When you learn Russian, the grammar can be stressful, especially the case system and the Russian dative case.
But while the Russian cases can seem pretty complicated, believe it or not, if you speak English you use a kind of case system already. So that means the dative case isn't as tricky as it first seems.
In this article, I’ll take you through the Russian dative case step-by-step so that by the end of this article, you’ll be able to:
- Identify the Russian dative case with ease
- Form the dative case yourself
- Recognize which verbs to look out for with with the dative case
- Know which prepositions signal the Russian dative case.
So let's get into it so you can become an expert on the Russian dative case!
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What Exactly Is The Russian Dative Case?
Before we dive into the dative case, let me give you an overview of the Russian case system. In English, we use prepositions and word order to express how words relate to each other.
For example, in the sentence “Marc gave the book to John.” We know that the person who does the action is Marc because it comes before the verb. We also know that John receives the book because it comes after the preposition “to”.
In Russian though, we use cases instead. So what does “case” look like exactly? Think of it this way, we know that “the bird” and “the bird’s” have different roles because of the ending of the words. You can’t simply say “the bird’s is flying” because the word’s ending tells you that “the bird’s” is not the subject.
And it's the same idea in Russian.
So What About The Dative Case?
In Russian, you use the dative case to indicate who receives something else. In grammar books this is usually called the indirect object, but you can think of it as answering two main questions.
- To whom? кому
- To what? чему
Let’s look at an example in English
- Charlie gave Dan the book
- I bought a coat for my friend
In both of these examples, there is one subject (Charlie/Dan) and two objects. So in the first sentence what’s the difference between “Dan” and “the book” exactly?
“The book” receives the action and is the direct object, but “Dan” receives the book, so Dan is the indirect object. Likewise, in the second sentence, “my friend” is the one receiving the coat.
In Russian “Dan” and “my friend” would both be in the dative case because they receive another object. So, you can expect the Russian dative for a range of situations. In particular you see when someone or something receives, gets, is given or is told something else.
In fact, we used the dative case at the beginning of the article with the greeting всем привет. Normally, the expression is translated as “Hello all” but if you render the phrase more literally it means “Hello to all” with всем being the dative form of весь. In other words, everyone is receiving the hello.
Recognising And Making The Russian Dative Case
So, the big question now is – how will you know when a Russian word is in the dative case? Just like our English example with “the bird” and “the bird’s” the ending of the word will change.
Thankfully, the rules for making cases in Russian are very consistent, so once you know a few patterns, you can recognise almost any word in the dative case. Now we’ll go over the main groups so you can see for yourself.
Masculine And Neuter Nouns
For masculine and neuter nouns, you can identify the dative case by the letters у and ю.
For masculine words that end in a consonant, you simply add the letter у on to the end. For neuter nouns ending in -о, you replace the final letter with у.
For masculine nouns ending with -й and neuter nouns ending with an -е, the final letter is replaced with a -ю.
Masculine Nouns Ending with a Consonant
- друг > другу (to the friend)
- Брат > брату (to the brother)
- Виктор > Виктору (to Viktor)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -o
- Небо > небу (along the sky)
- Окно > окну (to the window)
Masculine Nouns Ending with -й
- Сарай > сараю (to the shed)
- край > краю (to the border)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -е
- Море > морю (along the sea)
- Расписание > расписанию (according to schedule)
Feminine Nouns With -A And -YA
For feminine nouns, you can spot the dative case by the use of either -е or -и. For nouns ending in the vowel -а and-я the final letter is replaced with an -е. And for nouns ending in -ия and -ь, the final letter is replaced by -и.
Feminine Nouns Ending in -a and -я
- Сестра > сестре (to the sister)
- Улица > улице (along the road)
- Наташа > Наташе (to Natasha)
- Катя > Кате (to Katya)
- Башня > башне (to the tower)
Feminine Nouns Ending in -ь and -ия
- Россия > России (through/along Russian)
- Биология > биологии (by biology)
- Сложность > сложности (according to the complexity)
Verbs That Often Use The Russian Dative Case
Now that you know how to recognise the dative and form it, next we can move to verbs that regularly use the dative case.
There are quite a few verbs in Russian where you can expect the use of the dative case. Almost any action that involves someone receiving something or being told something will use the dative case in Russian.
Here are a few examples:
- давать/дать (to give)
- звонить/позвонить (to call)
- желать/пожелать (to wish)
- советовать/посоветовать (to give advice to)
Here are some examples with the dative case in bold.
