Learn the 6 Russian Cases Fast with this Proven System

By Ari Helderman
April 29, 2022

Here’s the brutal truth about Russian cases:

There are WAY too many people thinking today that Russian cases are “incredibly difficult” to master.

They say “I can never figure out Russian cases, they’re just too confusing”.

But I disagree…

If you’re serious about learning the Russian language, you just need to be very systematic with how you learn and approach Russian grammar – and especially the Russian case system.

Otherwise, you’re taking the “cooked spaghetti approach” to learning Russian: throwing a bunch of tactics and courses against the wall and hoping something sticks.

Well, today we’re going to discuss cases and show you approaches that almost guarantee you’ll find Russian cases easy and simple to master.

Keep reading to learn how…

Quick overview of all the Russian cases

Russian cases aren’t something you’ll figure out in 1 day. They’re the most difficult part of learning Russian grammar.

The process can take a while.

Still, one of the best ways to learn them is to get a quick overview in the beginning. Then focus on 1 case at a time.

There are 6 cases in Russian:

  • Nominative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Accusative
  • Instrumental
  • Prepositional

Here’s an overview of what each of these cases means for the word order:

Nominative case: if you ask ‘who’ or ‘what’ is doing something in a sentence, you’ll find the nominative. It’s the initial form of each noun, and dictionaries/apps show this form.

мужчина смотрит – the man watches

мужчина -> мужчина (no change)

Accusative case: the object of an action is in this case.

я читаю книгу – I read a book

книга -> книгу (а becomes у)

Genitive case: this case shows that something or somebody belongs to something/somebody. It can be translated as ‘of’ in English.

лист дерева – the leaf of the tree

дерево -> дерева (the о becomes an а)

Dative case: this case shows that something is given or addressed to an object or person.

я иду к стоматологу – I go to the dentist

стоматолог -> стоматологу (the у is added)

Instrumental case: this case shows an object that is used as an instrument.

я ем ложкой – I eat with a spoon

ложка -> ложкой (а becomes ой)

Prepositional case: used when something is happening in a place, or goes about something. This case is always used with a preposition.

я живу в городе – I live in a city

город -> городе (the е is added)

***

As you saw, each case has its own function in the word order of a sentence. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to easily see what the function of a word is in a sentence, and understand the corresponding case.

Also, there are a wide variety of prepositions and verbs that demand a certain case. When learning these prepositions and verbs, it’s always a good idea to remember the correct case.

Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the Russian cases:

In-depth overview

Below you find all the declensions for each case. Also, I’ve added how different adjectives and pronouns look in different cases, as you likely need those as well.

This is best used as a reference, so don’t feel obliged to remember each of them at this very moment. 

It takes a while to learn all the Russian cases correctly, and you need to reinforce your knowledge of Russian grammar knowledge by speaking the language.

Before diving into cases, it’s good to have a basic overview of when a noun is masculine, feminine, or neuter. 

Learn here how to determine the noun of words.

A quick recap:

  • Masculine nouns ending in a consonant (б, в, г, д, ж, з, й, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ) or й.
  • Feminine nouns ending in а or я.
  • Neuter nouns ending in о or е.

Be sure to look up each word in the dictionary form (nominative).

There are a few exceptions as well. You need to learn those. They’re not a lot, and often they’re obvious. 

For example, мужчина (man) ends in а, so you expect the word to be feminine. However, it’s easy to understand that a man is masculine. 

When figuring out the right case, the word behaves as if it’s feminine though. Its gender is mainly important when adding an adjective or conjugating a verb in the past tense.

Let’s start with the nominative case…

Watch this video where I tell you in Russian (with English subtitles) 9 reasons why Russian is actually easy to learn.

Nominative case in Russian

The nominative case is used for the subject of the sentence. That means the person or object that is doing something. 

It’s the easiest part of Russian grammar.

Some easy ways to find the nominative:

  • who/what is doing something in this sentence?
  • which noun is being used to conjugate the verb?

The verb in a sentence is always conjugated with a nominative noun.

In the previous sentence, ‘the verb’ is in the nominative .

