I came across the phrase «куда мне звонить» and was unsure of the meaning. Does it mean "who is phoning me" or "who am I phoning"? If the latter shouldn't it be «куда я звоню»? What is the subject of the sentence? Why is the infinitive used? Why not «куда мне звонит» or «куда мне звонил»?
Does it mean "who is phoning me" or "who am I phoning"?
Neither. It's "Who do I phone?"
Meaning, most likely, what organisation or service the asker should call in the situation they're in. Куда "where" implies an entity or "place" on the other end of the line, instead of a specific person or people.
If the latter shouldn't it be «куда я звоню»?
Yes, if that was the case, it would be that.
What is the subject of the sentence? Why is the infinitive used?
There is no subject. In Russian, you can use the infinitive to ask questions. In English, it's a very Russian mistake to ask "What to do now?" instead of "What do I/we do now?"
The infinitive+dative construction expresses a "soft" kind of necessity or obligation, on par with "should" or that interrogative present simple.
Why not «куда мне звонит» or «куда мне звонил»?
These don't even sound like complete sentences, and what sense they do make seems to be about someone else calling the speaker at some place.
- In case of a question (Куда мне звонить?) the meaning is: Where can/should I call (for that)?
Literally: Where (what's the right place for me) to call?
- In case it's an intro to places and phone numbers (Куда мне звонить. Городской телефон: ... Домашний: ...), the meaning is: Where to call (for making a call to me).
The meaning is similar to 'Where am I to call' and it's expressed by the infinitive. A simpler phrase "куда звонить?" is also valid (cf, Where should one call?).
The idea is that the infinitive can express such questions as: What is to be done? (=Что делать?) Whom should I call? (=Кому мне звонить?) When must we arrive? (=Когда нам приехать?)
For me it sounds like an elliptic sentence.
куда мне звонить
is actually a shortened form of
куда мне следует звонить в случае пожара/потопа/непредвиденных обстоятельств
So a rule of thumb for you: when you see an infinitive like here
звонить try to expand the sentence first. What is the omitted verb? Infinitives can't be used alone in grammatically full sentences.
In metro when you read
не прислоняться it actually says something along the lines
мы просим вас не прислоняться к двери, если вы не хотите случайно пострадать
A sentence like
куда я звоню does not need additional verbs because there is no infinitive.
As you can read on Wikipedia such Russian impersonal verb forms (in our case the verb
следует is omitted) are often translated into English using
it. So one of the possible translations would be:
Where is it necessary for me to call in case of emergency?