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I encountered a sentence something like:

Дима не читает газеты. Dima doesn't read [the] newspaper[s].

I didn't know whether the -ы ending here referred to a plural accusative or a singular genitive. Is there a way to definitely tell whether a sentence is using the negative genitive or not?

Best of thanks,

1 Answer 1

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Is there a way to definitely tell whether a sentence is using the negative genitive or not?

Not definitely, no.

But it's more likely to be the plural accusative than the singular genitive.

In Russian, the genitive, among other things, conveys a meaning of indefiniteness. It can be translated into English as "some (of)" (or "any (of)" in negative sentences). This is opposed to the accusative, which conveys a meaning of definiteness, similar to the English article "the".

The genitive is usually used with plural or collective nouns (хочу денег, хочу печенья, хочу любви). It can be translated into English as "I want some money, some cookies, some love", or, with the negative, "I don't want any money, any cookies, any love".

The genitive does occur with definite nouns, but rarely:

  • Тетка пошла в гостиную и посмотрела за шкап: хозяин не скушал куриной лапки, она лежала на своем месте, в пыли и паутине
  • Но тот не брал бумажника, а стоял и ждал объяснения
  • Ты хорошо сделала, что не взяла рубля

The singular genitive reading would mean "Dima is not reading (any of) the newspaper", while the plural accusative would mean "Dima is not reading the newspapers".

The latter reading, albeit peculiar as well, is more likely to occur in speech.

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  • Thanks a lot - this was really useful
    – ermatveit
    Dec 21, 2021 at 18:48

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