noun. The Russians, however, have the greatest respect for everything alive (animate); therefore, there are more six questions for living beings. 
For example, if we ask about a living being, then the word in the nominative case answers the question ‘кто? Анна’ [who? Ann]. If we ask about an inanimate object, then the word in the nominative case answers the question ‘что? Стол’ [what? A table].

The second case is genitive. It is very easy to remember it, asking the questions it answers: ‘кого?’ or ‘чего?’. For example: пчела летит из (чего?) дупла [a bee is flying from the knothole]. The cases can be used even without prepositions. For example: Анна родила (кого?) Ивана [Ann gave birth to Ivan]. In this case, the name Ivan is changed to agree with the interrogative word ‘кого?’. (Checking: Не видим кого? [Whom we do not see?] Не видим Ивана. [We do not see Ivan]). 

You may ask why we need so many difficulties. Perhaps, it would be easier to say the following way without changing anything: Анна родила Иван. However, it is wrong to say like this, since the main word in a Russian sentence is not the one, that has a certain place, but the one, that is unchanged. If we do not change the word ‘Иван’, then there will be two unchanged words, and it becomes unclear right away, who gave birth to whom. Therefore, when we write down this sentence an ending corresponding to the sound ‘a’ and the respective letter appears in the word ‘Иван’: Анна родила Ивана [Ann gave birth to Ivan]. The word ‘Иван’ has been changed; the ending ‘a’ has been added to it, which means that the action of Ann is directed at Ivan. What an important action indeed! Анна родила Ивана [Ann gave birth to Ivan]. This is the way to memorize it: the second case in the Russian language is called "родительный" (from "родить" – to give birth) [genitive]. 

The dative case is used if a word answers the questions ‘кому?’ or ‘чему?’. Анна идёт к (кому?) Ивану [Ann is approaching Ivan]. Анна идёт к (чему?) столу [Ann is approaching the table].

The accusative case answers the questions ‘кого?’ or ‘что?’. Иван обвиняет (кого?) Анну [Ivan accuses Ann]. Анна сломала (что?) стол [Ann has broken the table]. 

The ablative case: its questions are ‘кем?’ [whom?] or ‘чем?’ [what?] Анна любуется (кем?) Иваном [Ann admires Ivan]. Иван прячется под (чем?) столом [Ivan is hiding under the table]. 

The prepositional case: о ком? (about whom?), о чём? (about what?) Анна говорит (о ком?) об Иване (Ann is talking about Ivan). Иван говорит (о чём?) о столе (Ivan is talking about the table). 

Note, that there is an invariable part in the words ‘Иван’ (Ivan) or ‘стол’ (table). It does not change at case inflection of the word. Therefore, this part is called the root. An ending, which is different for different cases, is added to the root. 

The words denoting a plural number are also inflected for case.

Case Question Singular Plural
Nominative Что? дерево (tree) деревья (trees)
Genitive Чего? дерева деревьев
Dative Чему? 
дереву деревьям
Accusative Что? дерево деревья
Ablative Чем? деревом деревьями
Prepositional О чем? дереве деревьях

Practice the usage of cases with our exercises. Memorize and learn the usage of words by heart. It is not difficult to do it in the form of a game. 

Let us return to our sentence about the bee. Now we can easily specify towards what it is flying.

Пчела летит к деревьям. 
[A bee is flying towards trees].

The Adjective [Имя прилагательное]

There is a particular group of words denoting this or that quality of an object. For example, trees can be high, faraway, young or green. All these words answer the question ‘какие?’ [what kind?]. These words are called adjectives. The adjective is placed near the noun (прилагать in Russian means to attach, so прилагательное literally means something that is attached to the noun) to underline a certain quality of the given noun, which the narrator wants to mention intentionally. It is even possible to convert a noun into an adjective in the Russian language. For example, ‘персик’ [peach] is the noun that denotes a fruit. If an ending is added to the word, which can answer the question ‘какой?’ (what kind?), we will get the adjective ‘персиковый’ [peach]. This word denotes a quality, which is attributed to a peach. For example: ‘персиковый сок’ [peach juice] is juice made of peaches; ‘персиковый цвет’ [peach colour] is the colour resembling the colour of peaches; ‘персиковые деревья’ [peach trees] – the trees, where peaches grow. It is important to note, that an adjective ending is related to the ending of the word, which it is attached to. Thus, it is necessary to practice the usage of an adjective together with the noun, which it adjoins. So now, we are able to write down our sentence about the bee and point out a certain quality of trees. It is just important to remember that an adjective is always placed near the noun; therefore, we will place it between the preposition ‘к’ and the noun ‘деревьям’. 

Пчела летит к персиковым деревьям. 
[A bee is flying to peach trees].

The Numeral [Имя числительное]

We wrote down ‘летит к деревьям’ [is flying to trees]. It means that there are not one but several trees. The words denoting numbers are called numerals in the Russian language. They are similar to adjectives by giving the noun an additional feature, but this feature is special. It is related to the quantity of the noun. The numerals answer the question ‘сколько?’ [how much?] or ‘как много?’ [how many?] and they are placed before the noun they are related to. 

Одно печенье [one biscuit], пять конфет [five candies], десять шоколадок [ten chocs]. If an adjective goes before a word, then the numeral is placed before this adjective. Одно мягкое печенье [one tender biscuit], пять вкусных конфет [five tasty candies], десять молочных шоколадок [ten milk chocs]. Let us return to our peach trees and decide that there are eight of them. Then our sentence will look like this: 

Пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям. 
[A bee is flying to eight peach trees]. 

