If you’ve been learning Russian, then you already know how complicated and intimidating the case system can be. But I’m here to say that it doesn’t have to be!
Case may seem hard, but we actually have something similar in English and learning the Russian form just takes practice.
So in this post, you'll learn how to use the Russian instrumental case in particular. You might be wondering what the instrumental case even is. But that’s what this article is here for.
By the time you've finished reading, you’ll have a strong understanding of:
- How to identify the instrumental case
- How to make the instrumental case in Russian
- When to use the instrumental case
- What prepositions go with the instrumental case
So let's get into it.
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What Does The Russian Instrumental Case Do?
In English, we usually mark the relationship between words with word order and prepositions.
In the first example below, we know that “books” are the object because they come after the verb. But in the second example, we know that “a fork” is a tool because it comes with the preposition “with”.
- Example 1: John reads books (Subject-Verb-Object)
- Example 2: John eats with a fork (Subject-Verb-Preposition-Compliment)
In Russian, word order and prepositions are important too, but so is a word’s case. This means that the end of word changes to describe its role in a sentence. This is just like how in English we distinguish “the cat” and “the cat’s” because of the -‘s at the end.
We know that “the cat purred” is correct, while the “the cat’s purred” is wrong. Russian uses the same principle for the instrumental case and puts something at the end of a word.
So what does the instrumental case do exactly?
In Russian, we use the instrumental case to describe company, the means of doing something, or additions. In other words, when we talk about the Russian instrumental case, we’re answering two big questions:
- Кем/с кем (by who/with who)
- Чем/с чем (by what/with what)
In English, you can imagine this when we use the prepositions “by” or “with”. Here are some examples that would take the instrumental case in Russian.
- I went with Eric (company)
- A car made by Karen (authorship, creatorship)
- I drink with a mug (tool)
- I went to the party by car (means)
Russian has a few other uses of the instrumental case, but we’ll get to those after you understand what it looks like.
How To Spot And Make The Instrumental Case
Now that you’ve got an idea of what the Instrumental Case does in Russian, I’ll show you how to recognize the case and how to make it.
Masculine And Neuter Nouns In The Instrumental Case
For masculine and neuter nouns, the instrumental case is very consistent. You can quickly identify the instrumental by words that end in the letters ом and ем.
For masculine words that end in a consonant and neuter words that end in -о, you'll make the ending -ом.
For masculine words that end in -й and neuter words ending in -е, the word will end with -ем.
Masculine Nouns Ending with a Consonant
- друг > с другом (with the friend)
- Виктор > Виктором (by Viktor)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -o
- Небо > под небом (under the sky)
- Окно > с окном (with a window)
Masculine Nouns Ending with -й
- Сарай > перед сараем (in front of the shed)
- край > с краем (with the border)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -е
- Море > за морем (overseas)
- Расписание > расписанием (by the schedule)
The Instrumental Case For Feminine Nouns
For feminine nouns, you can tell that something is in the instrumental case by the endings -ой or -ей. It’s worth noting that these endings have the same vowels as -ом and -ем from before.
For nouns ending in the vowel, you replace the final letter with -ой.
If the noun ends in -я, you change the ending to -ей.
For nouns ending in -ь, you add the letter -ю.
Feminine Nouns Ending in -a
- Сестра > с сестрой with the sister
- Наташа > с Наташой with Natasha
Feminine Nouns Ending -я
- Россия > с Россией (with Russia)
- Башня > перед башней (in front of the tower)
Feminine Nouns Ending -ь
- Сложность > сложностью (with complexity)
- Лошадь > с лошадью (with a horse)
The Instrumental Case For Plural Nouns
For all plural nouns, there are only two endings to look for. These are -ами and -ями. For nouns ending in a consonant, -а and -о, we use the ending -ами. And for all other nouns, you’ll find the ending to -ями.
- друг > с другами (with friends)
- Сестра > с сестрами (with the sisters)
- Окно > с окнами (with windows)
- край > с краями (with the borders)
- Башня > перед башнями (in front of the towers)
- Лошадь > с лошадями (with horses)
Showing Company And Instrument
As I said before, the two most common ways that you’ll see the Russian instrumental case used is to express company and instrument. Or in other words, with what or by what means or with who.
