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I was explaining to a friend how to use nouns with numerals 2, 3 and 4 and figured out that I don't know which of the following two possibilities is correct:

1a. Я вижу две вороны.
1b. Я вижу двух ворон.

In other words, should I use feminine nouns that denote animals as if they are animated (1b) or not (1a)? For masculine nouns it seems to be clearer, I'd say that 2b is better than 2a:

2a. Отец зарезал три барана.
2b. Отец зарезал трех баранов.

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    related question: russian.stackexchange.com/questions/511/… – KCd Dec 23 '12 at 7:21
  • I would add that in your first case ворона could be male, and this adds two more possibilities: 1с. Я вижу два ворона, and 1d. Я вижу двух воронов, both of which seem correct to me. – Daniel Ganiev Dec 24 '12 at 9:21
  • @DanielExcinsky Ворона и Ворон are different birds - Crow and Raven, so 1c and 1d are actually 2a and 2b. – Artemix Dec 24 '12 at 11:23
  • let us continue this discussion in chat – Daniel Ganiev Dec 24 '12 at 11:48
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Rosenthal et al., СППЛР, #153.3:

В вариантах купить двух коров – купить две коровы, подстрелить трех уток – подстрелить три утки (при названиях животных в форме женского рода, когда речь идет об общем счете, купле-продаже) вторая форма имеет разговорный характер.

In general, animal names have varying animacy depending on the semantic context: as a dish or ingredient, they are regarded inanimate.

Ibid:

В различии форм поймал трех рыбок – съел три рыбки сказывается то обстоятельство, что во втором случае имеется в виду кушанье, т.е. неодушевленность (ср.: съесть кильки, сардины, шпроты – как нерасчлененный продукт; но: съесть карасей, раков, цыплят – как единичные предметы). Возможные варианты: есть креветок, устриц, пулярок – есть креветки, устрицы, пулярки. Такие же колебания наблюдаются у существительных матрешка, кукла, марионетка.

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According to Wiki, only singular feminine nouns ending in 'a' have a distinct form in the accusative case.(1b) But I personally don't see much difference between these variants. I'd say (1a) because "вижу двух ворон" sounds like "вижу двух девушек". I think "ворона" is more like an object you are describing looking at a picture.

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I see no difference, whether an animal is used or human, because they are both animate (disregarding their physical condition), and so it seems that (b) is the correct way in both cases.

A similar question on gramota.ru also suggests accusative as the only correct version:

Как будет правильно: Я видел две высокие девушки или Я видел двух высоких девушек?

Правильно: двух высоких девушек.

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  • Your answer is very confusing. To start with, you do not answer the question and you don't cite anything that is relevant to it. I am asking about nouns that name animals, not humans, that makes the link to gramota.ru irrelevant. I am asking about simple numerals "два\две", "три", and "четыре", not about collective numerals like "двое", and this makes the reference to Rosental's book irrelevant, too. Finally, you cannot just omit a numeral, because when the whole noun phrase has nominative case, the numeral is actually the head of the phrase, and it is used not as any normal NP. – Olga Dec 22 '12 at 21:44
  • Sorry, but now I find your comment confusing. To start with, I answered the question "which of the two possibilities are correct". I see no difference, whether an animal is used or human, because they are both animate (disregarding their physical condition). Then I looked up whether there is any difference at all between animate and inanimate objects, and found only one reference in Rosental when that makes sense. As a result my understanding of the question reduced to the correct usage of plurality + case form. If the answer is still confusing, I don't mind to delete or appropriately edit it. – Lyth Dec 22 '12 at 22:54
  • Now, when I see your comment, I understand why you have included all these references into your answer. But it is not clear from the answer itself, why you have mentioned them. Maybe you should include your claim that nouns that refer to animals and humans are both animate and should change according to the same patterns, and only then mention the link on gramota. For me, that would make the answer clearer. – Olga Dec 22 '12 at 23:46
  • As for the collective numerals, they are not the only one construction with numerals where animateness matters. Accusative of phrases with numerals "два\две", "три", "четыре" is different depending on whether one talks about people or about objects: "увидеть двух братьев", but "увидеть два столба" – Olga Dec 22 '12 at 23:49
  • I also don't understand why 1a is incomplete or grammatically incorrect, I don't know which words you call subjects and which rule does not allow two subjects in a simple sentence, and I am also not sure what definition of subject you use. – Olga Dec 22 '12 at 23:54

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