3

If I want to translate

Today is raining

I learned that I can say

сегодня идёт дождь

But let's say I want to translate

Yesterday it was not raining.

I would say:

1) вчера не шёл дождь

But on different sources I have seen

2) вчера не было дождя

Is there a difference between these two constructions or are they equivalent?

  • "Bчера не было дождя" is "Yesterday it did't rain." That's all. – Yellow Sky Nov 30 '19 at 22:23
  • 1
    So it's the same as "вчера не шёл дождь", isn't it? – Lukas Dec 1 '19 at 8:43
  • "вчера не шёл дождь" looks perfectly grammatical, but unnatural for the native speaker. – SimonE Dec 2 '19 at 7:50
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    вчера дождь не шёл sounds better, in my opinion. – alamar Dec 4 '19 at 12:52
7

A very interesting observation. Indeed, people tend to say дождя нет instead of дождь не идёт, in the present tense as well.

The reason is tricky. "Properly", you'd have to use the negative genitive here: дождя не идёт / дождя не шло. But people intuitively shy away from impersonalising a verb like идти which is almost always used personally (i.e. with a subject). So these two conflicting demands — "you need a negative genitive" and "an impersonal не шло sounds rather odd" — find a fairly standard compromise in falling back on a form of не быть instead.

A more recent development of the negative genitive is that its absence (i.e. using the nominative or accusative instead) conveys a sort of definitiveness, much like an article. Thus Вы не видели велосипеда? is "Have you [by any chance] seen a bicycle?", whereas Вы не видели велосипед? is "Have you seen the bicycle?"

In much the same way, modern Russian parses вчера не шёл дождь as talking about "the" rain, in whatever context that might be. (And further context would be required to justify the word order, as opposed to the more natural вчера дождь не шёл, putting the new information last.) "The rain" is clearly a regular occurrence here whose absence yesterday was unusual.

And these grammatical indications are intuitively clear, giving speakers another reason to prefer a simple вчера дождя не было if all they want to say is that it didn't rain yesterday.

2

вчера не было дождя - sounds the most natural

вчера дождь не шёл - sounds legitimate but does not roll from the tongue

However!

вчера снег не шёл - sounds the most natural

вчера не было снега - totally confusing without context, is it about snow on the ground or in the air?

1

both phrases mean the same. вчера не было дождя sounds more natural if you want to express the absence of rain.

0

In my understanding дождь не идёт is a generalized phrase, while дождя нет is a little more specific: it is not raining right now, although we are well aware of the bad weather and wouldn't be surprised if it rained any moment.

I guess it may be approximated with English progressive tense:

дождь не идёт → it doesn't rain

дождя нет → it is not raining

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