I saw this sentence in Charles E Townsend's, Continuing with Russian,

Она хочет ему нравиться.

She wants him to like her (in general).

and I wondered where the 'her' was. If it was a little more complicated, like,

They want him to like her.

what would it be. Where would the 'they' and the 'her' go? Would the answers to these questions be;

Она хочет ему нравиться она.

She wants him to like her (in general).


Они хотят ему нравиться она.

They want him to like her.

I realized the first example probably leaves 'her' out because it's implied, but an answer to both would be appreciated.

  • 1
    Note: usually dictionaries say, that to like means нравиться, but it is not true (it is not all truth). Нравиться literally means to be liked (Nikolay Ershov explained how it works). In English grammar, "person who like" is a subject in the sentence, in Russian grammar - an object.
    – Dmitriy
    Jun 15, 2017 at 21:49
  • Russian 'нравиться' also can be approximately translated to English as 'look good to (smb)'. (Translation sounds a bit ugly, but it works for the purpose of explaining grammar here.) Then 'Она хочет ему нравиться' -> She wants to look good to him. If you use 'look good' in your second phrase: They want her to look good to him, you can more easily translate it word-to-word to Russian as 'Они хотят, чтобы она нравилась ему'. (Well, I had to insert чтобы, see explanation of @Quassnoi).
    – farfareast
    Jun 16, 2017 at 2:56
  • 2
    By the way, there are more examples of such kind of reversal: subject <->object for supposedly the same verb in different languages. F.e. English 'to miss' and French 'manquer'. I miss him becomes Il me manque. Or, even more relevant, English 'to like' and French 'plaire': I like it becomes il me plaît.
    – farfareast
    Jun 16, 2017 at 18:58

5 Answers 5


"Her" isn't implied, there's just no need for it. Она хочет ему нравиться literally translates to "She wants to be liked by him". Hyper-literally, something like "she wants to disposition herself to him".

With "them", the only way to word it is Они хотят, чтобы она ему нравилась, literally "they want that she be liked by him".


This sentence is quite tricky to translate into Russian indeed because Russian words for "to want" and "to like" don't work like their English counterparts.

If we consider several other English sentences with exactly same grammar:

  • They teach her to beat him
  • They send her to kill him

, they could be translated into Russian simply as

  • Они учат её бить его
  • Они отправляют её убить его

, which are perfectly grammatical if somewhat peculiar (or not, depending on context) Russian statements.

This is because English verbs "to teach (someone to do something)" and "to send (someone to do something)" are trivalent, meaning they can have three arguments ("they, her, to beat" or "they, her, to kill"); and verbs "to beat" and "to kill" are bivalent, that is having two arguments ("she, him").

The same holds for Russian verbs учить (кого-то делать что-то), отправлять (кого-то делать что-то), бить (кого-то) and убивать (кого-то).

This is not the case for the verbs нравиться and хотеть.

Хотеть in Russian is bivalent. You cannot "want someone to do something" in Russian, only "want someone" or "want something". If you are about to say that you want ALICE to FOO in Russian, you in fact say "I want something", and this "something" is the situation where ALICE does FOO. You use a subjunctive sentence: "I want so that ALICE did FOO".

Нравиться is tricky too, because it's, first, reflexive, and, second, impersonal. It's exactly the same grammar as in Spanish me gustan las manzanas ("myself taste the apples") for English "I like apples". So Russian for "he likes her" would be ему нравится она, which grammatically is "to him wills herself she".

This, again, is not something a Russian speaker would analyze when speaking. It's just a way to tell this in Russian, in the same way as it is in Spanish.

If we combine the two verbs above, we'll get:

Они хотят, чтобы она ему нравилась

, making a subjunctive sentence for "he liked her" and using that as a single possible object for хотеть, "to want".

  • I like this term n-valent. Is it a real linguistic term or you just borrowed it from chemistry?
    – farfareast
    Jun 16, 2017 at 2:31
  • @farfareast: not me, but yes. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valency_(linguistics)
    – Quassnoi
    Jun 16, 2017 at 3:19
  • perhaps one could also use "arity" term from programming and Function Calculus, but they were developed a bit later than Chemistry and lost the race for the term :-)
    – Arioch
    Jun 16, 2017 at 9:08

The short answer is

Она хочет ему нравиться/понравиться. Они хотят, чтобы она ему понравилась.

If you have another verb, the situation doesn't cause any difficulty. Say, "She wants him to buy her a ring."In order to translate it we use a sentence with a subordinate clause,whenever we have an infinitive as an object in the English sentence.

Она хочет, чтобы он купил ей кольцо.

Они хотят, чтобы она ему понравилась.(The same structure).

But in the first sentence we don't use this long structure,because the subject of the main sentence coincides with the subject in the subordinate clause. So we use "Она хочет ему нравиться/понравиться ".


Well, the thing is that when we translate something from one language to another there's no such thing like one-to-one correspondence between the structure of the phrase. Verb can be translated as adjective, adjective can be translated as a noun, something can be dropped, something could be added.

To be honest, regarding this, your question is actually fundamentally invalid in general.

But, actually, in this particular case, well, with some verbs it's possible to construct something similar, with her, for instance:

  • Она хочет, чтобы он её любил.
  • Она хочет, чтобы он её понимал.

With some verbs - just like with нравился it's not the case.


There simply isn't a grammatical spot to stick 'her' into. You would have to use a separate clause:

They want him to like her.

Они хотят, чтобы она ему понравилась.

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