Russian Cases GAAAAH

I’m now 1.5 years in to my Russian “experiment”.
I have had the hardest time trying to understand what Russian cases are. I’m the type of person can’t memorize something unless I understand it. I read tons and tons of different explanations. Finally I figured it out. They’re kind of like prepositions in English. English has the equivalent of cases but does it an entirely different way.
Ironically I figured this out when having a conversation with someone who knows Japanese and was talking about the wierdness (particles) that Japanese has. CLICK! I suddenly comprehended what cases are in a way that I can hold on to.

Russian is a beast hahaha.



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Congrats! Now that you understand what they are, here is the real test: can you correctly use genetive plural case?

Russian speakers: “muahahahahahaha”

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I am learning Slovak and other cased languages. Cases aren´t prepositions, however they do go with prepositions in particular relationships to the nouns. As far as I know, all languages are noun lead. Russian is the same. the noun is most important, then your relationship to the noun (verbs). I would argue having a logical understanding of cases is really a fools gold, as I do and it doesn´t help whatsoever.
Having a SUBCONCIOUS understanding of cases would be far better! That can only be developed by using the language and processing experiences. I asked myself how Slovaks learn cases and I was curious to hear what kind of mistakes kids make. They actually don´t make so many mistakes with cases, according to the people I talked to, because they learn it in a far more simpler way (their name, the names of their mum/dad, objects they use, and they NEVER QUESTION IT as other language speakers do!).
Thus with Slavic languages I think the best thing you can do is talk, do activities and learn how to explain yourself. Then you will quickly learn how to alternate your name or a name you use. The advantage of the case system is actually, despite how complicated it appears to me as an English speaker, Slovak is actually much shorter when put into translation apps like google translate, because far more information is conveyed through the suffixes.
This was quite strange for me, as my Slavic students writing English would always make massive sentences up to 40 words long. But in Slovak the relationships between things are clear despite the order the words are in the sentence, all due to the cases.
Cases are really complicated but they like the knife and fork at a dinner table. They pick the nouns up. In English the equivalent would be determiners and word order. Explaining Slovaks adjectival order as a concept is very confusing for them because in Slavic languages the adjectives are aligned through cases so there is no need to order them.
It is an interesting alternative, but if I was staying up all night I´d never have though you could make languages like this when I have English as a template. The first word I´d create in my own language would have been “the”, then when you find out Slavic languages don´t have that it is a big paradigm shift.
In my opinion, you´d learn to unconsciously get cases through carrying out processes and kids stories far easier then consciously understanding them. I took a year of lessons in Slovak, and despite all the best intentions, the material was set up around cases and grammar but not vocab building. I logically would have thought this was a good idea, but it is terrible. The teacher could pull off the top of her head fascinating charts of how things declinate but it didn´t help one bit. You need to learn them all as individual words, as depressing as that sounds, and it isn´t actually that hard. After a few hundred words are mastered it will become somewhat clear. That is why Lingq is so good, because it just forces you to accept that. That is also how the natives learn them, as individual words when a context comes up. Actually doesn´t take so long as it sounds when you get going because kids have usually got a good working knowledge of cases at 5 years old. So what is our excuse?
ONCE you have a vocabulary to organise of a few hundred/thousand words, then you can really make use of understanding cases. It makes literally no sense explaining them to a person who doesn´t use them. It is like explaining to tiktok celebrities to a person from the 18th Century. The good thing is once you do master those, other Slavic languages become a walk in the park.


Ha! I just found a russian grammar book that actually describes cases the way it makes sense in my head. So I might be right. Which is motivating.
The book is called “The Case Book for Russian”.

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Sounds like you’re ready to take on Finnish now :).

My understanding of cases in German and Icelandic is one that has gotten a lot more intuitive over time. I have logically understood them for 15 years, but being able to fluently use them correctly in conversation or hear them (including when someone uses them wrong) is only something I have been able to do for the past year.

I’ve become a firm believer in the idea, that the features that are hardest to learn and internalize are those that are more “complex” than those of our native language. (For an example - for Russians learning English, articles.)


I think you’re right. If it’s a feature that is more complex and just simply not there, it’s hard to remember if you can’t even figure out what it’s for.

Now that I understand what cases are and have it kind of mapped in my head I realize that english does have a meta-version of cases. We just don’t use cases to do the thing that cases do. We use something else.

What has helped me is forming a kind of pidgin language in my head when I’m thinking about what I would want to say as in “how would I tag these parts of the phrase I want to say with the case tags”? Once I have that, I have the structure in my head and I could go look it up and create a grammatically correct sentence.

The next piece will be drilling the endings so I can match it up and use it. Then it’s practice, practice, practice.

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I would be careful with things like “meta-version of cases”. English is not an inflected language, it used to be, but now all we have are a few remnants in pronouns.

Language is a means for people to communicate ideas, and each language will have different strategies for how to communicate ideas. It can be a good idea to critically compare how your L1 and L2 communicate the same idea and look at the strategies used, but do not confuse that with features being universal or “meta”.

Really that’s a function of an idea being something involving an agent, a verb, and, usually, a patient. Everything else is a tool to communicate the relationship between everything within the idea.

The needs are universal to all language, but the tools are not.