Also, if you say “I am a doctor”, both ‘I’ and ‘doctor’ should be in the nominative .

я врач – I am a doctor

Here is when you should use the nominative case:

  • for the main subject
  • default case to use outside sentences (dictionary entries, signs, etc.)
  • when saying an object/person is something.

The nominative case is the easiest case in the Russian language, as you do not need to change any ending. Just say the word how you learned it, and that’s enough.

That’s why the first case for virtually every student is the nominative. 

Though many people don’t even know it’s a case when they first meet it.

Here are some examples of the nominative:

  • студент читает – the student reads
  • я говорю – I speak
  • полицейский кричит – the policeman screams
  • кот мяукает – the cat meows
  • ветер дует – the wind blows

Nouns in the Russian nominative case

Here you can see 10 words in the nominative. Going through this list is a good exercise for forming plurals.

We won’t completely go over how to form plurals. Though here are the quick general rules how to form plurals:

For the nominative, you make a plural by using the letters “и“, “ы“, “я” or “а“.

You add an ы to masculine nouns.

For feminine nouns, you replace the я with и, and the а with ы (unless еру previous consonant is Г, К, Х, Ж, Ч, Ш, Щ then replace with и)

Neuter nouns ending in о change to а and е to я.

As you can see, with some words, the unstressed syllable before the final syllable gets cut. This may seem difficult, but if you pronounce the word relatively fast a couple of times, you find that that syllable would get dropped because of the pronunciation.

Pronouns in the Russian nominative case

The following pronouns are in the nominative . The possessive pronouns are words like ‘My / your / our’ etc. Just the Russian language equivalent. They behave like adjectives, so мой can only be used before a masculine word.

For example, мой дом (my house) is correct, so моя дом is INCORRECT. As the adjective does not match the word’s gender.

The middle columns are the possessive singular pronouns.

Adjectives in the Russian nominative case

Adjectives in the nominative are easy. They’re regular. The only thing to watch out for is if the nominative masculine form ends in ий, all the endings are made softer.

In practice, this means that for these ‘soft’ verbs, the first letter after the stem becomes softer. Compare the first 2 adjectives with the 3 adjectives to see what I mean:

Example phrases with the nominative case

Here are some example phrases that use the nominative. See if you understand why a specific sentence works the way it works.

  • Мальчик читает – The boy reads
  • Мое имя Ари – My name is Arie
  • Ветер дует – The wind blows
  • Женщина красивая – The woman is beautiful
  • Умный человек думает The smart person thinks

Genitive case in Russian

The genitive is often the first of the tough Russian cases for English speakers (genitive + dative + instrumental). It’s easy to understand when you use these case, but it gets complicated because of the many different endings.

The plural endings change differently for female and male Russian nouns. Plus depending on the consonant before the ending, can also make a difference.

In a nutshell: the genitive case is used to indicate possession.

You can compare it to the ‘s in English: 

Tom’s soccer ball.

Guys’ night out.

If a word is in the genitive case, you can often translate it as ‘of + noun’.

For example:

книга автора – the book of the author.

Author is автор. It’s a masculine noun, so it gets an ‘а’ added to its ending.

Let’s take a look at all the ending changes in the genitive below

(the genitive has quite some exceptions, so be sure to look up the full declension tables below)

  • If a noun ends in a consonant (masculine nouns ending in: б, в, г, д, ж, з, й, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ or й), it gets an а.
  • If a noun is feminine (а or я), that letter changes to и or ы.
  • Neuter nouns ending in е or о, get an а.
  • Masculine plural nouns get ов or ев to their ending. 
  • Feminine plural nouns remove their а or change the я to й.
  • Neuter plural nouns remove their о or е.

Now, as I said before, there are quite some exceptions to this rule, so be sure to check the complete declensions tables below. There you’ll find the complete information.

This is quite some information to take in, so let’s check out some examples:

  • машина девушки – the girl’s car
  • президент россии – the president of Russia
  • окно дома – the house’s window

The genitive is also used for numbers. So after the numbers 2-4 you use the genitive singular. And after the number 5, you use the genitive plural version.

