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It seems that the two 2-word phrases are only used in negative possession, e.g.

 У меня не было плохого настроения. 
 У меня нет плохого настроения. 
 У меня не будет плохого настроения.

Is this true?

I believe the verb declines 'normally' in the positive (if I'm male), as well as other phrases, e.g.

 У меня было плохое настроение. 
 У меня плохое настроение. 
 У меня будет плохое настроение.

 Он не был в школе.
 Она не была в школе.

etc..., that are not 'possession' types of sentences.

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  • Please clarify. What do you mean by 2-word phrases? Please also note that in past tense the verb было agrees in gender with настроение, not with the subject of the sentence.
    – Vitaly
    Feb 14 '17 at 2:20
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I can see how this can be confusing.

Он не был в школе.

means "He was not at school".

У него не было плохого настроения.

is properly translated as "He was not in a bad mood," but it literally means "He did not have a bad mood". In English you can be in a mood, but in Russian you have moods.

In general, the construction "У него не было..." followed by a noun in the genitive case is the equivalent of "He didn't have..." For example, "У него не было машины." - "He didn't have a car". And yes, in the negative "было" is always neuter: "У него не было дома." - "He didn't have a house." Notice that there is actually no subject here: nothing is in the nominative case. These are the subject-less sentences that you see in Russian so often.

However, in the positive it has to agree in gender with the noun: "У него была машина." "У него был дом". Notice also that the noun is in the nominative case, and thus becomes the subject of the sentence.

By the way, verbs don't decline, they conjugate.

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  • Cool, yes, conjugate not decline, I get them switched sometimes. So is this 'negative possession' the only time the 'не было' doesn't change in the past tense? Is it the same for the future 'не будет' (negative too)? Because I'm fairly sure you can have smth like, 'Он не был в банке' and 'Она не была в банке'?
    – nate
    Feb 14 '17 at 4:51
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    @nate In the future tense "не будет" can also be used irrelevant of person and number. E.g. "Меня не будет в школе. Её не будет в школе. Их не будет в школе." Those sentences are also subject-less.
    – Vitaly
    Feb 14 '17 at 14:19
  • @Vitaly Hhmmm.. Thank you! So the key ingredient seems to be subject-less-ness... Nothing in the nominative? I've been trying to find explanation in Terrance Wade's book... Do you have a good reference? I know negation seems to be complicated - this problem seems to only manifest in negative possession, regardless of tense (excluding present)... Is this the proper way to look at it? Somewhat hard to express my confusion...
    – nate
    Feb 14 '17 at 15:30
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    @nate In present tense the verb to be is often dropped. "Меня нет дома. Его нет дома. Их нет дома." - I/he/they are not home. Could you clarify where is the source of confusion, or what concept is complicated? Being a native speaker I'm often blind to such problems. If the problem is with conjugation of verbs in subjectless setences. Then you can use mentally insert "No-one/Anyone" and conjugate the verb accordingly to 3rd person singular form.
    – Vitaly
    Feb 14 '17 at 16:08
  • @Vitaly I guess I just have to accept that in past and future tense, possessive 'positive' sentences will always have the neuter forms: не было & не будет, despite the subject - because there isn't a subject. That's all, thanks much for your help!
    – nate
    Feb 16 '17 at 23:03

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