Hm, xxdb,

It’s probably more accurate to say that English just uses a “condensed” or “rudimentary” form of the case system (The Cases in English | Department of Classics) in contrast to many other Indo-European languages (see, for example, for "Proto-Indo-European: Cases in Indo-European Languages: an article by Cyril Babaev

Proto-Indo-European knew eight or nine cases:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Accusative
  • Ablative
  • Instrumentalis (instrumental)
  • Allative or directive (uncertain)
  • Vocative
  • Locative.): 

From a German or Latin perspective (in my case), the Russian case system is easy to understand.

The problem is rather, as Toby wrote, to be able to use the Russian cases fluently in a fast-paced conversation. And for that you can resort to the usual approaches: classic drills, SRS drills and / or CI.

Why does such a system exist?
My thesis is: it’s the same reason why

  • word orders (SVO = subject - verb - object, etc.)
  • collocations
    exist, namely, to reduce the overwhelming complexity of language units where everything can be coupled with everything.

It’s likely that (oral) communication would collapse instantly if human minds were confronted with such a linguistic “free play”. Therefore, morphosyntactic “constraints” have evolved in language-based communication processes.

In other words, word orders, case systems (or particle-based functional equivalents in Japanese, etc.) and collocations have evolved in all natural languages to make communication probable and easier.

But the price language learners have to pay is this: they have to internalize the word orders, countless cases and tens of thousands of collocations - if they want to be fluent in an L2 (similar to natives).

As soon as these constraints are internalized, language users can build an infinite number of context-dependent sentences, which means the linguistic complexity in discourses / texts can explode.

In short, the basic mechanism is here:
A general (unstructured) complexity must be reduced in order to be able to increase a more specific (structured) complexity. This is what all complex systems do… in this respect, oral communication based on natural languages is just one example.


English also has strict word order to convey the function of each word in the sentence. Languages with cases can move words around to some extent because the cases carry that information.

Btw, I am Russian, learning Finnish. Russian cases are nothing compared to finnish system. Case endings make up half of the Finnish language and they are truly replacing prepositions (unlike in Russian)


Cases. Yeah. What do I think about cases?

You know, Even now…year 7…sometimes I “get it” and it flows, and I know the cases are right, and I think…“pah! this is easy, why was this a problem?”, and other days it’s like “What the f…!”.

In the beginning I tried to memorise tables, and succeeded to a degree, but then couldn’t use them because my brain couldn’t process it fast enough to speak…so I gave up, and then somewhere my brain just “got it”, and some of the cases came right, and then a bit more…and then even now some days it’s like a stream of nominative case…

…but you know what…Russians still understand you…LOL! And those I’ve spoken with love that I can speak to them.

Well done with sticking with it…it does get easier…read and listen a lot…and you will get there…and maybe I will too some day ; )


Thanks. My plan is to do the same as I did with Spanish verbs: bite off a bit at a time and over-use that one even in wrong situations until I get use to it, then I’ll bite off another piece and so on till I have it down.

Right. That’s what English does instead of cases. Word order and prepositions mark the grammatical thing that cases are used for in Russian. It seems that in Japanese they do this same grammatical thing using particles.

I hypothesize that there are other methods of solving this same grammatical thing’s problem in other languages. It would be interesting to see from a liguistical perspective what they are.

Although all of what you have written is correct, I think I’m somehow not making my point clear: there is this grammatical thing that is handled by cases in Russian/German/Finnish and handled by word order/prepositions/etc in English and handled by particles in Japanese.
Possibly it’s handled by word order and particle type things in Mandarin but I don’t know enough.

I wonder what other wierd methods there are to handle this particular grammatical thing and what it’s name is in linguistics.

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nox: you’ve subtly missed the point. Probably by my lack of clarity. I’ve had a few days to think it through though.

So… there is thing grammatical thing that is handled in a variety of different ways in different languages. It’s cases in Russian/Finnish/German and it is word order/prepositions/etc in English. It appears to be particles in Japanese and it might be particles/word order in Mandarin.

That is what I am referring to as “meta”. It is a grammatical thing that is in all language (I think), whose name I do not know.

EDIT: this grammatical “meta” thing I’m talking about might be called grammatical morphology.
Morphology (linguistics) - Wikipedia ← this is a mind blowing read.

“there is this grammatical thing that is handled by cases”.
Yes, I’d call it “(intra-)syntactic functions” (or: “grammar relations in a sentence”) - see the Wikipedia links mentioned below.

However, I don’t think it’s purely an “intra-language thing”. It is also related to

  1. the cognitive load of the human mind
  2. the increasing probability and improbability of social communication processes

Take a simple sentence in English such as: “I am tired and I want to go home now.”

Without any “word-form combination constraints” (here: word order, conventionalized multi-word combos, esp. collocations, and cases or similar functional equivalents), you can build 10! = 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9 * 10 = 3628800 different sentences.

Among them little treasures such as “I I home want tired go now to am and.”

This combinatorial explosion as a quasi-informational entropy is difficult to handle for both individual cognition and social communication.
Conventionalization processes (typical word orders, collocations, inflection-based word formation - see: help to reduce such an overwhelming linguistic complexity and make cognition / communication more likely. Otherwise, there would probably be an entropy-induced “collapse” :slight_smile:

“Case marking” of nouns and its modifiers (i.e., determiners, adjectives, etc.) helps to show the various functions of these words in a sentence (Grammatical relation - Wikipedia).

Functional equivalents for case marking are:

  • Prepositions
  • Postpositions (such as the particles in Japanse)
  • a higher rigidity of the word order
    Or a language-specific mix of all these intra-syntactic solutions.

Are there are other functional equivalents to express such (intra-)syntactic functions? I would, for example, add

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