- Мы советовали вам не делать это (We advised you to not do that)
- Я позвонила сестре (I called my sister)
- Я желаю тебе удачи (I wish you luck)
- Марина объяснила Анне причину (Marian explained the reason to Anna)
- Борис дал книгу Витору (Viktor gave the book to Boris)
Impersonal Constructions And The Dative Case
While you can expect the dative case to come up with certain verbs, Russian also uses the dative case with several impersonal verbs.
Okay, so what’s an impersonal verb? Well, in English could say
- It seems to me that…
- It’s getting dark
- It’s interesting to me that…
- It’s raining
- It’s snowing
But what exactly is the “it” here?
It could be the situation or the weather. And while we don't often use these verbs in English, Russian uses them a lot. In Russian, these impersonal constructions describe general situations and statuses. More importantly, when these constructions are used they come with the dative case.
Here are some examples. These include feelings, temperature and age. And as you can see, talking about age is another great example of why you should never translate things literally.
- Сколько вам лет? (How old are you? (lit. how many years are to you))
- Мне 30 лет (I’m 30. (lit. to me 30 years))
- Анне холодно (Anna is cold (to Anna, it’s cold))
- Ей кажется… (It seems to her)
- Виктору скучно (Victor’s bored (to Victor it’s boring))
There are also a series of words that express status that always use the Russian dative case.
- Можно (it’s possible)
- Нельзя (it’s forbidden)
- Надо (it’s needed)
- Нужно (it’s needed/necessary)
And here are some more examples for you in sentences:
- Нам нужно работать сегодня (We need to work today)
- Борису надо поехать в Москву (Boris has to go to Moscow)
- Можно мне завтра прийти (Tomorrow I can arrive at work a bit earlier.)
Liking Things With The Dative Case
Probably one of the most important things you can do with the dative case is express that you like something. For this, you use the verb нравиться.
But it’s important to note that the person who likes something is in the dative case while the verb нравиться changes according to what is liked. For one object, you have to use нравится and for multiple objects it becomes нравятся.
- Мне нравится гулять (I live to go for walks)
- Олегу не нравится моя собака (Oleg doesn’t like my dog)
- Ане нравятся блюда (Anya likes the dishes)
The Dative Case With Prepositions
Up till this point, the Russian dative case has been somewhat similar to the way we use “to” and “for” in English. Prepositions are another story entirely.
This is where most Russian learners find the most difficulty with the dative case. Thankfully there aren’t many prepositions to learn.
Here’s a short list of the most important ones:
- К (to/for)
- Благодаря (thanks to)
- Согласно (According to/in accordance with)
Check out these examples:
- Благодаря вашей помощи (Thanks to your help)
- готовится к экзаменам (He’s getting ready for the exam)
- согласно статье 101 (According to Article 101)
Going To Someone And The Preposition K
While we use the accusative case when we talk about going to a place, it’s different when we talk about going to someone.
If you’re visiting a friend, stopping by an office or have an appointment to see someone, you need to use the dative case. This will very often be accompanied by the preposition к.
- Завтра я иду к врачу (I’m going to the doctor tomorrow)
- Я хочу идти в гости к Юлии (I want to visit Yulia)
The Dative Case and PO/ПО
Now for something some tricky – the preposition po/по. This is the most common preposition to use with the dative. However, there is no one translation that works for this small two letter word as it is used so extensively in Russian. Think of it as a multi-purpose preposition.
Rather than trying to explain its wide range of uses, I’ll show you some examples:
- Летать по небу (To fly through the sky.)
- Мы гуляли по улице (We are walking down the street/along the street)
- Говорить по скайпу (To talk through Skype/by Skype)
- Посылать по почте (to send by mail/by post)
- По какой причине вы отказались? (Why (For what reason) did you refuse?)
- По ошибке подписал этот бланк (By mistake he signed the form)
Time (for Repeating Actions)
When describing a single action, we use the accusative case. However, to talk about repeated and regular actions, you’ll need to use the dative case.
- По вечерам (in the evenings/at night)
- По средам (on Wednesdays)
- По червергам (on Thursdays)
Using The Russian Dative Case Every Day
So there you have it. I know that was a lot. But you’ve made it to the end! Now, with this you should have a strong handle on how the Russian dative case works.
Try not to get hung up on the details and instead, just know the basic uses of the dative case in Russian.
- Indirect Objects (who receives something/ who is told something)
- Impersonal Constructions (liking/feelings/weather/etc.)
- With certain prepositions (especially по)
And really, the best way to familiarise yourself with the dative case is to keep exposing yourself to more and more Russian. Over time, using the dative case will feel more natural as you get used to its various uses. And before you know it you’ll be using по and к without a second thought.
So until next time. And as always Удача из удач! (Best of luck!)