I came across this phrase in a Russian reader I purchased and translated the phrase to mean,

I cannot do nothing with this.

The translation given by the author is

I can't do anything about it.

I checked the uses of the preposition "с" with the instrumental case in a Russian Grammar book, which stated the following uses:

(a) with in the sense of together with, along with, accompanied by

(b) to indicate an accompanying characteristic or attribute of someone or something

(c) to indicate manner

Also used with a list of verbs.


Is this phrase an idiomatic expression, or am I missing a case of use with the preposition с + instrumental? Thank you

2 Answers 2


Another meaning of the Russian preposition "с" when used with the instrumental case is expressing associations, rather than spacial or temporal closeness. English "with" expresses a similar meaning in

I don't have anything to do with this. (я тут ни при чём)

Note that the meaning changes based on context: compare

Я не знаю что делать с лопатой. (I don't know what to do with a shovel.)


Я не знаю что делать с головной болью. (I don't know what to do about my headache.)

P.S. I am assuming that your question is not about the double negative in the reader's translation: that's commonplace in Russian - "ничего не могу сделать" becomes "cannot do anything".


It seems that it corresponds then to the last sentence given in the Russian Grammar book that you quoted ("it is also used with a list of verbs"). The preposition c is used along with the verb делать: "to do something about/with ..." is "делать что с + (instr.)", which is indeed present in the phrase in question.

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