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Ты мне снишься каждую ночь.

I get that ты is the subject, but to my English-speaking mind, the person dreaming is the one performing the action, and so the person dreamt about should be the object.

What is a good way to explain this usage to an English-speaking person?

The closest I can get is: "You came to me in a dream". In this case, "dream" ceases to be a verb so the translation is not exactly verbatim.

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  • This is a very good question, but translations to English and other languages are off-topic on this site. I've amended the question a little bit so that it stays on-topic, hope that's OK.
    – Quassnoi
    Aug 21, 2022 at 22:14
  • @Quassnoi thanks very much for the edit. The question now more aptly captures what I meant.
    – KalenGi
    Aug 22, 2022 at 11:32

3 Answers 3

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Unfortunately, sometimes, subjects and objects may get swapped in translation, just like in the phrases "у меня есть X"/"I have X", or "мне нужен X"/"I need X". This is just something you need to remember — it's a quirk of this verb. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a more reasonable explanation — that's just how it is. In this case, I cannot think of any translation that would be more literal than "you come to me in a dream every night".

Сни́ться (imperfective) / присни́ться (perfective) means "to come in a dream", it can have an indirect object that states who was having that dream, and this indirect object needs to be in dative case (so: "A+Nom сни́ться B+Dat" means that A came to B in a B's dream) and it usually corresponds to the English phrase "to dream about smth" (NOT to "dream of smth" — it's not used in a figurative meaning of "to want smth really bad").

  • Мне снилась мама. - I was dreaming about mom. (verbatim: Mom was coming to me in a dream.)
  • Мне сегодня приснилась мама. - I dreamed about mom today. (verbatim: Today, mom came to me in a dream.)
  • Я помню, мы это обсуждали. Мне же это не приснилось? - I remember we discussed this. It wasn't a dream[, right?]
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  • Good point that this just happens (fortunately or unfortunately :-) ). Сниться - being reflexive verb is an interesting fact - but not so much relevant here. This 'inversion' of subject and object also happens in other language pairs. The most famous example is probably Le livre me plait (in French) translates to I like the book (in English). Literally The book brings me pleasure, which just means I like the book.
    – farfareast
    Aug 22, 2022 at 20:41
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In Russian, when we have the reflexive suffix ся, which means, in general, that the action is directed towards the speaker, it's like an inverstion of the subject and the object. Example:

мыть - to wash
мыться - to take a shower, it's like to wash myself

Of course, language is irregular and some verbs only exist in the reflexive form, like "сниться."

So сниться is best translated as to be in someone's dream.

Consequently, the closest verbatium translation would be You are (or exist) in my dreams every night, because you can't reverse the subject and the object in English like that.

Interesting fact: -ся came from себя, which literally translates to myself.

(I'm not good in english, please sorry for missused tenses and verb forms — Russian is my native language.)

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  • +1 Just mention that the topic discussed is called возвратные глаголы
    – V.V.
    Aug 22, 2022 at 8:28
  • Nice to learn that -ся came from себя
    – KalenGi
    Aug 25, 2022 at 15:38
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How about "I saw you in a dream" vs "You appeared in my dream"?

Thus, you can think of сниться as of 'to appear in a dream', "явиться во сне".

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