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I'm trying to do an exercise, and to give an idea of what we're supposed to do in the exercise, the author gives the following example:

"книга в моей комнате" -> "книга у меня в комнате"

I'm trying to figure out the pedagogical purpose of the exercise. The first sentence I would translate as "The book is in my room", and the 2nd as "My book is in the room". I think the purpose is to change the 'subject' of the possession. Is it this simple? Or am I missing something?

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  • Are you sure those are really sentences? No capital letter and no full stop, or is it you who simplified the way it's actually written in your textbook?
    – Yellow Sky
    Sep 29 '20 at 15:46
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    The second translation is wrong. Basically the sentences mean the same.
    – Anixx
    Sep 30 '20 at 20:54
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Russian allows to tell the same thing different ways with slightest differences in meaning, and this is the case.

I would say that they both are translated to English as «The book is in my room». The first one is more grammatically correct, but rarely used in real life. The second one is a kind of simplification and is used more often in spoken language.

I the first sentence makes a little bit more stress on «my room», and the second one says that the book is «on my side, I have it, where? — in my room». But again, these are very thin effects…

I hope I was clear enough :)

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    Can you really say that the first is "more correct"? No! They are both correct!
    – OmarL
    Sep 29 '20 at 13:47
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The pedagogical purpose of the exercise is to introduce the specific Russian possessive construction “y + possessor in the Genitive case” which is rather unusual outside of the Slavic languages.

If what you wrote in your question is the exact way it is written in the exercise (no capital letter, no full stop), then those are noun phrases, not sentences, they both mean “book in my room”. Many languages including Russian use this way of saying it, but Russian has one more way, the “y + Gen.” construction which is explained in detail in this answered question: Possessive constructions: “мой” vs. “у меня”. The shift from your supposedly habitual wording “book in my room” to “book by me in room” (this is a word-for-word translation of the construction) includes

  1. the use of one more preposition, “y”;
  2. the change of the possessive pronoun “мой” to the personal pronoun “я”;
  3. the change of the case of the pronoun to Genitive, “я” > “меня”.

You are supposed to be able to perform that 3-step transformation correctly and quickly, that is why you need to train doing that transformation, and training is the main purpose of every exercise.

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The both mean "the book is in my room".

Now, I will try to explain the subtle difference.

The first one is closer in the meaning to "the book is in the room that I own/possess". You do not necessarily live there. Suppose you bought a room in a newly-constructed building, and never visited it. Now, there is somehow the book you are looking for occurred there. You say "книга в моей комнате в новом доме".

The second one implies you live in that room, not only own it.

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  • Saying это мой автобус can mean one of two things: (1) ownership of the bus, or (2) to indicate that one is going to take the bus. Similarly, saying это у меня в автобусе can imply (1) ownership of the bus, or that (2) something related to me is going to happen / has happened / is placed in the bus.
    – ゑ01
    Oct 1 '20 at 9:53
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Usage of words in Russian is often very nuanced.

Both phrases, книга в моей комнате and книга у меня в комнате, are translated as the book in my room. Both sound contrived, whether in Russian or English, when used in context of mobile or lightweight objects. However, either form can be used for large inanimate objects such as table, fireplace etc.

Стол в моей комнате / Стол у меня в комнате

Камин в моей комнате / Камин у меня в комнате

Камин в моей комнате accentuates the fireplace as a feature of my room.
Камин у меня в комнате accentuates the location of the fireplace in my room.

For animate objects, or events of nature, the first form is used to accentuate the discomfort or lack of ability to respond to the situation:

Сквозняк в моей комнате жуткий (а в других комнатах - нет, и непонятно, почему) : Draft in my room is just terrible (but in the other rooms, it is ok, and I have no idea why it is so)

Комары в моей комнате совсем озверели (а выйти - нельзя) : Mosquitoes in my room are killing me (but I cannot leave the room)

Друзья в моей комнате расположились как у себя дома (а мне теперь - куда?) : Friends have made themselves quite comfortable in my room (and now I have got no place to stay myself)

The second form is used to accentuate the comfort with, or ability to respond to the situation:

Сквозняк у меня в комнате жуткий (и придётся заклеить окно) : Draft in my room is just terrible (and I will have to seal the window)

Комары у меня в комнате совсем озверели (так что я там долго не засиживаюсь) : Mosquitoes in my room are killing me (and because of that I do not stay there long)

Друзья у меня в комнате расположились как у себя дома (ну и хорошо) : Friends have made themselves quite comfortable in my room (and that is great).

Finally, addition of a dash changes either phrase into a declaration of the fact that the book is in my room:

Книга - в моей комнате.

Книга - у меня в комнате.

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