I came across this sentence:

Кому как, конечно, это дело вкуса, я так просто, для примера.

Something about кому как just feels off or unnatural to me. Maybe its because I assume the literal translation to be "how to whom" or "what to whom", which sound strange.

I understand it is equivalent to the English expression "to each his own", but I'm not satisfied with this. I want to think of it as a native Russian speaker would, not simply understand its general meaning.

I don't necessarily need a meaningful literal translation, though this might be helpful. For example, a logical way to approach or think about it would be great.

Maybe it's one of those linguistic cases where one must simply accept it for what it is, and not overthink it.

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    Well, google translate translates this like "it's not the same for everybody", in the sentence you've provided there's another hint, it's sort of "tastes differ". – shabunc Oct 31 '16 at 18:35
  • You're right. I should've have worded my question better. I updated it. – ycele Oct 31 '16 at 18:45
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    Literal translation is something like "for whom how". Imagine that you have cooked a new experimental soup and want to know whether members of your family like it or not. You can ask each of them: "Как тебе суп?" (literally, "How is the soup for you?"). Or just "Как тебе?" ("How is it for you?"), if it's obvious from the context that you mean the soup. Each of them answers according to his/her own taste, answers are different. If in this situation somebody later asks you if your family liked the soup or not ("Ну что, твоим понравилось?"), you can answer "Кому как.", it's brief and accurate. – Lara Oct 31 '16 at 19:30
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    By the way, "кому как" is not the only expression of this kind. There are also "кто что", "кто куда", "где как", "что где", and so on. The approach is similar. Can you understand now what do all these expressions mean?:) – Lara Oct 31 '16 at 19:33
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    @Lara я переоткрыл вопрос и смело превращайте коммент в ответ) – shabunc Oct 31 '16 at 19:38

Respectfully, it seems that most people are trying to explain you precisely the part you don't have a problem understanding. And I see how you might feel this usage of question words can only have some truly esoteric grammatical reasoning behind it.

It's useful in any situation, when confronted with something mystifying, to ask yourself what might be missing from the picture. Imagine an alien biologist on Earth looking at a snake and wondering, "how can this worm have a spinal cord?" The answer being, a snake isn't really a worm and it didn't even always look like one.

There's a Czech proverb, Kdo chce kam, pomozme mu tam. Literally, "who wants where, let's help him there." (Meaning that the speaker washes their hands over someone they think is walking into trouble.) Now the same words in the same order wouldn't quite work in Russian, but this very saliently illustrates the logic behind this usage of Slavic question words: they're on one side of the scale, as it were, counterweighted by their definite counterparts in the second clause ("who"/"him", "where"/"there").

Thus кому как started out the same way, as the first part of a diptych; to use V.V.'s example,

Кому как, а мне русский язык нравится

— again, кому has a clear counterweight in мне, and, slightly less obviously, как corresponds to нравится. The rest is just the universal linguistic tendency to trim things. Кому как (and a few other question word duos, such as кому что or кто куда, as in that Czech proverb) saw enough usage in Russian to no longer need an explicit antithesis. (Not to mention that at some earlier point, they had stopped needing an explicit verb.) And so you can think of кому как as a snake: to find its evolutionary origin, you first have to find its lost limbs.

  • A great idea, I like it very much. – V.V. Nov 1 '16 at 7:04
  • Do you think that the example in the OP does have an implicit antithesis? Could you reconstruct it? Do utterances of the "кому как" type always need to have an antithesis? – Yellow Sky Nov 1 '16 at 8:54
  • @YellowSky Possibly, in a previous statement. And no, not always–not anymore. Perhaps I shouldn't have narrowed it down to "explicit antithesis". It did drift away a little from its original meaning when it became self-contained, in roughly the same way that the English "it depends" no longer makes you necessarily expect even a hint at the nature of the dependency. – Nikolay Ershov Nov 1 '16 at 9:06

Look at it this way:

"For me it's good, for him it's bad, and for them it's all the same"

'For me', 'for him', 'for them' is generalized as "for whom", which is кому in Russian.

'Good', 'bad', 'all the same' is generalized as "how", which is как in Russian.

So, кому как means 'depending on whether it is I, he, or they (i.e. all the possible variants implied by кому), it will be good, bad or all the same (i.e. all the possible different kinds of experience included in как.'


Кому как,а мне русский язык нравится.

The meaning is "I can't say for the whole world, for other people, but I personally like Russian." Or "It depends, you know, but I like Russian very much." Or "I don't know what others would say, but I... Just to develop the idea of a "seesaw "in the sentence. Кому как (others,I don't know how they feel,might feel different )--мне нравится (but I like)


Кому как (literally, how for whom) in your example can be thought of as a short form of the expression: how good it is depends on 'good for whom'.

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    But there was never such an expression that got shortened. – Nikolay Ershov Nov 1 '16 at 5:07
  • Now there is one, for explanation how it works. – Alex_ander Nov 1 '16 at 5:27
  • But there was one and it was somewhat different: "whosoever may look at this howsoever, [some antithesis]". – Nikolay Ershov Nov 1 '16 at 5:40

I would not translate "Кому как" at all.
So, my translation would be: "It's a matter of taste, I'm just asking."

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