In the text Ру́сский медве́дь / The Russian bear, I saw two sentences I did not know what the preposition was for - why is it included in each case?

Русские люди очень похожи на медведей.

Russian people resemble bears very much.

A similar sentence in the same story talks about how bears also like mushrooms and berries (in the forest) and can... "...и могут напасть на человека."

Они делают это с осторожностью, так как медведи тоже очень любят ягоды 
и могут напасть на человека.

They do it carefully because bears love berries too, and they can attack 
a person.

In this sentence, I can see how people would be in the accusative case, but in this case I always thought "на" and "в" were to indicate motion towards, e.g. "...в школу..." or "...на поле..."

Still, I do not know why this preposition is included at all. Is it something similar to using "Ha" for playing an instrument, or "B" for playing in a sports team?

Hope this is clear...

  • can you be more clear what is exactly the question?
    – shabunc
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 22:20
  • So these prepositions kind of go with the verb?
    – nate
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 22:31
  • 1
    It is useful to memorize some verbs with prepositions they require in any language. In English " depend on, look at, belong to", etc. В русском : походить на (meaning "resemble"), смотреть на, зависеть от, и т.д.
    – V.V.
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 7:49

4 Answers 4


In Russian, as well as in English, prepositions can be used in very different situations and can have many meanings.

So "to resemble smth" is not translated as simply "походить" but as "походить на кого-либо/что-либо". You cannot omit "на"! Same thing with "нападать". It's always "нападать на кого-либо/что-либо".

Such information is always given in dictionaries and you must learn it.

An example in opposite direction to make it more clear: it would be wrong to translate "слушать радио" as "to listen the radio" because in English you listen to something or somebody, so it's "to listen to the radio" although you don't have any preposition in Russian in this sentence.

  • Looking at it the other way does help with conceptual understanding. In multitran - multitran.ru/c/m.exe?l1=1&l2=2&s=fall%20upon - I see they list на кого-л, что-л which I don't know what means but I assume it is same as your "either whom or what". My dictionary - amazon.com/… - does mention на for these verbs, нападать and походить ... :(
    – nate
    Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 22:59

It's just the dynamics of languages. For example, I'm going to school in Russian translates as Я иду в школу. Now one may ask, why isn't there, the article, 'a' or 'the' in the English version. Though, they can be included, excluding them doesn't make your sentence wrong. By practicing, you get to know when to include an article and when not.

  • 1
    As a native English speaker, I would say that all three variants of "I'm going to (a) (the) school." can have emphatically different connotations. I guess the same must be true in Russian...though is well over my head at this point.
    – nate
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 5:55
  • Here, I'm not specifically talking about the meaning of the sentence but rather the sentence construction and how correct they are. I do agree that 'a' and 'the' will have different when inserted into the sentence but inserting 'the' will probably produce the same meaning. That is "I'm going school" and "I'm going to the school" are most likely to mean the same. Both the speaker and listener are aware of the exact school being talked about hence the omission.
    – Alf Moh
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 6:01

Well, prepositions too often follow the verbs in some obscure and unpredictable way, depending on hardly explainable historical and etymological reasons.

Though in case of "нападать на" it's very very clear, as this verb in fact means (or, better to say, it meant) to fall on, i.e. it originally denoted a sort of a "take ground" attack, which in fact is what many animals, including aforementioned bears, do. So from the etymological point of view "на" is still about a direction here.

Concerning "походить на", it's much harder to decipher this one. I guess it's kind of "stepping on someone else's steps", but I can't find any proof of this claim at the moment.


Both на and в can be used to describe a motion, but the former is similar to Balto-Fennic Allative (evident motion and/or destination), while the latter is more like Illative case.

The meaning of на + Accusative is, in fact, similar to Approximative in Vepsian or Komi (Russian text, English summary) or to Allative in most Balto-Fennic languages (evident motion of a subject and/or evident destination complement).

However, just like in a case with the Allative, the overtones are different.

The former example fits a non-evident type of похоже + на + Accusative:

Похоже на правду. На фейк не похоже. Стиль "Манараги" Сорокина местами похож на лесковский.

Apart from походить, the other verbs requiring such a strucrture in Approximative meaning shall be






The other types of evident action are usually translated as 'to do smth for a sake of smb/smth[, where на with Accusative describe a beneficiant (B), an object (O), a goal (G), an evaluation (E) or a reason (R) of an action. To mention a few verbs of this type:

склоняться на [чью-либо] сторону (B)

драться (G)

стараться (R)

работать (B,R)

списать (R, B)

валить (O, R)

назначить (G)

наметить (G)

играть (O, G)

знать (E)

смотреть (O)

глядеть (O)

коситься (O)

таращиться (O)

пялиться (O)

уставиться (O)

вылупиться (O)

кричать (O)

орать (O)

ругаться (O)

кидаться (O)

наехать (O)

переносить (встречу и т. п.) (G)

давать (G)

тратить (G/B)

наложить (O)

As for the latter sub-type, it is mostly like a literal meaning of approximative and causative motion (with на reduplicated as prefix and a preposition):












и так далее...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.