  • два дома – two houses
  • пять домов – five houses
  • три женщины – three women
  • три солнца – three suns
  • семь женщин – seven women
  • восемь солнц – 8 suns

Many verbs also require the corresponding noun to be in the genitive case. Virtually always when you see this word in a dictionary/list of words, it’s indicated that you should use the genitive after.

Here are all the instances when to use the genitive case:

  • possession
  • numerals and quantifiers
  • negated verbs (which take direct objects in Accusative) to indicate total absence
  • some time expressions
  • prepositions: без ‘without’, вместо ‘instead’, возле ‘near’, вокруг ‘around’, впереди ‘ahead of’, для ‘for’, до ‘before’, из ‘from’, из-за ‘from behind’, от ‘from’, кроме ‘except for’, мимо ‘past by’, около ‘near’, после ‘after’, против ‘against’, среди ‘among’, у ‘by’, близ ‘near’, вдоль ‘along’, вне ‘outside’, внутри ‘inside’;
  • verbs: бояться ‘afraid of’, достигать ‘reach’, избегать ‘avoid’
  • adjectives: полный ‘full of’ (genitive noun)

Nouns in the Russian genitive case

Pronouns in the Russian genitive case

Adjectives in the Russian genitive case

Example phrases with the genitive case

Take a good look at each example grammar sentence below, and find the correct Russian cases:

  • Я сейчас у стоматолога – I’m at the dentist’s right now
  • дом фермера был разрушен – the house of the farmer got destroyed
  • дочь моего друга уже ходит в школу – my friend’s daughter already goes to school
  • Я желаю вам счастья! – I wish you happiness!
  • Он вполне заслуживает повышения – He fully deserves a promotion

Accusative case in Russian

The accusative is often the second case for most people. That’s because it’s one of the easier cases to learn (together with the prepositional).

A noun is in the accusative when something happens to it.

For example, я читаю газету – I read the newspaper.

Газета is usually written with an ‘а’ at the end. And that’s also how you find it in the dictionary.

Do you remember what gender and what case it is written in?

If you said it’s a nominative feminine noun, you’re correct.

the accusative is mainly important for the feminine nouns.

That is because it does NOT change for masculine or neuter nouns.

Great, right?

So if the word for tree is дерево, and you want to say “I see the tree”, you’d say:

я вижу дерево – I see the tree.

дерево (tree) stays completely the same as in the nominative.

Here are the main rules for the accusative case:

  • If a word ends in а or я, the ending becomes у or ю respectively.
  • If a noun is non-animate (meaning it’s not alive), it doesn’t change in the neuter or masculine forms.
  • If a noun is animate (meaning it’s alive), it works like the genitive case. 

This may be a little confusing, so let me explain.

With animate nouns, we basically mean people and animals.

Let’s take the noun персик (peach):

я ем персик – I eat a peach.

See, it doesn’t change from the nominative.

But now let’s switch it up…

My cat’s name is персик as well. 

(He’s red and fluffy, so a great name,, right? :))

Now I’m not going to eat him, so let’s say I hug him:

я обнимаю персика – I hug Peach

just like we spoke about in the genitive part, we now add an ‘а’, since Peach is in the accusative and it’s animate.

So when else should I use the accusative?

  • for direct objects
  • several specific time expressions
  • prepositions indicating motion: в ‘in(wards)’, на ‘on (top of)’, за ‘behind’, под ‘under’
  • other prepositions such as про ‘about’, через ‘over’, сквозь ‘through’

Curious how those work out in spoken Russian language? Let’s look at some examples:

  • собака кусает кошку – the dog bites the cat
  • Увидимся через неделю – let’s see each other in a week
  • мы едем в германию – we’re traveling to Germany
  • мужчина любит женщину – the man loves the woman
  • Я вижу влада – I see Vlad
  • я ем завтрак – I eat breakfast

As you can see, in the first examples, each word ends in у or ю. So can you guess the nominative forms of those words?

They are: кошка – неделя – германия – женщина.

And for the one-to-last? 

влад. As it’s a guy’s name. So it’s an animate noun, which means that you need to add the ‘а’.

