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What's the difference between свой (своя и т.д.) and мой (моя и т.д.) when Russian people speak they seem aware of the difference but still I can't wrap my head around it.

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  • What's the difference between my and own? – Anixx Nov 20 '15 at 19:15
  • @Anixx in English I can say "I'm in MY room" but can't say "I'm in OWN room" ... – Ziad Nov 20 '15 at 19:17
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In this meaning свой means "belonging to the last agent in the sentence".

Алиса отдала Бобу свои деньги // Alice gave Bob her own (Alice's) money

Боб отдал Алисе свои деньги // Bob gave Alice his own (Bob's) money

Алиса отдала Бобу его деньги // Alice gave Bob his (not necessarily Bob's) money

Алиса отдала Бобу её деньги // Alice gave Bob her (not necessarily Alice's) money

The last phrase is normally only used in Russian when "her" means "belonging to a third female person, neither the subject nor object of the sentence", that third person being obvious from the context.

For instance:

Ева дала Алисе пальто. Алиса отдала её пальто Бобу.

Ева дала Алисе пальто. Алиса отдала своё пальто Бобу.

The "last agent" thing might be a little bit confusing, as sometimes it's not clear what the agent is.

For instance:

Алиса дала Бобу своё пальто // Alice gave Bob her coat

Bob's definitely not the agent here, so своё unequivocally means "Alice's"

Алиса попросила Боба постирать своё пальто // Alice asked Bob to wash his coat.

Alice and Bob are both agents (Alice asks, Bob washes), but Bob goes last in the sentence.

Алиса попросила у Боба постирать своё пальто // Alice asked Bob for washing her (or his) coat

This is a bit confusing, as it's not clear who'll be doing the washing, so not clear whether Bob is an agent here or not. This sentence can be interpreted both ways.

Note that the "last agent" rule only works within a single sentence clause, it does not work across dependent clauses:

Алиса любит своих детей. // Alice loves her kids

*Алиса хочет, чтобы свои дети любили её // This is ungrammatical

Алиса хочет, чтобы её дети любили её // Alice wants her kids to love her.

You can't use свои in the second sentence, as on this dependency level there is no agent before свои.

5

Свой is a nice word which allows to enliven the speech avoiding those permanent occurences of pairs me / my (or you / your and so on).

As a rule of thumb, try not to use я/мой, ты/твой etc. both in the same sentence but replace "мой" (or "твой", "его" etc.) with "свой".

You may think that "I am in my room" looks OK, but Russian people hate sentences such as "Я в моей комнате". In Russian it sounds as if you state twice that it's your room, because your companion doubts this.

To say it short, "свой" has no additional meaning except "мой" / "твой" / "его" but you have to use this word often to speak Russian well.

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  • An old Russian teacher of mine put it nicely. In English we might say "I put my hand in my pocket". But Russians feel that the "my"s are redundant, beacuse you would scarcely be putting anyone else's hand into anyone else's pocket... :) – David Jul 23 at 3:13
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One thing to note is that свой can be applied to other people or yourself.

Вы идёте со своей женой?

Я иду со своей женой

Where as мой can only ever be applied to yourself.

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  • so do "Вы идете со своей женой?" and "Вы идете с вашей(твоей) женой?" have the same meaning? – Ziad Nov 20 '15 at 19:13
  • I would say so. – rsavchenko Nov 20 '15 at 19:17
  • @Vitaly oops that's what the edit is there for XD – rsavchenko Nov 20 '15 at 20:13

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