Russian/Grammar/Pronouns

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Pronouns are words which take the place of nouns (compare "Your husband drove to Florida" with "He drove to Florida"), which denote ownership ("My cat", "Your cat", etc), or which replace nouns with questions (compare "He drove" with "Who drove?", "What drove?", and "What drove?"). Russian has six categories of pronouns, the three most common of which are detailed further on their own pages: Personal, Possessive, Interrogative, Demonstrative, Reflexive, and Determinative. In Russian, the pronouns change according to the gender of the noun.

Formality[edit]

While most pronouns can be used just as they would in English, there's an important facet to them that English doesn't have: formality.

In English, there are two first-person personal pronouns, 'I' and 'we', four third-person pronouns, the singular ('he, 'she', and 'it') and the plural ('they'), and a single second-person pronoun, 'you'. That English has only one second-person personal pronoun, is a peculiarity of our language. In Russian, and indeed in most other languages, there is a distinction between two forms of 'you'.

Like first- and third-person pronouns, second-person pronouns have a singular and a plural form. To say 'you' and mean one person, say ты (ti). To refer to more than one person, use вы (vi). However, if you want to show respect, such as to a teacher or elder, or the person is someone you don't know, use вы instead of ты.

Where are you, brother? - Где ты, брат? - Notice the singular form ты
Where are you, teacher? - Где вы, учительница? - Notice the plural form вы

Interestingly, though English lost its second-person plural pronoun, some dialects have recreated it: Southern US English uses 'y'all' to refer to just that: 'you all'. But this isn't just a contraction, as it's used in a pronoun in its own right, giving us constructions like: "I want to talk to all y'all".

It is important to at least grasp this distinction, as it becomes important when learning about verbs: verbs have six basic forms of conjugation, one for each type of pronoun (1st/2nd/3rd person, and singular/plural).

Personal[edit]

Broadly speaking, sentences involve three people: the person speaking, the person being spoken to, and someone else not involved in the conversation. The person speaking is known as the 'first person' (think of first-person games that are viewed through the eyes of the player), the person spoken to is the 'second person', and the other person is the 'third person'. Each 'person' can be referred to as either singular ('I', 'he') or plural ('we', 'they'). Finally, note that third-person singular pronoun comes in three varieties that vary with gender: 'he', 'she', and 'it'. Russian pronouns are generally used the same as in English, with the exception of the above distinction between formal and informal 'you':

I see - Я ви́жу - ya VEE-zhoo
We see - Мы ви́дим - mi VEE-deem
You speak (sing. informal) - Tы говори́шь - ti ga-vo-REESH
You speak (sing. formal) - Вы говори́те - vi ga-vo-REE-tye
You speak (plural) - Вы говори́те - vi ga-vo-REE-tye
He/she/it reads - Он/Она́/Оно́ чита́ет - on/on-AH/on-OH chee-TA-yet
They read - Они́ чита́ют - on-EE chee-TA-yoot

Notice that though the verbs are the same in meaning, they change form: 'speak' changes from ты говоришь to вы говорите. Changing verbs like this is known as conjugation, and is covered more fully on its dedicated page. When nouns, pronouns, and adjectives change, it's called declension (this can also refer to verbs changing, however 'conjugation' refers specifically to verbs). Like most things in Russian, the personal pronouns change depending on which of the six cases they're in:

Personal Pronouns First person Second person Third person
s p s p s p
Nominative Я Мы Ты Вы Он/Она/Оно Они
Genitive Меня́ Нас Тебя́ Вас Его́/Её Их
Dative Мне Нам Тебе́ Вам Ему́/Ей Им
Accusative Меня́ Нас Тебя́ Вас Его́/Её Их
Instrumental Мной На́ми Тобо́й Ва́ми Им/Ей И́ми
Prepositional Мне Нас Тебе́ Вас Нём/Ней Них

Note that when some of these have several forms, these are clarified in the pages for that specific case. Also note that third-person singular pronouns have the suffice н- when preceeded by a preposition: к ней, от неё, etc. This doesn't apply to the possessive pronouns, or in general any third-person pronoun that isn't directly called by the preposition.

I like you - Я тебя люблю
You talk to me - Вы мне говорите
You talk about me - Вы говорите обо мне
You talk with me - Вы говорите со мной

As the last example shows, the third-person singular pronouns он, она, and оно vary by gender in grammar, but not in meaning. The он in "Я сел на стул, и он развалился" (I sat on a chair, and it fell apart) is grammatically male to correspond with the table, but still translates to 'it' in English.


quiz[edit]

1. Formal or informal? Вы говорите со мной

formal
informal

2. Formal or informal? Я тебя люблю

formal
informal

3. Formal or informal? Tы говори́шь

formal
informal

Your score is 0 / 0


Possessive[edit]

These pronouns act as adjectives and modify a noun, stating that it is owned by one of the three speakers (my cat, your cat, his cat). Unlike personal pronouns, but like adjectives, possessive pronouns also change to match the gender and number of the noun they modify. So in the following table, notice that the different gender and number of each type of pronoun refers to the object that's possessed, not the possessor. Since there are four pronouns that conjugate in four ways laterally and six ways vertically, shown here is only the forms for мой, 'my'. The rest are detailed on their own pages:

My Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative Мой Моя Моё Мои
Genitive Моего́ Мое́й Моего́ Мои́х
Dative Моему́ Мое́й Моему́ Мои́м
Accusative Мой/Моего́ Мою́ Моё́ Мои́/Мои́х
Instrumental Мои́м Мое́й Мои́м Мои́ми
Prepositional Моём Мое́й Моём Мои́х

The various forms given in the accusative case are detailed more thoroughly on that page. Third-person possessive pronouns are special: there are only three words, and each refers to the gender of the speaker, not the case, gender, or number of the object possessed. For masculine and neuter possessors, the word is его, 'his'/'its', pronouns ye-vo. For feminine possessors, use её. For plural possessors of any gender, use их.

My chair - Мой стул
My dog - Моя собака
My dress - Моё платье
My books - Мои книги
His chair - Его стул
His books - Его книги
Let's talk about his books - Давайте говорить о его книгах

quiz[edit]

1. Gender? Мой стул

Masculine
Feminine
Neuter
Plural

2. Gender? Моя собака

Masculine
Feminine
Neuter
Plural

3. Gender? Моё платье

Masculine
Feminine
Neuter
Plural

Your score is 0 / 0