When you're learning Russian, the Russian prepositional case, and the case system in general, can seem a bit intimidating.
But I want to dispel the myth Russian grammar is some great hurdle to overcome. So in this article, I’ll explain in simple terms everything you need to know about the Russian prepositional case and how to use it.
You’ll get a full breakdown of the prepositional case, just like you can find for the dative and accusative case. I’ll not only explain the case system a bit, but also make sure you understand the fundamentals of the prepositional case.
By the end of this article you'll know:
- What the prepositional case is used for in Russian
- When to expect the prepositional case
- How to identify the prepositional case
- How to make the Russian prepositional case for all genders
So let's get started with mastering the Russian prepositional case!
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When Do You Use The Russian Prepositional Case?
In English there are a lot of kinds of sentences. Some are straightforward and only involve a subject, a verb and an object. Take the example below for instance.
- John reads a book (Subject-Verb-Object)
Whereas other times we have something more complicated with prepositions as you can see in the following example:
- John reads a book in the kitchen (Subject-Verb-Preposition-Compliment)
In the example above, we know that “the kitchen” is the location because it comes after the preposition “in”. So far, so good. We know what John does and where. But what about this?
- *John reads a book about she
We know immediately that this sentence is wrong, but why? The answer is case. After a preposition, the word “she”, must be “her”.
- John reads a book about her.
You can see almost the exact same rule happening in Russian. But the big difference is that it happens with every word. And while that seems like a lot, the rules are very consistent. So don’t worry!
So What Does The Russian Prepositional Case Do Exactly?
In Russian, most noun cases have specific functions. For example, the accusative case indicates the direct object while, on the other hand, the genitive case shows possession.
While the prepositional case in Russian is a bit more vague, overall, you can use it to answer the following questions:
- О ком (about who?)
- О чём (about what?)
- При ком (in whose presence?)
- Где (where?)
- В/на чём (in/on what?)
Although that might seem a bit vague for now, it will make more sense as you go though this post. As the name hints, the prepositional case always comes after a preposition. So if there’s no preposition, then you won’t have the prepositional case.
This is great for you, because it means you have a clear idea for when to expect it. Even better, there are only five prepositions in Russian that use the prepositional case. So if you learn these five words, you can know exactly when to expect the prepositional case.
Discover these words below:
- В/во (in)
- На (on)
- О/об (about)
- При (in the presence of, at, while)
- По (on)
How To Spot And Form The Prepositional Case
Now that you know when to expect the prepositional case, it’s time to know what it looks like. Again, this is a great case for Russian beginners since the prepositional case really only has two endings. These are -е and -и.
The Prepositional Case With -Е
Firstly, the majority of the prepositional case is simple to form because all you need is the vowel -e.
Here are the rules to follow:
- For masculine words that end in a consonant you simply add -е.
- Do nothing to neuter words that end in -е.
- Replace the last letter with -е for:
- masculine words that end in anything other than a consonant
- neuter words ending in -о
- all feminine words that don’t end in -ия or ь.
Masculine Nouns Ending with a Consonant
- друг > о друге (about the friend)
- Свет > при свете (in the light)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -е
- Море > в море (in the sea)
Masculine Nouns Ending with -й
- Сарай > в сарае (in the shed)
Neuter Nouns Ending in -o
- Небо > в небе (in the sky)
- Окно > в окне (in the window)
Feminine Nouns Ending in -a
- Сестра > о сестре (about the sister)
- Наташа > о Наташе (about Natasha)
The Prepositional Case With -И
Secondly, there are three situations where you’ll find the prepositional case with ending -и. And for all of them you do the same thing:
Replace the final letter with -и for:
- Feminine nouns that end in -ия
- Feminine nouns that end in -ь
- Neuter nouns that end in in -ие
Feminine Nouns Ending with -ия
- Россия > в России (in Russia)
- биология > о биологии (about biology)
Feminine Nouns Ending with -ь
- Сложность > о сложности (about the complexity)
- Лошадь > на лошади (on a horse)
Neuter Nouns Ending with -ие
- Движение > в движении (in movement/in motion)
- Закрытие > о закрытии (about the closing)
In addition, you should know that nouns that end in -я but not -ия don’t use the same ending. These use the -e ending from before.
- Башня > о башне (about the tower)
- Дядя > о даде (about the uncle)
The Prepositional Case For Plural Nouns
Finally, for all plural nouns, you only need to worry about two endings. These are -ах and -ях.
In addition, the rules for those endings closely match those for the instrumental case.
#1 For nouns ending in a consonant, -а and -о, we use the ending -ах.
- друг > о другах (about friends)
- свечка > при свечах (by candles)
- ведро > в ведрах (in the buckets)
#2 For all other nouns, you’ll use the ending -ях.
