Which case is used in the first word, and why? What is the grammatical logic behind the use of this particular case?

  1. Темным-темно

  2. давным-давно

2 Answers 2


Historically, it's instrumental case, or rather, one of the numerous usages of the instrumental in Russian: the emphatic instrumental (творительный усиления).

It can be used with adverbs (давным-давно, полным-полно), nouns (дурак дураком, змея змеёй), adjectives (белым-бела, черным-черна) and even verbs (есть поедом, слыхом не слыхивать etc.).

I failed to find a conclusive reasoning behind this, but I have a strong gut feeling that it's linked to the infinitive absolute, a Semitic construct which had been calqued into Greek and later to Church Slavonic when translating the Bible:

  • от­ дрéва же, éже разумѣ́ти дóброе и лукáвое, не снѣ́сте от­ негó: а въ óньже áще дéнь снѣ́сте от­ негó, смéртiю ýмрете (= "thou shalt surely die" in KJV, literally "you will die with a death").

  • áще же злóбою озлóбите я́, и воз­стенáв­ше возопiю́тъ ко мнѣ́, слýхомъ услы́шу глáсъ и́хъ (= "thou afflict them in any wise", "I will surely hear their cry"; literally "you will afflict them with an affliction", "I will hear them with my hearing")

  • kind of "Servus Servorum Dei" ?
    – Arioch
    Sep 27, 2017 at 9:09
  • воз­стенáв­ше возопiю́тъ - тоже повторение (стенать), если это не странная экхотическая форма "восставших"
    – Arioch
    Sep 27, 2017 at 9:11
  • @Arioch: yes, it's the same construct, though in this case it's translated using two different roots (the original construct has to use the same root to serve as an emphasis). It's actually used all through the Bible (вкушая вкусих мало меду etc.), however, it's usually conveyed in Church Slavonic using an adverbial participle rather than a noun.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 27, 2017 at 11:16
  • @Arioch: servus servorum is also an emphasis through reduplication, but of grammatically different origin. It's been calqued into Church Slavonic too: царь царей, святая святых etc.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 27, 2017 at 11:21
  • 1
    @Arioch: святая святых and смертию умрете are different constructs, both using reduplication for emphasis, but different. The first one is formed by two nouns or adjectives in original Biblical Hebrew, and forms a superlative. "Holiest of the holy" means "the most holy". The second one is formed by putting an infinitive of the verb after a finite form of the same verb. "He dies to die" means "he will die, that's for sure". Yes, both those constructs are used in Biblical Hebrew and had been calqued into the languages the Bible was translated to, but they are two separate constructs.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:40

Well, there's no case at all - those are just adverbs with reduplication. It's not that in words such as темным-темно,светлым-светло, давным-давно, старым-старо, пьяным-пьяно we

Reduplication, whether with word repeated exactly or slightly changed it a very common thing for a lot of languages, and Russian is no exception for this. In fact, I can even claim that this is one of the most old and universal features that human languages share.

Using reduplication for intensification is also something very common. As of changing the root - it's not necessarily even has to be related to any grammatical category (such as cases) at all.

It's like asking what exactly from the grammatical standpoint is shm in fancy-shmancy. The other thing is that we actually can try to come up with some etymological explanation of how exactly we end up with this forms for exactly this particular adverbs, but not some other ones (why not "холодным-холодно" for example).

I'm not aware of a good overview of inflected reduplication in Russian but my guess would be that, anyways, this would be a better fit for Linguistics SE.

  • @ shabunc Are you sure it's not a case? The second link says this—inflected reduplication: "давным-давно" ([dɐˈvnɨm dɐˈvno]; "very long time ago", lit. "pastly-past") "белым-бело" ([bʲɪˈlɨm bʲɪˈlo]; "very white", lit. "whitely-white") That seems like instrumental to me. Like literally "long by long". Instrumental can be used to indicate means, way, path.
    – VCH250
    Sep 26, 2017 at 19:16
  • your second sentence was cut off abruptly
    – Arioch
    Sep 27, 2017 at 9:06

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