I believe that the phrases in Russian for 'I was a student' is Я был студентом (instrumental case) and 'I was not a student' is Я не было студента (genitive case) and 'I am a student' is Я студент (nominative case) and 'I am not a student' is Я не студента (genitive case). Is this correct?

3 Answers 3


The negative statements are off.

Я не был студентом - Instrumental just like in the positive statement.

Я не студент - Nominative just like in the positive statement.

Genitive negative is only applicable in cases where what's described is not an attribute inherent to the noun or actions performed by it but eventivity associated with it or to which it's subjected (which is why Genitive negative sounds like a passive voice).

Я не был студентом, BUT Меня не было дома

Я не был студентом, поэтому меня не было в списках учащихся. - I wasn't a student so i wasn't found in the registers.

Они здесь не бывают - They don't stop by here
Их здесь не бывает - They're not found here

The verb быть has 2 meanings: to be (inherent attribute) and to be present / to obtain (eventivity). In the Present tense, where it's not explicitly used, an inherent state (which in negation requires Nominative) is negated with the particle не while eventivity (which in negation requires Genitive) is negated with the particle нет/у

Я не студент BUT Меня здесь нет / У меня его нет/у

To put it differently, the semantics of Genitive negative with the verb быть in particular is not simply that something is/was not but that something is/was not relative to other circumstances.


In the construction

X was/were/will be somebody/something

somebody/something should be in the Instrumental case irrespective of whether it is affirmative or negative:

Я был студентом — Я не был студентом

Мы были студентами — Мы не были студентами

Вы будете студентами — Вы не будете студентами

The Genitive case is used after быть iт the following negative construction:

[somewhere] there wasn't/weren't/won't be somebody/something

For example:

Там не было этого студента

Летом здесь не будет студентов

  • Thank you. However I still can't understand in the positive statements 'I am a student' and 'I was a student' how the first is nominative я студент and the second is instrumental я Был студентом
    – Bob Daley
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 12:55
  • @Bob Daley please refer to the discussion Use of instrumental with был/быть and through links posted there to other discussions of this topic. To the present tense Instrumental can be applicable as well if you use a verb, e.g. Я являюсь студентом Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 19:31
  • @BobDaley - Я студент has no verb, so you use the Nominative case. There's nothing to understand, just remember that as a rule.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jul 5, 2019 at 5:15

In Russian language, we skip "to be" in the present tense. I am a student. Я студент. But in past and future we use it.

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