Let's take a very simple sentence like Меня зовут Анна. While typically translated as "My name is Anna" a more literal translation would be, "They call me Anna," correct? Меня is the accusative, or direct object of the verb, зовут is the third-person plural form of звать, and Анна is the nominative form of the name.

My question is this: Why is Анна in the nominative and not an oblique case? Isn't the (implied) subject of the sentence они, since the third-person plural form of the verb is used, and not Анна? (Они) Меня зовут Анна. This would give the sentence two subjects, one explicit (Анна) and one implicit (они), wouldn't it? If this is the case, is it common to have sentences with other verbs where this situation exists (i.e. using the implicit "they" conjugation of a verb and an explicit noun in the nominative simultaneously)?

3 Answers 3


An article from Толковый словарь русского языка. ЗВАТЬ,

3. кого (что) кем или им., или (при вопросе) как. Именовать, называть.to call

Отец зовёт сына Ванюшей (Ванюша

  1. зовут, звали и (прост.) звать кого кем или им., или (при вопросе) как. Указывает на личное имя кого-нибудь shows a name of the person.

Как тебя зовут (звать)? Мальчика зовут Вася (Васей). Этого человека звали Иван Иванович (Иваном Ивановичем) As you see, both variants are valid.

  • Thanks for the reference. Is using the nominative considerably more common than using the instrumental? Would the instrumental sound bookish or old-fashioned, for example? Oct 22, 2016 at 21:56
  • Number4 is an impersonal sentence more often used in oral speech, the nominative is preferred, especially with the question как. Besides, speaking about oneself we would also prefer the nominative case, whereas in written speech we would use the instrumental, especially regarding a third person. You would hear меня зовут+nom. (colloquial )Его звали+insr(sounds official )
    – V.V.
    Oct 23, 2016 at 5:18

which oblique case would you suggest being appropriate here?

the necessity of the Nominative case of the name Анна i'd explain using a question:

Меня зовут как? - They call me (as) what? and the answer calls for the Nominative i guess

to have an oblique case the phrase can be changed into Меня зовут Анной, this is a totally legitimate form which has unfortunately become pretty obsolete

this would answer the question Меня зовут (называют) кем? - They call me as whom?

  • As you mentioned, I assumed the instrumental (творительный) would be most appropriate, seeing as it's used by the related verb называть/назвать. Oct 22, 2016 at 15:46
  • so the gist i think is in the question to which a phrase is an answer, in connection with звать/называть personal names usually answer the question как? and not кем?, consider the standard question Как тебя зовут? Oct 22, 2016 at 15:53
  • Good point, I hadn't considered it's как and not кем that is being asked in the corresponding question. Oct 22, 2016 at 18:34
  • 1
    I don't think so: new.gramota.ru/spravka/letters/73-rubric-90 — "Географическое название, употребленное с родовыми наименованиями город, село, деревня, хутор, река и др., выступающее в функции приложения, согласуется с определяемым словом, то есть склоняется, если топоним русского, славянского происхождения или представляет собой давно заимствованное и освоенное наименование."
    – artptr
    Oct 24, 2016 at 7:09
  • ok, i deleted that appendix, yet i don't see logic in differentiating between в городе Москве and в городе Нью-Йорк Oct 24, 2016 at 7:30

I believe Анна is not the subject, but rather a quoted word. In other words you could rephrase it as Меня зовут "Анна."

It is true that the third person alone can be used as an alternative to the passive voice. Like in English saying "They play this song a lot." rather than "This song is played a lot."

  • I suspected that could be the reason, the implied quotation thing. However, even if that were the case, quoted words in Russian are still inflected, aren't they? For example, Я читаю "Робинзона Крузо". That would mean Анна was still avoiding being put into an oblique case, since quoted material should be inflected as far as I know. Oct 22, 2016 at 15:44
  • @ГамлетБененгели I think quoted words are not inflected to preserve the original name/meaning of the words. I am not, however, an expert in the language, let alone a native speaker, so take my standpoint with a pinch (or many pinches) of salt.
    – casey
    Oct 22, 2016 at 16:28
  • I don't know what's considered "proper," but I just asked a native speaker and they confirmed they would say Я читаю "Эмму" or Я читаю "Франкенштейна", i.e. they would inflect the quoted titles. Oct 22, 2016 at 17:43
  • @ГамлетБененгели Like Баян Купи-ка said, it is probably because of the question being "Как" instead of "Кем."
    – casey
    Oct 22, 2016 at 18:21

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