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So, "Я в гостях" seems to be prepositional plural of гость

"Я иду в гости" leaves me puzzled, though. According to conjugation tables, it is nominative plural, while в used to express direction requires accusative (which is гостя or гостей - "Я иду в гостя/гостей" just sounds silly).

What form are we dealing with here?

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Two objections to people dismissing this "because it's an adverb":

  1. Adverb or not, it started out as a noun and a preposition, and the case form still has to be explained somehow.

  2. More importantly: you can say в жёны is also an adverb, and в пионеры too, but what about (произведён) в полковники? Or Pushkin's мы все глядим в Наполеоны? Are they really just that many ad hoc adverbs?

I'd say we're dealing with another "lesser case" — along with the locative-prepositional (в снегу) and partitive-genitive (выпить чаю). This one we may call translative-accusative — which is indeed what it's described as (превратительный падеж) here, though I don't know what the ultimate source of that list is.

It can of course be argued that the literal meaning of в гости isn't necessarily a change of status to one of a guest; more intuitively, we tend to think of this гости as a kind of abstract territorial notion (в гостях thus referring to a sort of guest-space), but I think this is a later shift of perception and the original usage, which accounts for the ending, was the same as with the other "translative" examples (which isn't contradicted by в гостях; compare в денщиках у фельдкурата).

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  • Thank you for your answer, I feel like it is the most convincing yet. I must say I get a little jolt of fear every time "lesser cases" are mentioned, though – Pasha Syrnikov Jun 18 '16 at 18:56
  • @PashaSyrnikov Fear, why? Personally I feel that the whole idea of a "case" has a similar kind of blurry boundaries as "species" in biology. It seems likely that in inflecting (rather than agglutinative) languages, the very process that resulted in several paradigms with equivalent but non-identical grammatical endings was a gradual convergence from a primordial soup of grammatical accidents, so it's no surprise that some of those accidents still survive and new ones occasionally spring up. – Nikolay Ershov Jun 18 '16 at 19:03
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    I think, this strange acc. case which you call "translative-accusative" got its form (which coincides with nom.) from the Old Russian regular acc., from the times before the category of animate/inanimate developed. In those times the nom.pl. and acc.pl. forms coincided, and the category of animacy appeared specially to distinguish those cases in pl. But it looks like in some kinds of expressions animate nouns kept the relic acc.pl.=nom.pl. forms. I wouldn't call those forms a case, even a small one, since only the semantic class of animate nouns has them, it doesn't cover all the nouns. – Yellow Sky Jun 18 '16 at 21:55
  • Thank you for this analysis, it sounds quite convincing. However, speaking of the "abstract territorial notion" -- what about из варяг в греки? – Avi Gordon Jun 20 '16 at 10:16
  • Why not territorial? "В шведы" in old texts? Here, шведы literally means the same as modern-days English name for that country, huh? – bipll Jun 20 '16 at 15:42
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According to Русский язык в задачах и ответах By Борис Норман (p. 288 point 3.90)

Русский язык в задачах и ответах By Борис Норман, p. 288 point 2.90

"в гости" is "предложно-падёжная форма имени (???), that has almost become and adverb"

So it's not quite an adverb, and also includes the preposition

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  • 1
    preposition is the part of adverb here – shabunc Jun 18 '16 at 20:01
  • yes, the preposition indeed is part of the set phrase. that's why I wrote "...includes the preposition" and "в гости" in my answer. furthermore, we have established that this phrase is not an adverb in the first place – Pasha Syrnikov Jun 21 '16 at 12:40
  • So Boris Norman is asserting that we can answer the question "куда" using в + the prepositional case? That does not make sense. Saying that it has "almost turned into an adverb" does not clear things up. – David42 Sep 12 '16 at 16:29
  • I think my translation of "предложно-падёжная форма" is incorrect. Here is some sort of explanation orfogrammka.ru/… It has nothing to do with prepositional case, and Boris Norman doesn't claim otherwise. Anyhow, Nikolay Ershov's answer here is the most helpful, let's not dwell on this one. – Pasha Syrnikov Sep 14 '16 at 10:04
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I think this is a kind of 'fossilized' expression, that's why it doesn't seem to fit into the modern case system. #449 in Wade's 'A Comprehensive Russian Grammar' mentions that в is used with nouns in what looks like nom. pl., but is historically an accusative, in contexts of professions or other groups; sometimes it implies a change of state or status. A few similar expressions:

ИГИЛ набирает детей в солдаты. --> ISIS is recruiting children to be soldiers.

кандидат в солдаты --> a presidential candidate

Каких женщин мужчины берут в жёны? --> What kind of women do men marry (lit., take to be a wife)?

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The thing is that "в гости" is an adverb ("наречие"), so the real answer is the concept of case is just not applicable, since though this form is indeed derived from noun, it sort of solidified.

Just like we don't think of word "воля" when we use word "поневоле". Or, another example, "втиши".

UPD: Reacting on what @Nikolay Ershov is claiming. Indeed, one can just ask - OK, but why the original form was "в гости". Speaking of "lesser" cases, this could be a good candidate for traces illative case.

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Perhaps some nouns are used both as animate (Nom=Gen) and inanimate (Nom=Accus), depending on the context.

Like the "добавить в друзья" in social networks. Here the word "friends" is used in the sense of "friend list", not of the humans themselves.

As such, "в гостях" reflects the prepositional usage of в, while "в гости" reflects the accusative usage of a noun which, although derived from the word for "guests", here implies a change in quality/state, rather than the embodiment of the guests themselves.

By the way, remember that лицо is inanimate when meaning "face" and animate as a formal word for "person". Which implies an animate accusative plural in "лиц". Like in the idiom "мера на лиц...", "a measure, concerning [a group of specific] people".

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"в гости" (и "в гостях") here is an adverb, not really a noun with a preposition.

A prepositional plural "в гостях" would mean inside the guests (some food, maybe?).

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  • Well, when я в гостях , I'm inside the guests??? I don't think so... – Abakan Jun 19 '16 at 7:39
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    @Alex.S that's exactly the point! Illustrates the difference between an adverb, and a noun in the prepositional case. – Dima Jun 19 '16 at 11:20
  • Downvoting without even bothering to explain ... Tough croud :) Acceptance issues? – Dima Jun 20 '16 at 14:08
  • Why do you believe that "в гостях" is a prepositional phrase but "в гости" is not? Because "гости" is not the usual accusative form? – David42 Sep 12 '16 at 16:21
  • @DavidC "в гостях" (in its usual meaning) is not a prepositional phrase either. It just happens to sound like it by coincidence (strictly speaking, it's probably, not a real coincidence, and there are some historical reasons for it, but that's not relevant here), it's an adverb, just like "в гости" is. If it was a prepositional, it would mean "inside the guests". Like "к вечеру весь пирог оказался в гостях" ("by the evening, the entire pie was inside the guests"). That's the prepositional. – Dima Sep 14 '16 at 14:36

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