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Every source I can find of the lyrics of Тополиный пух claims that the song contains the following line near the beginning:

И беспечной птицей в небо улетаешь

If I understand correctly, «беспечной» is declined in the genitive case, which makes sense in the context of the English translation of the lyrics that I found ("[and] like a carefree bird").

However, «птицей» appears to be declined in the instrumental. Why is this the case? Doesn't this break the agreement between the adjective and the noun (as well as not making much sense—"with a bird")?

It's possible that this is simply a transcription error that someone made and every other website copied, as the genitive of птица, птицы, sounds similar (and I can't tell from the audio which one is actually being sung). Additionally, -ей seems to be a common genitive case ending, but it's just the wrong one for птица.

However, I know next to nothing about the Russian language, so I'm not sure whether any of this is accurate. Is this simply an error in the written lyrics, or is there a reason to use the instrumental case for the noun here (or am I wrong about its being in the instrumental at all)?

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    The endings of genitve, dative, instrumental and prepositional cases for feminine adjectives are the same: -ой/-ей. – Abakan Jul 4 '17 at 15:45
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    In English the mark of Genitive case is preposition "of". So it is not Genitive in English either. – Anixx Jul 8 '17 at 22:51
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"И беспечной птицей" is indeed in an instrumental case - it answers the question "Улетаешь кем?" - птицей.

To better understand why it is so, think of this phrase as of something with hidden verb which is not used but sort of is implied:

Улетаешь [прикинувшись/обернувшись/cтав] кем?

There are actually some other phrases constructed similarly, like in:

  • Сейчас волком завою от тоски. (I'm about to howl [like a -> becoming] a wolf)
  • Клубы дыма незатейливой вереницей спиралек улетают куда-то ввысь.

But still you just need to memorize how verbs are governed. After all, why, say обернувшись лисой, not just обернуться в лису? With whatever tricky explanation we'll come, it's just that we need to learn it

There's no contradiction between the adjective and the noun in instrumental case - actually adjective is also in instrumental - @Abakan got it covered right in the comment.

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    Ah, I see, I missed the fact that the adjective can also be instrumental. Спасибо! – Doorknob Jul 4 '17 at 16:19
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It is instrumental case indeed.

One of the functions of instrumental in Russian is conveying sense of similarity. Usually it can be replaced with an analytical construct with как ("like"):

  • Время летит стрелою (как стрела) // Time flies like an arrow
  • Я волком (как волк) бы выгрыз бюрократизм // I'd tear like a wolf at bureaucracy

Russian adverbs ending in -ски, -цки (по-английски, по-дурацки, мастерски) etc. are in fact remnants of the same paradigm in Old Russian: they are nothing else than adjectives in what used to be m. pl. inst. in Old Russian.

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    Волны падали вниз стремительным домкратом ))) – shabunc Jul 4 '17 at 16:00
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The line is correct and makes sense as written:

И беспечной птицей в небо улетаешь

While "беспечной" could be genitive, if you refer to a conjugation chart you will see that this form is also prepositional, dative, or instrumental. You have to look at the context to resolve the ambiguity. Since it modifies "птицей" which is unambiguously instrumental, "беспечной" resolves to instrumental to match. So, there is no agreement problem.

Changing "птицей" to "птицы" as you propose would indeed put it in the genitive case, but the resulting sentence would no longer mean "like a carefree bird". Instead it would be "of a carefree bird" which would not make any sense.

Nor does "беспечной птицей" mean "with a carefree bird". That would be "с беспечной птицей". The preposition "с" is necessary to convey "with" in the sense of "together". So, the person addressed is not flying off in the company of a carefree bird.

Without the preposition "с", the instrumental case has two main uses:

  1. To indicate that the noun so declined is an instrument or means used to accomplish the action
  2. To indicate that the noun is the name of a role being played

So either the bird is a vehicle used to fly away into the sky, or the person flying away is playing the role of a carefree bird. I am guessing that in this context the second option is the most likely. Therefore the literal translation is:

And as a carefree bird [thou] art flying away into the sky

In the Russian text the "thou" is omitted, but we can infer it from "улетаешь", "art flying away".

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Instrumental case is used here because a verbal participle будучи (being) is implied: И беспечной птицей в небо улетаешь.И, будучи (whom? what?) беспечной птицей, в небо улетаешь.

The difference is that the participle creates a subordinate clause, while its omission gives a simple sentence with no clauses.

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