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From my (beginner's) understanding, most of the time, choosing the right case to use for a word is a straightforward process: after много, use the genitive, etc.

However, sometimes there can be conflicting applicable rules. Let's imagine I want to say: "sorry for the five mistakes":

  • извини за should be followed by an accusative
  • пять should be followed by a genitive plural

So in the sentence "извини за пять [ошибка]", what case should I use for ошибка? Accusative, or genitive plural?

And what kind of logic governs the choice between those conflicting rules? Does each rule have some intrinsic priority, e.g. the "пять" (or any similar number) rule is always more important than the "извини за" rule? Or does it depend on the order of words, e.g. the "пять" rule takes precedence in this specific sentence because пять comes last?

Lastly, do you know whether there's any name for this kind of situation? I couldn't find it anywhere in my grammar book, nor on a search engine, but I might just be missing the proper keywords. Or did I make up a problem that doesn't actually exist?

3 Answers 3

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You should use the genitive plural: за пять ошибок.

The general rule is: the preposition governs the case of the next word (unless it's used in a post position: забавы для, шутки ради) and the numeral governs the following noun (although the noun may come first: часа два, минут пять).

However, there is a quirk (and you were right to suspect something was not quite as simple): when a numeral takes a case other than nominative or accusative, it starts behaving like an adjective and "passes on" its case to the noun it is governing:

  • о пяти ошибках
  • к пяти ошибкам
  • с пятью ошибками

This is not seen as a "clash of rules", and you would normally find this information under "Numeral Declension" in a textbook.

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So in the sentence "извини за пять [ошибка]", what case should I use for ошибка? Accusative, or genitive plural?

The genitive plural: извини за пять ошибок

And what kind of logic governs the choice between those conflicting rules? Does each rule have some intrinsic priority, e.g. the "пять" (or any similar number) rule is always more important than the "извини за" rule? Or does it depend on the order of words, e.g. the "пять" rule takes precedence in this specific sentence because пять comes last?

Yes, each rule does have some intrinsic priority, which you have to learn as a part of mastering the language.

The noun phrase пять ошибок is governed by the verb and the preposition, so you have to put the phrase as a whole into the correct case.

The case of the noun ошибка within the phrase is governed by the numeral, with respect to the noun phrase case.

If the noun phrase is in nominative or accusative, then the default numeral rules apply: the same case as that of a phrase for один, the singular genitive for два, три, четыре, the plural genitive for other numerals and quantifiers like много, мало, несколько, etc: извини за одну ошибку, две ошибки, пять ошибок

If the noun phrase is in a case other than nominative or accusative, then the noun's case should match the numeral's case: привело к одной ошибке, двум ошибкам, пяти ошибкам; хватило одной ошибки, двух ошибок, пяти ошибок etc.

Lastly, do you know whether there's any name for this kind of situation? I couldn't find it anywhere in my grammar book, nor on a search engine, but I might just be missing the proper keywords. Or did I make up a problem that doesn't actually exist?

There are different approaches to parsing natural languages. What you might be looking for is a concrete example of a phrase structure rule which tells how to expand a noun phrase involving a numeral and a dependent noun.

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  • Thanks! I can only accept one answer, and I don't have enough reputation to upvote, but I do like the detailed explanation, especially about много and other words, because I was indeed wondering also about those and not just about the case of numerals.
    – TanguyP
    Jan 13, 2023 at 10:22
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If the logic of the sentence requires the addition of the nominative or accusative case, the numeral is put in that case. The noun will get the case according to the rule:

  • 1 + nominative singular (exception - 11)
  • 2-4 + genitive singular
  • 5... / 11 + genitive plural. Извини за пять ошибок.

In all other cases (genitive, dative, instrumental, prepositional) the case of the numeral is equal to the case of the noun. + There is a nuance with the grammatical number: 1 + singular, 2... + plural. Нет пяти ошибок. Пятью ошибками. О пяти ошибках.

Why is this the case? Words in collocations are connected by different kinds of syntactic hierarchical organization. Usually this connection is the same in all cases, but with numerals it is different: in the nominative and accusative cases the main word is a numeral, and in the other cases it is a noun. This happened because the group "numerals" is heterogeneous in origin and grammar.

To search, try "The syntax of numeral-noun constructions in Russian".

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