In my Russian course we have learnt that in negative sentences the object is often in the genitive. On the other hand there are situations in which it is correct to use an accusative, and there is also a difference in meaning.

Here are some examples (the first is from my textbook):

  • Не люблю я зтой химии = I do not like (this) Chemistry (said by a student).
  • Не хочу воды / хлеба = I do not want (any) water / bread.
  • Не хочу воду = I do not want the water (this concrete water in the bottle on the table).

So, as far as I understand, you often use the genitive to express the object of a negative sentence, and I have a vague intuition that the accusative has a more specific, concrete meaning.

However, when speaking, I am always in doubt whether I should use the genitive or accusative and whether this will change the meaning of my sentence. Is there some general rule? What different meanings are expresses with the genitive resp. accusative?

2 Answers 2


If a verb accepts an object in genitive or second genitive (partitive) in its positive form, putting the object into accusative makes it a comment while putting it into genitive or partitive makes it a topic.

  • Хочу чай / не хочу чай: it's tea I want (don't want)
  • Хочу чаю (чая) / не хочу чаю (чая): I want (don't want) some tea

If it does not (you can't say люблю химии), the difference in negative is pure stylistic: you can put the object into accusative or genitive as you like:

  • Я не понимаю химии (химию)
  • Я не знаю химии (химию)
  • Я не выучил химии (химию)

If you say хочу X, "I want X," that is accusative. I want a (designated) cup of water, piece of bread, etc.

If you say Не хочу Y, it's often genitive if the meaning is, "I don't want ANY (of) Y." The "of" makes it genitive.

  • If Y was in accusative in your last example would it mean, "I don't want this (designated) Y".?
    – nate
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 15:02
  • @nate: Yes I believe so.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 15:16

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