5

I read the phrase начать с дерева in the context of a young man wanting to change his life and deciding to start by planting a tree.
Why is дерева in the genitive case, while I would have expected the instrumental?
A grammar book of mine indeed indicates that с can be followed by a genitive or an instrumental, but is there a rule telling which to choose?
Or should I just learn for each possible combination verb+с what the correct case is?

2
  • Or should I just learn for each possible combination verb+с what the correct case is? < this.
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 8 '15 at 8:33
  • 1
    Phrases involving с + genitive that are useful: (1) с этой точки зрения ("from this point of view"), (2) с одной стороны ... с другой стороны ("on the one hand... on the other hand," or literally "from one hand... from the other hand"), (3) начиная с девятнадцатого века ("starting in the 19th century", or literally "starting from the 19th century").
    – KCd
    Dec 9 '15 at 6:13
10

With instrumental, с means "with". With genitive, с means "from" or "off" — that is, moving away from a thing's surface (as opposed to из which is for moving away from inside a thing). You take a thing "off" a shelf (с полки) but "from" a cupboard (из шкафа). For all intents and purposes, this с is a different preposition than the one meaning "with".

Among the more abstract meanings of с+genitive, the most common one is "beginning with", "from X onwards", or "since" when talking about time. Now of course, with prepositions used abstractly it's not always easy to figure out the underlying metaphor; начать с дерева is, literally, to "start from a tree" rather than with a tree, whereas in English one more commonly begins/starts "with" things. There's no particular reason why it's one or the other (or something else entirely); so I suppose with some verbs, you just have to learn it.

Still, you might want to first try and see if you can follow the logic behind which с it is; there are many cases where, abstract or not, that logic is plain enough, e.g. in взыскать с должника, it's clear that the debt is collected "from" someone rather than "with" them — whereas in расплатиться с кредитором, it makes mor sense to say that a debt are settled "with" a lender rather than "from" them.

8
  • Thank you for your (as usual) crystal-clear comment, dear Nikolay. I am really amazed by your linguistic and didactical talent. May I take the liberty to ask what your mother tongue is? [ I'm curious because usually people are not so good at explaining the whys and wherefores of their native language since everything seems so natural to them :-)] Dec 8 '15 at 13:27
  • While we are at it, could you please also explain when от is used for translating from ? Dec 8 '15 at 13:38
  • Glad to hear that :) My mother tongue is Russian; my mother, however, was a translator from Czech and Polish, so already the lullabies and nursery rhymes I grew up with were in several different, but not completely different, languages — and that I suppose was where it all began. Dec 8 '15 at 17:58
  • 1
    От is for either leaving the vicinity of a thing, or becoming a breakaway part of it. Prepositions of to/from motion can be rather neatly arranged in pairs: из is the inverse of в (the accusative one, "into"), с (+genitive) is the inverse of на (+accusative), and от is the inverse of к. A letter from someone is письмо от — but note that a letter from someplace is письмо из (or, occasionally, письмо с). Dec 8 '15 at 18:10
  • Thanks again for your supplementary explanations, Nikolay (and the fragment of your autobiography!). Dec 8 '15 at 19:29
2

начать с дерева = start from a/the tree

начать с деревом = start having a/the tree

2
  • с + instr. = "with"
  • с + gen. = "from" (more or less, for some meanings of "from")

Others have already given more precise answers about the above, so I will just mention the fairly rare

с + acc.

which is used in sentences like

размером с морскую свинку = about the size of a guinea pig

размером с тыкву = roughly as big as a pumpkin

0

С can be followed by genitive, accusative or instrumental, but it's not the preposition which governs the case of a complement, it's the verb or noun it completes.

Начать с + gen. literally means "start from (the top of) the tree", the preposition c here being used in the sense "from the top of", as opposed to из "from the inside of" and от "from the proximity of".

This verb governs с + gen. in the same way жить, брать and even смеяться and бить in some dialects do: брать с него долг, жить с нетрудовых доходов, **смеяться с клоуна, **бить с локтя. It's just how these verbs work.

The last two examples are dialectal and sound quite peculiar to those not used to them, but totally OK to those who are.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.