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I've noticed that some words, such as sugar (сахар), tea (чай) and raisins (изюм or кишмиш), have a partitive case (разделительный падеж), different from their genitive. However, I've also heard that this usage is considered somewhat obsolete or outdated.

In what typical, everyday communication would one use these special partitives (сахару, ча́ю, изюму, кишмишу), and when are they preferred over the genitive?

Also, are there any differences in the usage of these partitives across these four words?

Would someone have a full list of words having a partitive different from their genitive?

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    Thank you @CocoPop for the corrections
    – Xavier
    Apr 12, 2022 at 16:03

3 Answers 3

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To complement Quassnoi's answer, here is a list of nouns that can take the ending -у (-ю) in the partitive genitive:

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  • I have started checking the list but I see that the word "мозг" appears, but it has not a partitive case in -y but a местный падеж (locative case) in -y. Maybe the query was expressed differently? Can you please double-check ?
    – Xavier
    Mar 31, 2022 at 21:25
  • @Xavier: it has both. Начала рассказывать старушка Ивликелхен: -— Много найду я мозгов, печенки, костного мозгу, легких. Хорошо поем.
    – Quassnoi
    Mar 31, 2022 at 22:20
  • Interesting, as it does not appear in Wikislovar (ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%B7%D0%B3). Maybe its usage is obsolete ? I understand your source is Zalizniak's Grammatical Dictionary, which is a reference if I understand correctly ? If so, is there an online resources that uses Zalizniak's dictionnary?
    – Xavier
    Apr 1, 2022 at 11:30
  • @Xavier, what kind of "online resources" are you after? The website I linked to in my answer (gramdict.ru) is based on Zalizniak's dictionary. Apr 2, 2022 at 15:03
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It's not in any way obsolete or outdated.

You use the partitive with a) mass nouns, and b) when you are talking about some unspecified or arbitrary quantity of the thing these nouns define.

I believe the closest thing in English that can illustrate this is biblical language like "come, eat of my food" (vs. just "eat my food"). It's not exactly the same, but close enough.

This is a very vague concept, so in many cases these two forms can be used interchangeably, but there's still a distinction between them.

A couple of examples:

Сначала Гуськов заглянул в каморку мельника и нашел там на полке большую эмалированную кружку, две головки чесноку и полпачки соли, на стене висела ножовка.

Here, "two heads of garlic" is used as a measure. It means "he found some garlic, of which there was two heads worth".

One could just as well use the genitive чеснока here, but this emphasizes that he found "two heads worth of garlic" vs. just "two garlic heads".

И под спиной что-то твёрдое, точно маленькие камушки. Это дольки чеснока.

This means "those were garlic cloves". Here, чеснок is used as an attribute and not as a mass noun. The partitive would not work here.

Using the partitive emphasizes the fact that you're not being exact about the quantity, so sentences using the partitive convey a certain "zing". It's somewhat like "I'll have some tea" vs. "I'll have some of that tea of yours".

Diminutive nouns ending in stressed -ок, like чайку, сахарку, коньячку etc. actually accept the partitive much more readily than the genitive.

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I have also heard that this is somewhat obsolete or outdated.

That's true, for the most part. One 1960's cookbook is full of recipes with "100г сахару", "10г луку", "200г сыру". I daresay the partitive is never used to give quantities in recipes nowadays.

In what typical, everyday communication would one use these special partitives (сахару, ча́ю, изюму, кишмишу) [...]

With these four particular nouns, I can't think of any context where you would have to use one of them. Of course, they can be used for a particular stylistic effect — if you want to sound extra well-mannered in the old-fashioned way: "не откажите откушать со мной чаю".

[...] when are they preferred over the genitive?

Looking at existing answers, I can see that opinions vary.

I would use it in idiomatic phrases like "с пылу с жару", "болтать без умолку", "с миру по нитке", "спору нет". Then there's another group of set phrases like "ни разу", "прибавить шагу", "сбить с толку" where either the partitive or genitive can be used, but the partitive seems far more idiomatic (again, that's my personal opinion).

I wouldn't use it in recipe-like contexts because I feel that the difference between "две головки чеснока" and "две головки чесноку" is not semantic, but rather purely stylistic (to evoke that old-fashioned feel).

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