- край > на краях (on the borders)
- Море > в морях (in the seas)
- Лошадь > на лошадях (on horses)
Expressing Location With The Prepositional Case
By far the most common use of the prepositional case in Russian is to show the location of something. You usually do this with the prepositions в and на. Roughly speaking, these mean “in” and “on” but there are a few exceptions.
And in some cases, it makes more sense to say “at”. Just like how you can be “on an island” or “in a country” you’ll have to learn some of these as you go.
- Мужчина живёт в Москве (The man lives in Moscow)
- Анна учится в университете (Anna studies at the university)
- Кошка спит на диване (The cat sleeps on the couch)
- Виктор был в комнате (Victor was in the room)
- Я работаю на заводе (I work at the factory)
The Challenging Preposition ПРИ
Of all the prepositions in Russian, the hardest one to translate in probably при. If you look it up in a dictionary, you’ll see a few definitions. These include “by”, “with”, and “in the presence of”.
So it’s a slippery word to say the least. But there is good news! The word при always comes with the prepositional case.
So let’s look at some examples:
- гулять при луне (to walk in the moonlight/under the moon)
- ужин при свечах (dinner by candlelight)
- при вокзале есть ресторан (at the station, there’s a restaurant)
- при Петре I мода изменилась (under Peter the Great, fashion changed)
Unlike the words на and в, this one requires more practice to understand when and why you use it in different situations.
Other Uses Of The Russian Prepositional Case
In addition, the Russian prepositional has some other miscellaneous uses that are worth going over. These include means of transport, languages, and clothing. So let's take a look at each one in turn in the next section.
Firstly, the Russian verb of motion ехать (to go/to travel) uses the prepositional case to describe the manner of transport. It’s worth noting that this almost always uses the word на.
- ехать на автобусе (to go by bus (on a bus))
- ехать на поезде (to go by train (on a train))
- ехать на машине (to go by car (in a car))
- ехать на лошади (to go by horse (on a horse))
Languages In The Prepositional Case
Next, the prepositional на is also used in Russian when talking about what language something is in.
- Книга на польском языке (A book in Polish (in the Polish language))
- Писать на китайском языке (To write in Chinese)
Talking about Time With The Prepositional Case
Finally, the last use of the prepositional case should be familiar to English speakers. Just like we say things like “in March” or “in the 12th century” so does Russian.
So if you see a definite time frame, you can expect the preposition case to follow. As a result, you can answer the questions:
- В каком месяце? (In which month?)
- В какой веке (In which century?)
- На какой неделе (In which week?)
Next let's take a look at how that actually works in real life in some examples:
- Мой день рождения в мае (My birthday is in May.)
- Вечеринка в этом месяце (The part is this month (in this month))
- Наша встреча на этой неделе (Our meeting is this week (in this week))
By the way, it’s good to note that the word неделя (week) uses the preposition на instead of в.
Russian Verbs That Often Use The Prepositional Case
In addition to the miscellaneous uses above, some verbs regularly use the prepositional case. And many of them use the preposition о, which roughly translates to “about”.
For a native English speaker, a lot of these will be easy to understand since many of the same verbs in English use the word “about” as well.
- Думать о (to think about)
- Говорить о (to talk about)
- Мечтать о (to dream about)
- Беспокоится о (to worry about)
- Находиться на/в (to be located on/in)
Next, take a look at how these verbs look in action:
- Мой друг часто говорит о работе (My friend often talks about work)
- Ваня мечтает о любви (Vanya dreams about love)
- Мама беспокоится о сыне (The mom worries about her son)
Finally, you may have noticed that some prepositions have more than one form.
This is done in order to avoid awkward clusters of consonants or putting certain vowels next to each other. You’ll see this very often with the prepositions в/во as well as о/об/обо.
Check out the examples below to get a feel for how this works:
- Находиться в Москве (To be in Moscow)
- Находиться во Владивостоке (To be in Vladivostok)
And here are some more with о/об/обо:
- Статья о биологии (An article about biology)
- статья об этикете (An article about etiquette)
- статья об азбуке (An article about the alphabet)
- Статья обо всех (An article about everyone)
Mastering The Russian Prepositional Case
While it may seem tricky at first glance, after a bit of practice the Russian prepositional case isn’t so bad. So ignore the grammar villain. Just remember that it only comes with prepositions and the rest will come with practice.
By this point you should have a good idea about how the prepositional case operates, when to expect it, and how to form it.
But here’s a quick review anyway:
- After the prepositions в, на, о, по, and, при
- Showing location
- With certain verbs (especially with о)
- To discuss languages
- To discuss finite timeframes
But of course, this is just the start of learning the Russian prepositional case. In order to truly master it, you’ll need lots of practice and patience. And a fun and effective method, like StoryLearning®, where you learn Russian through stories not rules.
By immersing yourself in Russian stories, after a while, you’ll be using the prepositional case in Russian without missing a beat.
Until next time. And as always Удача из удач! (Best of luck!)