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In the following sentence:

Государство это устойчиво только при одном условии: если форма его принята добровольно.

I don't understand the second sentence, especially how его works. Based on the Google translate:

This state is stable only on one condition: if its form is accepted voluntarily.

If this translation is correct, его seems to modify форма, but it is put after it, not before. принята is likely принять, in a form of past passive and the subject is omitted, if I understand it correctly.

But then why does его put in such a way? Or is it possibly a typo?

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  • In fact the Russian phrase does not really make sense. It is not clear what "форма государства" means.
    – markvs
    Oct 27, 2021 at 3:25
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    @markvs — In fact, the Russian phrase does make sense and it is pretty clear what “форма государства” means. If it's not clear for you, here's a clue: ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Форма_государства
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 27, 2021 at 5:59
  • It is not clear for me because it does not make sense. You won't be able to prove the opposite to me because I have been speaking Russian for more than 60 years.
    – markvs
    Oct 27, 2021 at 6:05
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    @markvs — It's good you agree it's not clear for you. Speaking a language for a whole life doesn't automatically mean knowing all the specialized terminology. For example I have been speaking Russian for more than 40 years and still don't know what “кейнсианство” and “банковский мультипликатор” mean, that does not make any sense for me. Never mind, it's OK if you don't know something, the point is to realize you don't know everything.
    – Yellow Sky
    Oct 27, 2021 at 6:27
  • @YellowSky: This phrase does not make sense. As for Wikipedia article you referred to, everybody. even the most illiterate person can write a Wikipedia article. That is especially true for Russian Wikipedia.
    – markvs
    Oct 27, 2021 at 6:31

2 Answers 2

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As you know, you should not generally rely on word order in Russian. Look:

При одном только условии устойчиво это государство: форма если добровольно принята его.

This is an absolutely correct sentence with the same meaning, just with a slightly different emphasis. Of course, some ways to say things are more common than others, some are plainly incorrect and some are more ambiguous than others, but flexibility is great.

The important fact is not the word order but that "его" has a Genitive relationship to "форма". Grammatically, the meaning would be absolutely identical if the sentence were

...если его форма принята добровольно.

Indeed, this form (pardon the pun) is "normal", or "neutral" in Russian, but the reverse order (this is called инверсия) is also common. By the way, there is another example of it in your sentence: "государство это", and you didn't stumble over it.


There is a finer issue with this sentence related to the word order: does "только" relate to "условие" or "устойчиво"? Unlike "его", its grammatical form doesn't hint us. Yet logically, the meaning is drastically different: is there "only one condition" of stability, or is stability only ensured on this condition?

Obviously, the first interpretation is false and they meant the second one. (Although, who knows...) The way you translated it seems to retain this ambiguity. Yet, I'm not sure it's right, because in English with its stricter word order you can easily avoid such ambiguity:

The state is stable on only one condition...

vs.

The state is only stable on one condition...

If the first one were correct, they would have said "при только одном условии". Here, we infer the relationship from essentially the word order, even in Russian.

But if they said "...только устойчиво при одном условии...", like in the second English option, it would mean a different thing: only stable but nothing else, say, stable but not prosperous. This is almost non-sensical, so they did what they did, hoping that we'll parse the meaning correctly.

(This is why mathematicians love the construct "if and only if").

There is one form that would unambiguously say what (I believe) they mean, but it's a bit more colloquial:

Вот только, государство это устойчиво при одном условии...

Anyway, I think it would be better to translate it "only stable", simply because you can resolve/reduce the ambiguity effectively. Also remember that when you see demonstratives like "это" in Russian, you often have the option of using "the" instead of literally translating "this" or "that".

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    Well, I assumed that on государство это, это works as a paraphrase of the subject, not as a demonstrative pronoun. I knew in Russian word order is relatively lax, but didn't know that demonstrative and possessive pronouns can also be separatable from the noun. Thank you for the explanation.
    – Blaszard
    Oct 27, 2021 at 19:06
  • "форма если добровольно принята его." - is not Russian even a little bit!
    – Gangnus
    Nov 2, 2021 at 16:27
  • @Gangnus, absolutely it is. It is not common, but grammatically correct. Could be used in verses, for example. Зададимся нынче мы вопросом: выживать легко // Государству в двадцать первом веке? Отчего // Много лет подряд, меняясь, столь устойчиво порой оно? // Так бывает форма если добровольно принята его.
    – Zeus
    Nov 3, 2021 at 4:22
  • @Zeus I descend from a family of Soviet writers and poets. I myself worked as a journalist. Russian journalist. And I worked not in one of the contemporary non-edited illiterate periodic editions, but under a real editor - old-timer. And I was often praised for ideal Russian text. And I can definitely say that what you are citing, is not a literate Russian text, but absolute rubbish. Russian also has its order of words. That awful pseudopoetry cannot serve as an excuse for breaking the language.
    – Gangnus
    Nov 4, 2021 at 0:25
  • @Gangnus, oh gosh, phallometrics, I'm more Russian than you. Знаешь ли ты, чья кровь во мне? Гедимина кровь во мне! // И потому кичливости твоей не потерплю я. I'll leave it at that.
    – Zeus
    Nov 4, 2021 at 8:46
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Modifiers coming after the word they modify are quite common in Russian:

  • государство это 'this state'
  • форма его 'its form'

The subject of the second clause is форма (...its form is accepted).

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