There is this simple sentence I don't quite understand, grammatically;

Он думает, ты знаешь его брата.
He thinks you know his brother.

So based on things like,

Ivan's dog = The dog of Ivan
собака Ивана (nominative, genitive)

I understand that его is genitive (he 'owns' the 'him/brother'; in fact the possessive of он is его) and брата would be the object of 'to know', and hence accusative.

I guess I would write it as (but probably not standard?);

Он думает, ты знаешь брата его.

I just want to check these case roles because masc. animate nouns have the same spelling in genitive and accusative cases (minus minority endings).

Also, его can be a possessive pronoun (genitive of он) or the accusative.

So, my question is: Is my assumption correct, that его is in the genitive and брата is in the accusative?

  • 1
    @Evgeniy Pronouns do have cases. And "его" is genitive indeed.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 21:05
  • @Abakan Pronouns are not a grammatical category, but a semantical one. Those are words that denote something I infer by the context. Now, the pronoun in question is a third person possessive pronoun. Such words never change and therefore have no cases. "Он" is not a possessive pronoun.
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 21:16
  • @Abakan Compare with the second person possessive pronouns, which are, grammatically, adjectives, as they, morphologically, change by case, number, and gender (твой, твоему, твоими…) and, syntactically, assume positions that any regular adjectives do (этот ботинок — ваш; нагнитесь к вашему ботинку… — put зелёный there, and you're fine).
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 21:24
  • To editors: I vote against changing the title to "Case confusion in 3-person possessive pronouns", because we end up with site filled with 50 questions having abstract titles like "Punctuation question" or "Help" which makes site unusable. See rus.stackexchange.com as an example.
    – Artemix
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 13:18
  • @Artemix I don't think the original title was more useful. It did not give a clear idea what question is answered. You would think the author wondered whether "брата" is a noun in genitive or in accusative. While the new title delimits the topic fairly well: the expression "3-rd person possessive pronouns" actually means just three words, «его», «её», and «их». After all, the question itself was quite generic (in this scope), so the generic title faithfully reflects the generic question.
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


No, it is incorrect.

«Брата» is indeed in the accusative case.

But «его», as a third person possessive pronoun, is ever the same and does not change by case. That's a nice quirk in the Russian pronominal system that it is useful to be aware of: 1-st and 2-nd person possessive pronouns are, grammatically, adjectives, just like the similar words in the Romance languages, but 3-rd person possessive pronouns never decline.

Update: etymologically, this pronoun does, of course, stem from the word «он» (gen. «его»), which, quite like a noun, declines in cases. In older literature, you would often find that 3-rd possessive pronouns are put after the word they modify, which is, of course, a trace of this origin («сапог его весь промок»). But now no-one would say off-hand that «я отыскал телефон жены» and «я отыскал её телефон» are grammatically parallel, just like no-one would ever utter «я отыскал телефон её» unless under haste etc, when the word order is influenced by something “extra-linguistical”.

  • There's nothing "extra-linguistical" influencing colloquial word order; it's just an underresearched area with the generally normativist lean of our academic linguistics. I can imagine someone saying я отыскал телефон ее down to the intonation in which it would be quite deliberately spoken, and the context (the phone was discussed before; some other information is about to follow). Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 10:24
  • You're under a misconception about how "careless" speech works. A lot of unconscious choices go into it, that aren't at all "irregular" just because they don't conform to the literary norm. They often involve their own norms. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 12:54
  • When I first think, then utter, then the shape of the sentence is more "regular". But in fast colloquial inter-change that's often not the case, I disagree with you on that point. There are of course corrections, false starts and added afterthoughts, but generally, you always follow some rules, even without being aware of it. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 13:02
  • I replied in chat.
    – Evgeniy
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 13:26

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