And the last one?

That one doesn’t change. As breakfast (завтрак) is an inanimate noun.

Nouns in the Russian accusative case

As you can see, only feminine nouns or animate nouns change.

Pronouns in the Russian accusative case

Since pronouns are always describing animate nouns in the Russian language, the accusative pronouns are the same as the genitive pronouns.

With possessive pronouns, however, it depends on whether the noun is animate or not.

Adjectives in the Russian accusative case

Example phrases with the accusative case

Take a good look at each Russian grammar example sentence below, and identify the correct forms of the Russian cases:

  • Я вижу врача – I see the doctor
  • Давай встретимся через неделю – Let’s meet in a week
  • Студент читает интересную книгу – The student reads a book
  • Хватит меня бить! – Stop hitting me!
  • Я иду на станцию ​​метро – I’m going to the metro station

Dative case in Russian

The dative is one of the easier cases of the difficult cases (genitive, dative, and instrumental). 

In a nutshell, it means “to + noun”. As in giving something to a person or object. 

I give a present to a friend – Я даю подарок другу.

друг is the nominative version of ‘friend’, and since it’s masculine it gets an у to its ending.

The dative is also used with many verbs.

The most common one here is to like:  мне нравиться.

Literally, it’s: to me appeals

Instead of I being the subject, like in English, I is in the dative (мне – to me).

So if you want to say I like Moscow, you’d say: Moscow appeals to me.

мне нравится москва –  I like Moscow.

It’s the same as in Spanish: me gusta.

Some other rules when you should use the dative are when:

  • indirect object – ‘to’ 
  • some time expressions
  • impersonal sayings: мне холодно – ‘I am cold’, lit. “to me (is) cold”
  • age: мне двадцать лет – ‘I am 20 (years old)’, lit. ‘to_me (is) 20 years’
  • prepositions: по ‘on’, к ‘to(wards)’, благодаря ‘thanks to’
  • auxiliaries: нужно or надо ‘need/must (to)’, можно ‘allowed’, нельзя ‘forbidden’
  • verbs: верить ‘believe’, помочь ‘help’, советовать ‘advise’, звонить ‘call’, удивить(ся) ‘amaze (self)’

The dative has relatively easy endings compared to the genitive. Here’s how the general rules work:

  • Masculine nouns get an у added
  • Feminine endings change from а or я to е or и
  • Neuter nouns ending in е or о, change this letter to у 
  • Masculine plural nouns get ам added
  • Feminine plural nouns add an м to their ending.
  • Neuter nouns switch the е or о for ам.

Again, check the full declensions tables below for a complete overview.

Nouns in the Russian dative case

The dative is very regular. Only for feminine nouns ending in ия, does the ending differ a little from the rule.

Pronouns in the Russian dative case

Adjectives in the Russian dative case

Example phrases with the dative case

Take a good look at each example sentence below, and see if you can identify the correct Russian cases and their function in the word order.

  • Я иду к стоматологу – I’m going to the dentist
  • Дай мне кольцо – Give me the ring
  • Тебе нравится изучать русский язык? – Do you like learning the Russian language?
  • Полицейский вернул паспорт голландскому мужчине – The policeman gave the passport back to the Dutch man
  • Когда вы собираетесь дать отчет своему боссу? – When are you going to give the report to your boss?

Instrumental case in Russian

The instrumental is one of the weirdest cases in Russian. You use it when you do something with something.

The thing that is the instrument in the case, gets put in the instrumental.

Sometimes Russian cases are obvious 🙂

In general, the instrumental case can be translated as “with/by + noun”

Я ем вилкой – I eat with a fork.

вилка changes to вилкой.

And this is the general rule for female nouns. а changes to ой.

The general rules for masculine/feminine/neuter are:

  • Masculine nouns get a ом added
  • Feminine nouns endings in а or я switch to ой/ей or ией
  • Neuter nouns add an м
  • Masculine plural nouns get ами added
  • Feminine plural nouns add an ми to their einding.
  • Neuter nouns switch the е or о for ами.

Check the full declension tables for more information below!

