Prepositions are meant to connect words in a sentence and, in the case with Russian, cause a headache for its learners. The point is that, unlike English prepositions, Russian ones have to do with six grammar cases.
Don’t worry though, this guide will help you sort them all out, and you’ll see that Russian cases and their prepositions aren’t as difficult as they are believed to be.
Since mastering Russian prepositions is impossible without understanding the case system, we’ll start from the latter.
What are cases in Russian?
Cases are overwhelming to people who don’t have them in their native language. In simple words, cases are different forms of a word depending on their function in a sentence.
A simple example.
In English, we would say:
I am going to spend holidays in Russia. I chose Russia because I’ve got friends there. Russia is a big country with a unique culture.
We used the noun “Russia” three times (every time in a different context), and the word form remained the same. Now compare it with the Russian translation:
Я собираюсь провести каникулы в России. Я выбрал Россию, потому что у меня там друзья. Россия – большая страна с уникальной культурой.
The noun Россия changes its ending depending on the context and its role in the sentence. What you see is called declension, and it refers not only to Russian nouns, but also to adjectives, pronouns, participles, and numerals.
“What? Are you kidding guys? You mean 6 cases multiplied by three genders and by two numbers (OMG, they have both plural and singular as well), which means I have 36 options of how to say it in my head before I choose the only option that is correct?”
While you grumble that it’s not fair (and who in the world needs those cases anyway?), let me comfort you by saying that Russian pupils struggle with cases just like you do.
So don’t worry. Practice makes perfect.
As for your rhetorical question why those cases exist on Earth, well, they make the Russian language the Russian language…
(btw, another great case example:
…они делают русский язык русским языком… Noticed the declension?)
What I mean is that cases make Russian very flexible. Since every word in the sentence has its pre-defined role, the word order can be rearranged to create new emphases within a sentence.
This feature sets Russian apart from other languages without developed case systems that have a strict word order instead (English, for example).
What are cases? (attempt #2, now seriously and to the point)
The case is a grammatical attribute of Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numerals, and participles that defines their function within a sentence.
Russian has six cases, each answering specific questions:
Whose? Of what?
To whom? To what?
With/by who? With/by what?
About who? About what?
To find out the case of, say, a noun, we need to find the word this noun depends on and ask a question to this noun.
Nominative never depends on other words. It acts as a subject in a sentence. Nouns of other 5 (objective) cases act as secondary parts of the sentence.
And now (now that you understand what the cases are) we come close to prepositions.
We needed that quite detailed introduction because Russian prepositions don’t exist on their own. They are followed by phrases and they put these phrases into one of six cases.
Not all cases require prepositions, but some just can’t live without them. You’ll see it as we will break them down case by case.
Nominative and its prepositions
Surprise! And good news… Nominative, which is the basic form of a word you find in your dictionary, doesn’t have prepositions. (If you ever encounter contrary information, don’t believe it because it was disputed by linguists.)
Анна любить путешествовать. Anna loves traveling.
Мой отец работает поваром в ресторане. My father works as a chef in a restaurant.Анна and отец are used in the nominative case. They act as subjects and don’t require a preposition. There’s nothing to add here.
Genitive and its prepositions
The genitive case answers questions “Whose?” and “Of what?” and indicate relationship (origin) or possession. The genitive case in Russian has the largest staff of prepositions serving it. The best way to learn them is to sort them out into three core categories:
Here we go.
1. Без (without):
Он пьет чай без сахара. He drinks tea without sugar.
2. Против (against):
Мы против коррупции в образовании. We are against corruption in education.
3. Напротив (opposite, in front of):
Моя школа находится напротив моего дома. My school is located in front of my house.
4. Кроме (except or but):
Здесь нет никого кроме меня и тебя. There’s nobody here except me and you.
5. Вместо (in place of, instead of):
В этот салат можно положить петрушку вместо базилика. In this salad, you can put parsley instead of basil.
This tiny preposition has a range of meanings in the genitive case.
2. Вдоль (down, along, alongside):
Вдоль моей улицы растут яблони. Apple trees are planted along my street.
3. Возле (near, next to):
Сергей живет возле театра. Sergey lives near a theatre.
4. Мимо (past, by). Often used with verb prefix про-:
Каждое утро по дороге на работу я прохожу мимо пекарни. Every morning on my way to work I walk by a bakery shop.
5. Около (near, around, about) meaning both closeness and approximateness:
Иван будет ждать нас около главного входа. Ivan will be waiting for us near the front entrance.
В пакете было около двух килограммов яблок. There were about two kilos of apples in a bag.
Мы вернулись домой около шести часов вечера. We came back home at around six p.m.
6. Вокруг (around):
Вокруг озера было много рыбаков и отдыхающих. Around the lake, there were lots of fishermen and campers.
7. (По)среди (in the middle, among):
Посреди кухни стоит большой обеденный стол. There is a big dining table in the middle of the kitchen.
Среди моих друзей нет ни одного юриста. Among my friends, there isn’t a single lawyer.
Origin/source/direction of movement
Prepositions help make Russian more concrete. For example, Russian has four unique prepositions that all have only one equivalent in English – from.
1. С(о) meaning “(down) from”:
Яблоко упало с яблуни. An apple fell down from an apple tree.
Я познакомлю тебя с девчонкой со второго класса. I’ll introduce you to a girl from the second grade.
2. От(о) meaning “(away) from”:
Пожалуйста, отойди от окна. Please come away from the window.
Я узнал об этом от Кати. I got it from Katya.
3. Из-за meaning “from behind”, “because of”:
Заяц прыгнул из-за куста. A hare jumped from behind the bush.
4. Из-под meaning "from under” or an object that was originally used for storing something:
Из-под дивана вылез кот. A cat came out from under the couch.
Выкинь эту банку из-под кофе. Throw away this empty coffee can.
And two more prepositions in this category:
5. Из(о) meaning “(out) of”:
Макс вышел из магазина. Max went out of the shop.
Этот стол сделан из дерева. This table is made out of wood.
6. После meaning "after”:
После обеда мы пойдем гулять. After dinner, we will go for a walk.
Phew! Overwhelmed? Just hold on, we are almost done. Some prepositions don’t fit any of the three above-mentioned groups. So let’s call them just
1. Для (for):
Мне нужно купить для мамы подарок. I need to buy a present for my mother.
2. Ради (for):
Она пойдет на все ради своего ребенка. She would do anything for her child.
3. Вне (outside):
Мой друг и я часто видимся вне школы. My friend and I often spend time outside school.
4. Внутри (inside):
Внутри дома было тепло и уютно. It was warm and cozy inside the house.
5. До (before, until, up to):
До обеда еще далеко. It’s plenty of time until lunch.
Мне нужно успеть забежать к другу до школы. I need to drop by my friend’s house before school.
6. Накануне (on the eve of, around):
У меня всегда много дел накануне праздников. I always got a lot to do around the holidays.
In this article, we have covered prepositions for nominative and genitive cases. The first case is the easiest, and the second one is the most difficult. Was it hard for you?
Well, we agree, that was a challenge! Let us know in the comments what prepositions are the most troublesome to you.
You know what? Take your time with the genitive. And with every next case too. Experts recommend learning Russian cases and their prepositions one case at a time to give your mind enough time to get used to them.
We are going to look at four more cases (dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional) in the next article. Please join us on this grammar journey!