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I found a phrase in Russian that said "Снова нам в путь", meaning "We're on our way again". I didn't quite understand why it used the dative Нам instead of the nominative Мы.

I tried to translate "Мы в путь" at Yandex and it gives the same translation ("We're on our way") and even some examples. The complete sentence "Снова мы в путь" translated only slightly differently, as "We're on the road again".

What exactly is the difference and the reason behind using either the dative or the nominative there? Are they interchangeable or do they really convey a different meaning?

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This is an example of so called "finale dative" (дательный цели).

It is used in expressions describing necessity or predetermination.

Мне завтра (идти) к врачу // I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow

Мне скоро (выходить) на работу // I need to leave for work soon.

Мне он не нравится, но тебе с ним жить // I don't like him, but it's you who will be living with him.

etc.

Latin has similar constructs.

For instance, the phrase "Vengeance is mine; I will repay" from Romans 12:19 was translated into Russian as Мне отмщение, Я воздам (Russian Synodal Translation) and into Latin as Mihi vindicta, ego retribuam (Nova Vulgata), also using the dative.

Нам в путь means "we need / have / are destined to hit the road".

Мы в путь is an ellipsis for мы отправляемся в путь which means "we are about to hit the road".

The latter does not carry the meaning of necessity or predetermination, it's just a pure statement of the fact.

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  • Спасибо за подробный ответ! It makes a lot of sense, as the idea of necessity fits the context of where I found the sentence. Is this completely unrelated to the "Мне надо ..." construction or does it work sort of like we had the надо omitted? From your explanation it seems to go beyond the meaning of надо, so I'm imagining it's not related. Just asking because I vaguely remember reading about the omission of надо somewhere.
    – IanC
    Aug 13 at 15:57
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    @IanC: надо is one of the possible connotations, but not the only one possible. Мне надо к врачу means "I need to see the doctor"; мне к врачу could mean "I have a doctor's appointment I don't really need but I'll go anyway" or "I'm here to see the doctor" or something else, depending on context.
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 13 at 16:39

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