This case is applied when:

  • instrument used in the action or means by which action is carried out – ‘by’ (I. noun)
  • logical subject of passive clause: письмо написано Иваном – ‘the letter was written by Ivan’
  • secondary direct object: его считают студентом – ‘he is considered (to be) a student’
  • durational time expressions
  • verbs: интересовать(ся) ‘interest (to be interested in)’, пользоваться ‘use’, занимать(ся) ‘occupy (to be preoccupied with)’
  • associates of connective verbs: быть ‘be’, стать ‘became’, остаться ‘remain’, казаться ‘appear to be’, оказаться ‘turn out to be’
  • prepositions of position: за ‘behind’, перед ‘in front of’, над ‘above’, под ‘below’, между ‘between’, (вместе) с ‘(together) with’
  • adjective: довольный ‘pleased by’

If this sounds difficult, don’t worry. It is difficult.

The main important things to know for this case are

  • prepositions
  • a couple of verbs

But if you’re just starting out, just knowing the instrumental comes after the prepositions с is good enough.

Nouns in the Russian instrumental case

Pronouns in the Russian instrumental case

Adjectives in the Russian instrumental case

Example phrases with the instrumental case

Take a good look at each example sentence below, and see if you can identify the correct forms of each of the cases in Russian:

  • мы с тобой едем на Ибицу – we and you are going to Ibiza
  • Я ем вилкой и ножом – I eat with a fork and knife
  • Красное вино хорошо сочетается с красным мясом – Red wine goes well with red meat
  • Самолет благополучно приземлился со всеми пассажирами на борту – The plane landed safely with alle passengers on board
  • Вы хотите пойти в ресторан со мной? – Do you want to go to the restaurant with me?

Prepositional case in Russian

The prepositional is the easiest of the Russian cases.

я в москве – I am in Moscow

It’s easy because it’s super obvious when to use it. And also how to use it.

You use the prepositional when there is the preposition в, на or о.

You form the it by adding е to the ending of the word. 

(or in the case of some feminine nouns a и)

Look:

  • Masculine nouns get a е
  • Feminine nouns ending in а or я, change into е or и 
  • Neuter nouns also change their ending into е
  • Masculine plural nouns get ах
  • Feminine nouns add an х
  • Neuter nouns switch their е or о for ах

Example:

Я живу в Голландии  – I live in Holland (Голландия)

Ты живешь в доме? – Do you live in a house? (дом)

So you always use this case, if an object is located in (в) or on (на) something. 

Also, if it’s about (о) something.

Я думаю о работе – I think about work.

This is usually one of the first cases in Russian that you’ll learn. And it doesn’t take much effort. Most people don’t even realize it’s a case, since it’s pretty obvious how to use it.

Nouns in the Russian prepositional case

Pronouns in the Russian prepositional case

Adjectives in the Russian prepositional case

Example phrases with the prepositional case

Take a good look at each example sentence below, and see if you can identify the correct Russian cases:

  • Я люблю ходить на вечеринки в синих брюках – I like to go to parties in blue trousers
  • Вы были в Красноярске? – Have you been in Krasnoyarsk?
  • Мы путешествовали на самолете – We traveled by plane
  • Я не учил русский в старшей школе – I did not learn Russian in high school
  • Им нравится жить в большом городе – They like living in a big city

What should you do next?

Learning Russian does NOT need to be difficult. All you need is a solid plan that helps you improve the following things daily:

  • vocabulary
  • grammar
  • listening skills
  • speaking skills

That's ALL you need. If you can do this for a couple of weeks, you’ll already be making great progress in your Russian skills.

And the best part? If you improve a little bit every day, soon these practices will become daily habits.

And then you will start making progress on autopilot.

This means that learning Russian is now a part of your daily routine. So you won’t even need discipline anymore to get yourself to practice.

If you like the idea of this, but don’t know where to start, go here for more information.

About the Author

My name is Ari Helderman and I help people learn Russian through videos and blog posts where I share my experience.   I have been learning Russian since 2016. I often get mistaken for a native speaker these days, so I've learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn't if you want to speak Russian well.

Ari Helderman

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