I'm fairly new at studying russian but I came across this example in my workbook:

'Как зовут сына Илоны?' and right next to it 'Как зовут дочь Илоны?'

I know that 'Илоны' is genitive and the word its referring to should be in nominative, right?

For being plural, there should be a number in front of it like 'два'. So what am I missing here? Why is 'сына' in genetive but not 'дочь'?

3 Answers 3


It is best to analyse sentences beginning with the verb.
In Как зовут сына Илоны? the verb is зовут and it is in the 3rd person plural which means its subject should also be plural. But there are no plural nouns in this sentence which means the subject is they and it is omitted, зовут means '[they] call', this sentence is impersonal, that is, without an explicit subject. That is how Russian works when it comes to asking someone's name, Как тебя/Вас зовут? is actually 'How do they call you?' where тебя/Вас is the direct object and it is, naturally, in the accusative case.

Your sentence works just the same way.
Сына is the direct object in the accusative case. Since cын is a masculine animate noun, its accusative case = genitive case. If дочь is used instead, it will be in the accusative case too, but since дочь belongs to the 3rd noun declension (feminine nouns ending in a consonant + ь), its accusative case = nominative case.
Илоны is in genitive since it is an attribute to cын, cын Илоны is 'the son of Ilona.'

Как зовут сына Илоны? is 'How do.they.call the.son of.Ilona?' if translated word for word, where the subject 'they' is omitted since the verb зовут is impersonal, the direct object, the animate masculine noun сын 'son', is in the accusative case, and Илоны is in genitive case, 'of Ilona; Ilona's.'

There is a similar question on Russian SE.


I know that 'Илоны' is genitive and the word its referring to should be in nominative, right?

Not right. The word which is referred by a word in genitive can be in any case:

  • Ко мне подошёл сын Илоны (nominative).
  • Меня укусила собака сына Илоны (genitive).
  • Я иду в гости к сыну Илоны (dative).
  • Как зовут сына Илоны? Сына Илоны зовут Макс (accusative).
  • Вся улица гордится сыном Илоны (instrumental).
  • В газете написали о сыне Илоны (prepositional).

It is not unusual in scientific and official speech to have many genitives one after other.

  • @VerkhocevaKatya у меня так и написано же
    – Abakan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 18:20
  • @VerkhocevaKatya а, теперь понял. Тогда вместо "исправно" должно быть другое слово, скорее всего "верно" или "правильно". "Исправно" означает "не сломано, работает как надо" :)
    – Abakan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 18:30
  • In your 4th example, it's better to put that question mark before "(accusative)", because some people can think the question mark refers to which case it is, that you're not sure whether it is accusative.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 18, 2019 at 19:49
  • @YellowSky right.
    – Abakan
    Dec 18, 2019 at 19:54

It is accusative, just like in most of the Slavic languages and it is gender-sensitive and there is no reflexive pronoun.

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