I've been having a hard time trying to find out when был is followed by nominative and when it is followed by instrumental.

  • Это даже не был дом, а ветхая сторожка, стоявшая в глубине сада.

  • Пушкин был великий поэт.

  • Стоимость квартиры была двести пятьдесять тысяч (250.000) евро


  • Дорога была ровной и однообразной.

Does был + nominative have any imperfective connotation, whereas был + instrumental has a perfective one?

  • you may notice that the two answers given are contradictory and for a good reason, because the rule is extremely vague, my rule of thumb would be to always use Instrumental, you can't go wrong with it, it's never awkward, whereas Nominative is much more finicky Feb 8, 2018 at 16:03
  • and also my advice is to always put a question to a noun, if it answers the question кем/чем? then it's obviously Instrumental, in your sentences 1 and 3 they answer a different question, i.e. что? and сколько? respectively Feb 8, 2018 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


был + nominative means constant (not temporary) feature. For example, you can say both Горький был писателем and Горький был писатель (the latter is colloqiual). You, however, cannot say Горький был грузчик, because his work as a loader was temporary. You should say Горький был грузчиком.


In the past tense, predicate nouns that are linked to the subject through the forms был/была́/бы́ли can be in either the nominative or instrumental cases. There is a lot of variation. A basic rule of thumb is that the predicate noun will be in the nominative case if it refers to some permanent quality (such as nationality), but in the instrumental case for a quality/feature that is changeable (such as profession).

See more information here Translation for "When I was young"

Пушкин был великим поэтом. (Normal usage) Пушкин был великий поэт (Colloquial )

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