This a follow-up to a previous question of mine, because I realized that the phenomenon is more general: Parts of speech in the question "Чей это ...?"

Question: Why is the word order for such questions sometimes like:

"это -- (adjectival pronoun) (noun)?"

i.e. " (subject) -- (predicate)?"

for example, "Это -- твоё письмо?" "Это -- ваш преподаватель?"

but other times the word order is inverted, in a way which seems illogical:

"(adjectival pronoun) это (noun)? "

i.e. "(predicate part 1) (subject) (predicate part 2)?"

for example, "Чей это карандаш?" "Какой это журнал?" "Какой он студент?"

More context: Wouldn't a word order like "Это -- чей карандаш?" "Это -- какой журнал?" "Он -- какой студент?" be (1) more consistent (2) more logical? Or even "Чей карандаш -- это?" "Какой журнал -- это?" "Какой студент -- он?"

And why does this "splitting" of phrases involving adjectival pronouns happen only when the adjectival pronoun is in the predicate?

It does not seem to happen when it is in the subject. For example "Какой журнал лежит там?".

If we had the same type of splitting that occurs elsewhere, it seems like we would have something like "Какой лежит там журнал?" instead, which is clearly illogical.

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    please note that in the first example possessive pronouns (adjectival as you call them) are used, which isn't the case in the second example, these are conventions of the language, which i guess need to be simply remembered, there's probably a psycholinguistic reason to this, but for the sake of use, simple memorization of this as a rule must suffice Oct 3, 2016 at 12:41
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    Какой лежит там журнал? is completely logical and comprehensible Oct 3, 2016 at 12:44
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    BTW the word это can be disposed with in the sentences of the first example, it only makes the question sound harsh, curt and hostile, but doesn't affect its meaning; it's because это isn't an interrogative pronoun which shapes the question, the difference between the 1st example and an assertive statement of Это -- твоё письмо is merely intonational Oct 3, 2016 at 12:59
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    @БаянКупи-ка I think it's the dash, not это itself, that accounts for the harshness of tone. Это твое письмо? and Это ваш преподаватель? are just fine. With the dash, it's indeed something like, "is this your letter!?" Oct 3, 2016 at 13:34
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    @Nikolay Ershov i actually was talking about the question devoid of это entirely, i didn't take the example as sounding harsh. Maybe this это is what confuses William, so i tried to show that the question perfectly stands without it Oct 3, 2016 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


I would like you to read the answers on this question which seems to be similar to yours Order of adverbs and position of subject.

The word order in a Russian sentence is very flexible. You shouldn't compare it to the English one.Both чей это карандаш?" and " это чей карандаш? would work.The third variant чей карандаш это? is also possible and grammatical but it emphasizes the word "это", not "карандаш".

Sentences with copula verbs are very flexible.The same can be done with action verbs.I think I should mark the stress.

"какой журнал лежит там? Какой там лежит журнал? Какой лежит журнал там? Журнал там какой лежит? Журнал там лежит какой? Лежит1 там какой2 журнал?(the meaning is slightly different "is there any magazine?)

But if we stress "какой",the meaning is the same as in the previous sentences. All sentences are fine.

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    to clarify Лежит там какой журнал? only has that meaning if the first word is emphasized while какой is being used not as an interrogative pronoun but as a pronoun какой-нибудь Oct 3, 2016 at 12:54

I'm native speaker. First thing first, that dash after это looks pretty rare/weird to me. You may just skip it.

To answer your question I would just make a parallel with English.

It is your teacher. Is it your teacher?

Whose pencil is this?

Какой, чей are question words (like whose, which etc). "Это" is "it is" - "это есть". "Есть (быть)" is just omitted in Russian.

Who is this person? - Кто этот человек? => "Кто есть этот человек?" -- you NEVER say "есть" in normal speech, it sounds very oldish but may be used in funny way. "to be" (быть) is kind of in the back of your mind.

"Чей карандаш -- это?" "Какой журнал -- это?" "Какой студент -- он?" sounds very-very wrong.

What about word order. Particular one will emphasize particular word.

"Какой журнал лежит ТАМ?" -> and I think that person will point somewhere

"КАКОЙ лежит там журнал?" -> I think perhaps the person asking didn't hear well or perhaps is just shocked with kind of magazine.

"Какой там ЖУРНАЛ лежит?" -> perhaps person asking can see more things on the table but is asking about magazine specifically.


Question words almost always come at the beginning. And if English is your native language then it's useful to think how we would ask such a question. What kind of student is he? In many cases the order is exactly opposite (because important info comes at the end of a sentence.


"What kind of Student is he?" He is less important than student, so it comes before студент.

какой он студент?

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