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In мы купили продуктов на сто долларов, why is продукт in the genitive plural (продуктов), not accusative plural (продукты)?

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I think this is not genitive but, rather, partitive case. Its meaning is 'some quantity out of a larger quantity'. For the same reason one should say 'Я налил себе чаю', not 'Я налил себе чай'.

Sadly but inevitably, partitive (as well as the remnants of some other ancient cases, e.g. locative) is gradually falling into disuse. One is very unlikely to come across phrases like 'Я вышел из лесу' these days.

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  • Partitive case is generally used as synonym for Gen. II, i.e. "чаю" vs "чая". Here it's Gen. I anyway. So this issue is not related to Partitive vs. Genitive, but plain Genitive vs. Accusative.
    – Matt
    Jun 13 '16 at 10:50
  • "Я вышел из лесу" is ablative (because of the stress on the preposition and because it can be replaced with genitive. But when you say you were walking in a forest, you cannot avoid locative (which is a form of prepositional, not genitive).
    – Anixx
    Jul 17 '16 at 9:23
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There is a little difference between "Мы купили продуктов" and "Мы купили продукты".

"Мы купили продуктов" means that we bought some food in generl as Matt wrote in his answer, and the person we talk to doesn't know exactly what food we bought.

"Мы купили продукты" implies that we bought that very food we had spoken about earlier, and the person we talk to knows what food we bought.

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  • I'd say that even if none of speakers knows the exact menu, but it follows from context that the selection was thorough, "продукты" sound more natural. Compare "дачники накупили продуктов на пикник" vs "полярники закупили продукты для экспедиции". BTW "накупили" as opposed to "купили" implies certain carelessness and enforces the genitive case. And there is also a form of speech "закупиться продуктами"... Jun 14 '16 at 23:30
  • "закупиться" always needs instrumental case.
    – Abakan
    Jun 15 '16 at 5:20
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Мы купили продуктов на $100 = We bought some products for $100.

Мы купили продукты на $100 = We bought the products for $100.

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Well, actually you may choose either Accusative or Genitive case freely. That's rather a matter of taste, I believe.

Genitive case is used to denote some "indefinite" object, i.e. Сходи, купи масла --> Go buy some butter. Yet as "продукты" stands for some "food in general" then Genitive case doesn't add much sense here. Anyway, we all used to go with Genitive, so it sounds more natural IMO.

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  • 1
    Funny is that I read (it was not my intention, I had to) some text book of Russian language for foreigners and the authors taught there in a special chapter how this partitive (coinciding with Genitive in its formation) must be used. So, it is not forgotten or "falling out of use". And what we as native speakers can allow to ourselves or others to say, to the students of Russian language may be counted as error :-). Like сходи купи масло.
    – farfareast
    Jul 17 '16 at 20:40
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Genitive case is a trace of “some amount of” («некоторое количество») being omitted here.

A full variant must be:

Мы купили [некоторое количество] продуктов на сто долларов.

where parts are linked together in the following way:

  1. купили количество (noun-to-noun with expected Accusative case) — bought (an) amount;
  2. количество продуктов (noun-to-noun with Genitive case) — (an) amount of products.

Such ommission of «некоторое количество» is widely used in Russian. It may be easily recognized either by a context or by such Accusative→Genitive case substitution.

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