A bee may fly to trees, if there is a knothole and a college of bees lives in it. A bee may also fly to trees to collect honeydew of flowers that have come out in trees, and attract the bee with its odour. In case we do not fully understand why a bee is flying in a certain direction, we can enumerate the objects it is flying to. For example: ‘пчела летит и к деревьям, и к цветам’ [a bee is flying both to trees and flowers] – these are two different nouns in plural.

Connective Words [Союзные слова]

The words ‘цветы’ [flowers] and ‘деревья’ [trees] are called homogeneous parts of the sentence. They convey an equal meaning, therefore they can be listed one by one; or their common link (conjunction) with the main word of a sentence can be defined with the help of certain words, which are called connective words. In our case, we use a commonly used connective word ‘и’. If we want to list precisely where the bee is flying to, we should say that ‘пчела летит к деревьям и к цветам’ [a bee is flying to trees and to flowers] using two prepositions ‘к’. In the Russian language, however, if two words are to be used with the same prepositions and connected with conjunction ‘и’, it is allowed to use one preposition only (with a view to economy) before the first word. 

Летит к деревьям, к цветам [is flying to trees, to flowers] = летит к деревьям и цветам [is flying to trees and flowers]. 

Taking into account this knowledge on the Russian language let us complete our sentence about the bee. We will get the following text:

Пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и цветам. 
[A bee is flying to eight peach trees and flowers]. 

This is not exactly what we wanted to say. We need to report somehow that these flowers have come out in the trees. Since the word ‘деревья’ [trees] have already been used, a pronoun can be used instead.

Падеж Единственное число  Множественное число
Nominative мама (mother) она (she) они (they)
Genitive мамы (mother) ее (her) их (them)
Dative маме (mother) ей (her) им (them)
Accusative маму (mother) ее (her) их (them)
Ablative мамой (mother) ей,ею (her) ими (them)
Prepositional маме (mother) о ней (about her) о них (about them)

Trees can be changed to ‘they’. Pronouns can also be inflected in the Russian language. Therefore, it is necessary to decide carefully, which word exactly we want to replace and put the respective form of a pronoun in the place of this word. 

A pair of nouns is used in the Russian language in order to communicate information about whom belongs an item to or what an event is related to. For this purpose the main word is used, which names an item, and a word, to which this item is related to, is used after the main word in the genitive case. For example: ‘бусы мамы’ [mother’s beads]. The pronoun ‘она’ [she] corresponds to the word ‘мама’ [mother] (see the table above), and the word ‘ее’ [her] corresponds to the word ‘мамы’ (Genitive case). Therefore the word ‘мамы’ can be replaced by the word ‘её’ and we will have ‘бусы её’ [her beads]. The places of the words can even be changed and it will be correct as well: ‘её бусы’. In this case, however, the accent shifts to the word ‘бусы’ (beads) (in the first example we underline that the beads belong to her, not to her sister, for example; in the second example we note that these are her beads, not just a necklace, for example). So we have come to flowers of trees at last. 

Let us remind you that we wanted to change the sentence Пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и цветам [A bee is flying to eight peach trees and flowers] and report, that these flowers have come out in the trees. ‘Trees’ are they. If we replace the word ‘деревьев’ (Genitive) with a pronoun, we have to use the word ‘их’ (their). We will have ‘цветам их’. For shifting an accent to the word ‘цветы’ (flowers) we should write down these two words the following way: ‘их цветам’ (to their flowers). Now we can write down the whole sentence: 

Пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и их цветам. 
[A bee is flying to eight peach trees and their flowers].

The Participle [Причастие]

We did not manage to report yet in this sentence that flowers attract the bee with their pleasant odour, they diffuse aromatic scents. There is a verb in the Russian language that denotes precisely this action: ‘благоухать’ [to scent]. This verb should be set for the word ‘цветам’, which is not the main word in our sentence. There are certain words in the Russian language that denote an action of subordinate words as their particular quality. Therefore, this word has features of both the verb and the adjective. It answers the question ‘что делающий?’ [doing what?] and is called the participle. The participle endings are also changed a little in order to show agreement with a word they characterize. In our case, the question to the necessary word is the following: ‘что делающим цветам?’ (to flowers doing what?). The answer is ‘благоухающим цветам’ (to flowers that scent or to scented flowers). Therefore, the sentence can be written down like this: 

Пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и их благоухающим цветам. 
[A bee is flying to eight peach trees and their scented flowers].

The Adverbial Participle [Деепричастие]

A bee can both fly and perform an action at the same time. We could use one more verb of course. However, if we want to say that one of the actions is more important, then an adverbial participle is used instead of the second verb. This is the word that answers the question ‘что делая?’ [doing what?]. It is always separated from the main word by a pause in speech and by commas in writing, which help to understand that this action is not the main in this sentence. We can report that our bee ‘жужжит’ [buzzes], i.e. emits a sound, similar to the sound of letter ‘ж’, expanded in time: ‘ж-ж-ж’. For this purpose, we can make the adverbial participle ‘жужжа’ [buzzing] from the verb ‘жужжит’ [buzzes]. This funny word can be written down before the word ‘пчела’, keeping in mind that we should separate it by a comma. 

Жужжа, пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и их благоухающим цветам. 
[Buzzing, a bee is flying to eight peach trees and their scented flowers].

The Adverb [Наречие]

We can also report how exactly this secondary action takes place: intensely, cheerily or in a monotone way. Let our bee buzz ‘тихо’ [quietly]. We will put this word before the adverbial participle, which it describes. 

Тихо жужжа, пчела летит к восьми персиковым деревьям и их благоухающим цветам. 
[Buzzing quietly, a bee is flying to eight peach trees and their scented flowers]. 

You must have already learnt this sentence by heart and it is good, because you have learnt a lot with it not only about this bee, but also about the logic and the structure of the Russian speech!


You can find Russian language schools and teachers:

Translation (ru-en)
Only registered users can use this function