I am somehow bemused by the sixteen cases of the Russian. On the other hand, I thought that there were only six kinds of declension. Perhaps these two facts are not contradictory, but the problem is that I am not aware of the difference between case and declension. During my only Russian course, I was given some declension tables with 6+6 endings: six endings for nominative, genitive, dative, acusative, instrumental and prepositional, plus six from their plurals.

Can some (hopefully all) of the 16 cases in the aforementioned question be grouped, as to obey one of the six common declensions? If so, which cases obey which declension rules? If not, I'm afraid that one has to learn a 16+16 table.

  • 2
    Declension is a variant of how a word changes in different cases. Word of each declension has endings corresponding to all cases. Declension is a property of the word while the case depends on context.
    – Anixx
    Nov 3, 2012 at 22:26

4 Answers 4


Case is a certain form of the word which is required by its grammatical role in a certain sentence.

For instance if you wanted to say "I gave money to …" (я дал денег …) you would have to put the subject into dative, because it is required by the grammatical construction of the sentence.

There are six traditionally recognized cases in Russian (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, prepositional) but some linguists describe up to 16 (as in the link you gave in your question). Not all words in Russian can form all of those, though.

Declension (in narrow meaning) is a certain paradigm which defines how exactly a word is put into a certain case.

There are three commonly recognized declensions in Russian, plus several special cases (indeclinable nouns; ten words enging in -мя; words мать, дочь; words небо, чудо; pronominal paradigms in words like швартов, кабельтов, ничья etc.)

So actually declensions and cases are rows and columns in a table which stores endings in its cells.

When you want to say "I gave money to dad" in Russian, you look up the word "dad" in the dictionary and find it to be папа (1st declension). As we said above this phrase requires the subject to be in dative.

Then you look up what's the sg. dative ending for 1st declension, find it to be -e and say: я дал денег папе.

  • Did you choose папа over отец because in your example you're talking about "your father"? I was wondering about the style choice. :)
    – Alenanno
    Nov 4, 2012 at 11:04
  • @Alenanno "папа" is a usual word for father especially when addressing a kid. "Отец" sounds official, it can be used in court documents and the like. Also it may imply negative feeling of the speaker to the father (for example, a mother in divorce can call her former husband "отец" when addressing children if she dislikes him). "Отец" may also be more appropriate when addressing an older, adult son, starting from age of about 25-30 or when addressed by plural "you".
    – Anixx
    Nov 4, 2012 at 13:00
  • In general I would say "папа" means somebody who conducts day-to-day parental duties, suprvision and care while "отец" just means biological relationship. On the other hand, the son himself will never use "отец" when addressing his father, here "папа" is reserved for all cases.
    – Anixx
    Nov 4, 2012 at 13:07
  • @Anixx I see, thanks for the explanation. So you'd never say "мой отец" unless you felt something negative? And if I used it, would you think I necessarily feel something negative?
    – Alenanno
    Nov 4, 2012 at 13:25
  • 2
    @Alenanno: отец is formal (father), папа is informal (dad), pretty much as in English.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 4, 2012 at 13:27

Every element in a sentence occupies a role. Some languages signal that role with prepositions (Italian, Spanish), others with particles (Japanese) and others with cases (Russian for example). There might be other ways but let's stop here for the purpose of the question. In the sentence:

I write a letter with my pen.

There are 3 elements, other than the verb. The subject (I), the object (a letter) and another element (with my pen). This last one changes according to the language, even its name. In Russian it would be the instrumental (you use a tool to perform the action).

So these 3 elements are covered by cases. The subject is usually the nominative case, the object is the accusative, and the last one, as I said above, is the instrumental. It says it itself: cases denote... cases. How does a certain noun change in a certain case?

Declension is a somewhat ambiguous term. It can indicate any variation of nouns in terms of gender, number, case. But in your case (no pun intended) a declension is the noun going through the cases, as in "how would noun X change in all the cases?". For example, the declension for the pronoun Я (I) would be:

  • Nominative: я
  • Genitive: меня
  • Dative: мне
  • Accusative: меня
  • Instrumental: мной, мною
  • Prepositional: обо мне

This is what is intended for declension. It's the same that happens to verbs (1st person, 2nd person and so on), but in that case, we talk about conjugation.

  • Declension does not indicate variation by gender, only by case and number. Nouns of different genders usually belong to different declensions.
    – Anixx
    Nov 3, 2012 at 22:45
  • 1
    @Anixx: he is speaking about linguistic concept of declension in general. Russian nouns do not change gender paradigmatically but adjectives do, and there are adjectival declension paradigms in Russian as well (hard, soft and mixed) which include gender change. Compare: твёрдый / твёрдое but куцый / куцее.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 3, 2012 at 23:08
  • Exactly. I was speaking of declension in a broad sense.
    – Alenanno
    Nov 3, 2012 at 23:40

The most useful approach (IMHO) is to learn cases as 6 basic ones which then can be modified for some specific circumstances - this is exactly how it's studied in middle school. They are 6 cases usually known (Nom., Gen., Dat., Acc., Instr., Loc./Prep.). The extended list up to ~16 cases is used only for some specific roles and not for all words. For example, Numerative-singular (Numerative-II in Anixx's scheme, Numerative-I in cited by me) has specific forms only for 4 words (шаг, ряд, час according to official regulations, and раз for usual oral tradition). Also, differences between Prepositional and Locative (в ле́се vs. в лесу́) are also known for a few words. Yep, if you instrument a machine learning/translation system, you shall differ all 16 (or more) cases but they still will mostly refer more common variants.

In that variant, you will have rather simple basic structure of 3-4-6 declensions (based on adopted grammar style) and 6 cases which aren't hard to learn, and then add exceptions to the scheme.


Declension is a variant of how a word changes in different cases. Word of each declension has endings corresponding to all cases. Declension is a property of the word while the case depends on context.

You have to learn a table of size (number_of_declensions)x(number_of_cases)x(number_of_grammatical_numbers)=3x16x2=96 endings (although many of them may match)

The number of main declensions is 3 but there are words that do not belong to any of them and form their own declensions of a few words. You have to learn them all. But this is much easier than to learn irregular verbs in English whose list includes hundreds of words.

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