In "The New Penguin Russian Course", M.J. Brown (1996), a tourist in Moscow asks:

Who was Dzherzhinsky?

using "кем" (with whom) as opposed to "кто" (who) -- Mr. Brown did not give an explanation - why would Russians say

with-whom-was-Dzh...?

to mean

who-was-Dzh...?

In English you could say “Dzherzhinsky was a revolutionary”, while in Russian this would be «Дзержинский был революционером» – in the Instrumental case.

Perhaps it is a little easier to see in the following sentence: “Dzherzhinsky worked as a politician” and «Дзержинский работал политиком» – in English you use a preposition, while in Russian you use a specific case for the same purpose. Going back to your example, in English with “to be” you don’t need a preposition, while in Russian you still need Instrumental with «быть» the same as with «работать».

It is hard to give an answer to “why”, that’s just how governance works in languages: unfortunately you have to simply learn which verbs require which prepositions (in English) or prepositions/cases (in Russian).

  • You don't need instrumental with быть always, but rather in any tense that is not the present tense. – KCd Sep 14 at 17:39

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.