I came across a sentence on Duolingo that said

Я пишу стихи, а потом читаю их маме.

I know that this sounds pretty 'out there,' but how do you know whether the sentence means

I write poems, and then read them to mom.


I write poems, and then read to their mom.


  • I may be wrong, but I think the best way to disambiguate your second sentence is to use их twice: ... читаю их их маме.
    – CocoPop
    Oct 26, 2016 at 3:08
  • 2
    @CocoPop or, somewhat more elegantly, а потом их читаю их маме. Oct 26, 2016 at 8:43

4 Answers 4


Definitely the first option:

I write poems, and then read them to mom.

Because there is no other plural nouns in the sentence except стихи.

  • But there's no way to be 100% sure, right?
    – user6816
    Oct 25, 2016 at 21:58
  • 3
    @casey Without the context, yes. You can only be 99.9...% sure. But I believe it's typical to human languages at all.
    – Dmitry
    Oct 25, 2016 at 22:09
  • Я читаю их(стихи) своей (не их) маме. If you read to "their" mother, there should be an object, otherwise it's hard to understand.
    – V.V.
    Oct 26, 2016 at 3:44
  • Во-первых, кого "их"...
    – bipll
    Oct 26, 2016 at 21:38

oh, it is really an ambiguous conctruction.

but the first option comes to mind earlier, since the verb читать needs logically an object in Accusative case.


In spoken language there's an alternate form which could sometimes be used to avoid such ambuguity. Of course, it's considered absolutely wrong (please, don't hurt me too much for even mentioning it) but in reality we all say such things from time to time:

I write poems, and then read to their mom --> Я пишу стихи, а потом читаю ихней маме

Also you can shift word order a little to prevent any possible misunderstanding, for example:

I write poems, and then read them to mom --> Я пишу стихи, а потом их читаю маме

So returning to your question, yes, there's some room for ambuiguity here, but typically the context is enough to understand it correctly. If still unsure, there's a plenty of variations to avoid any mistake completely.

  • I know my second translation is really weird and probably wouldn't be the usual one, but I just know that so much of the Russian language is distinct and unambiguous so I thought there might be a way to know for sure which one is which just from the original construction.
    – user6816
    Oct 26, 2016 at 10:48
  • @casey In fact it's ambiguous. So it's a small mistake when it's written. But for common spoken language it's OK.
    – Matt
    Oct 26, 2016 at 12:28

You can use a colloquial form "ихней маме".

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