I’ll start with the idea of company. Almost always this will include the preposition с and can be translated into English as “with”. Notice that this includes the company of people as well as things.
- Кофе с молоком (Coffee with milk)
- Мужчина с шикарной бородой (The man with the cool beard)
- Комната с видом на море (A room with a view to the sea)
- Втсреча с Витром (A meeting with Victor)
The other most common use of the instrumental case is to show by what means, or by what instrument. While we have to use a preposition in English “cut with a knife” or “write with a pencil”, these same expressions in Russian don’t use any prepositions.
- Писал письмо карандашом (I wrote the letter with a pencil)
- Он ест палтчками (He eats with chop-sticks)
- Анна резала хлеб ножом (Anna cut the bread with a knife)
So while both ideas of “with” use the instrumental case in English, they use prepositions differently. For company, we use с with the instrumental. To talk about tools and means of doing something the instrumental comes without any preposition.
Verbs That Take The Instrumental Case
Every language has its unique quirks and the Russian language has quite a few. One of these is a relatively short list of verbs that use the instrumental case.
You might be able to predict some of these verbs as they use the word “with” in English. Others you’ll simply have to learn by heart.
- заниматься (to be engaged with something/to study)
- Интересоваться (to be interested in something)
- Гордиться (to be proud of)
- Пользоваться (to use)
- Болеть (to be sick with something)
- Командовать (to command)
- Управлять (to control)
- Руководить (to manage/to lead)
Here's how you'd use these verbs in a sentence:
- Мой друг всегда занимается спортом (My friend is always doing sports)
- Ваня интересуется философией (Vanya is interested in philosophy)
- Мама гордится сыном (Mum is proud of her son)
- Генерал командует войсками (The general commands the soldier)
Verbs Showing State With The Instrumental Case
This next use of the instrumental case is a bit more tricky to understand, but it works a lot like the verbs from before. There are a handful of verbs that show the state of something. And these use the instrumental case to show equivalence or what a person is. This includes the verb быть (to be) in both the past and future tense.
- Оля работает врачом (Olya works as a doctor)
- Он является лидером партии (He is the leader of the party)
- Когда я был студентом (When I was a student)
- Катя будет журналистом (Katya will be a journalist)
- Виктор мечтает стать футболистом (Viktor dreams of becoming a football player)
The verb являеться is particularly interesting. While Russian doesn’t normally express the equivalents to “is/be/are” you can find this verb in legal and official documents, or situations where things must be unambiguous.
Prepositions That Signal The Russian Instrumental Case
So far we’ve only really gone over the instrumental case with the preposition с. However, several other prepositions require the use of the instrumental case.
In the list and the examples below, you can see that these show something’s position. What’s important to know is that this refers to a stable position.
As I showed you in my explanation of the Russian accusative case, if something is moving to a new place, you should use the accusative case. If something’s position stays the same, though, we use the instrumental case.
Let’s look at some examples to show you what that looks like:
- Рядом (alongside, next to)
- Под (under)
- Между (between)
- Перед (In front of, before)
- За (Behind, after)
And here's how the look in sentences:
- под открытым небом (under the open sky)
- За этой керамической русалкой (behind this ceramic mermaid)
- Между обедом и ужином (between lunch and dinner)
- Давай встретимся перед башней (let’s meet in front of the tower)
Notice that with the preposition между (between) both words that follow it (обедом и ужином) take the instrumental case.
Making Use Of The Russian Instrumental Case
You’ve finally made it to the end! Thankfully, the uses of the Russian instrumental case are pretty succinct, so it’s a bit easier than some of the others.
Now that you’ve gotten to the end of this explanation though, you could have a pretty good idea of how the Russian instrumental case works and when you should use it.
- Company and tools (answering with what/ with who)
- Certain verbs
- Special verbs of state (including ‘was’ and ‘will be’)
- With prepositions that show steady location
While this article has given you some of the basics, the best way to really master the Russian instrumental case is with plenty of practice. My favourite way to do that is to immerse myself in Russian stories, so I can pick up grammar like the cases naturally.
As you keep at it, you’ll find yourself using the instrumental case with more ease.
Until next time. And as always Удача из удач! (Best of luck!)