Animate/Inanimate Nouns with the Accusative Case
29.02.2016
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Animate/Inanimate Nouns and Accusative

Following our last article about animate/inanimate nouns in Russian, I wanted to add few things on this subject.

Accusative form can have two endings, depending if the noun is animate or inanimate. Thus, with some nouns, the ending depends of the sense of the sentence.

  • If the word appears to design a living being, the accusative form agrees with the genitive form;
  • If the word appears to design a non-living being, the accusative form agrees with the nominative.

Compare:

  • знаю гений этого человека (I know the genius of this man) – знать этого гения (to know this genius);

In the first sentence, we are talking about the quality of a man, thus we use the accusative form as inanimate, while the second sentence is like the qualification (or title) of a person, thus we use the accusative form with the sense of animate.

  • найти субъект в предложении (to find a subject in a sentence) – заметить подозрительного субъекта (to notice a suspicious person)

Words гений (genius), талант (talent, gifted person), тип (type), субъект (subject, type), лицо (face, person), персонаж (character) are considered like animate, when they appear in relation with living being.

Compare:

  • поставить дворник на машину (to supply windscreen for a car) – взять на работу дворника (to employ a yard cleaner);

In the first sentence, дворник is an instrument so that it is related to inanimate accusative form, and in the second sentence it designs the work of a man, related to living being.

  • увидеть летящий спутник (to see a satellite) – встретить приятного спутника (to meet a pleasant fellow traveller)

Here too, in the first sentence, we are talking about an instrument, while in the second sentence, we focus on the quality of a man.

Words, which have a meaning relating with living being on one side, and on the other side with mechanism, instruments, equipment such as: бомбардировщик (bomber pilot or bomber airplane), дворник (yard cleaner or windscreen), истребитель (exterminator or fighter airplane), разведчик (scout or a scout plane or boat), спутник (fellow traveller or sattelite), счётчик (teller or meter).

Compare:

  • трудно переубедить этого дуба (It’s difficult to persuade this blockhead);
  • видел я этого старого колпака (I saw this old duffer).

Words, denoting specific inanimate objects, using negative characteristics for people, such as дуб (oak, blockhead), колпак (cap, duffer), мешок (bag, clumsy fellow), пень (stub, dunce), тюфяк (mattress, lump) are used either with the accusative, either with the genitive form.

Елена Коновалова

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