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First, a few examples. The following excerpts are taken from "Brothers Karamazov" by Dostoevsky:

Page 22:

  • Не плачь, Григорий, ступай к Марфе, она утешит, спать уложит.
    "she will comfort". In English, this would be a mistake since the pronoun must be there "she will comfort you". Is утешит a verb that takes an object?

Page 23: — Так ему и надо! — задыхаясь, воскликнул Дмитрий. — А не убил, так еще приду убить.Не устережете!
"But I didn't kill". In English this would be a mistake since you would say "But I didn't kill him".

Page 25:

  • «Господи, помилуй их всех, давешних, сохрани их, несчастных и бурных, и направь.
    At the end of the sentence it says "и направь", I think in English this would be "guide them". But "them" is missing?

The questions are:
Is a pronoun implied, or not?
If you spoke these sentences fully and correctly in Russian, would you add a pronoun?
Is it optional? Could you choose either way — to include the pronoun or omit it?
How would the meaning or the tone change if you included a pronoun? Would it be a mistake?
Can you omit pronouns everywhere?

I have discovered a few articles referring to Pro-drop languages. They often discuss the subject of the sentence. But I am specifically curious about objects and indirect objects, rather than the subject. Perhaps the whole explanation is simply "Russian is a pro-drop language, and that includes any and all pronouns. You may omit pronouns."

4 Answers 4

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Upd. 08.07.23: wrong use of terminology.

English is mostly an analytic language. Analytic languages are characterised, among others, by constituent word order — specifically, SVO or subject–verb–object order for the English language.

Russian is a synthetic language. It does not have a strict word order, nor does it require sentences to be complete. Incomplete sentences are widely used both in "high" and "vulgar" variants of the Russian language.

The "Господи, помилуй их всех, давешних, сохрани их, несчастных и бурных, и направь" example is different, however. I'd rather not go deep in analysis because this is a complex sentence in an archaic style, and my days of formal syntax analysis are long gone. Basically, this is not the case of an omitted object. The "давешних", "несчастных и бурных" are descriptions of "их всех"; therefore, a simpler and more modern variant of the sentence would be "Господи, помилуй, сохрани и направь всех давешних, несчастных и бурных."

Is a pronoun implied, or not?

It is not about the pronoun. It is about an implicit or explicit object or subject.

Targets and objects may be omitted if they are easy to determine from: the context, or the situation (ongoing, IRL), or both.

Typical example: there is an ongoing examination. A student exists in the classroom. Another student asks them: "- Ну как, cдал(а)?".

In English: "- Well, did you pass?".

(Exams in high schools in Russia are usually held closed doors with a limited number of examinees at a time; everyone else waits outside in the hallway).

This is a simple sentence with an introductory constructions conjunction ("Ну как"). If we drop it, we are left with a definite-personal sentence ("определённо-личное предложение") of a single verb "сдал" (or "сдала" in feminine form). Both object and subject are not present, but they are obvious from both the context and the situation. The shortest full sentence might be "[Ты] сдал [экзамен]?".

There are several types of incomplete (or single-component) sentences. You can read more about it here: https://www.academia.edu/68109854/Classification_of_Incomplete_Sentences_of_the_Russian_Language, or here on Wikipedia (in russian): https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D0%B4%D0%BD%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B2%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5_%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B6%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F.

If you spoke these sentences fully and correctly in Russian, would you add a pronoun?

For those particular examples, it is a matter of personal preference.

Could you choose either way, to include the pronoun or omit it?

In short, yes.

How would the meaning or the tone change if you included a pronoun?

Very little.

I struggle to provide a general explanation. Let's say it would be more targeted. For example, "Не плачь, Григорий, ступай к Марфе, она утешит, спать уложит." Without knowing that Grigorij is her husband, one would assume that comforting is what Marfa does; she'll help anyone. Martha is just that nice of a lady. Adding an explicit reference to the object doesn't change intonation at all. The difference is purely cosmetical.

Knowing that those two are married, it's just obvious that Martha would do something like that. It's her man. Why wouldn't she? That's what a good wife does. Having an explicit object makes zero sense. "- What do you mean, Martha will comfort ME? What? Are you saying that my wife comforts someone else, you bastard?"

That's how I would interpret it if I really, really had to. Because, once again, the intonational change is almost or completely null. For the second example, "А не убил, так еще приду убить.", first of all, your translation is a bit off. The "a" preposition here doesn't mean "but"; it means "and if". "- Madman! You murdered him!". "- Serves him right! And if [for some reason] I didn't kill him, I'll come back to do it". Alternatively, "- Madman! You murdered him!". "- Hopefully, I did! And if not, I'll come back to finish the job."

An explicit object, "him", makes no sense here. It would only make the whole sentence clumsy. They are obviously talking about that old man. Who else could it be?

Can you omit pronouns everywhere?

No, not everywhere. As mentioned above, it depends on the context or lack of such and situation.

P.S.

I would, however, advise inexperienced speakers to use a "default" SVO order and complete sentences to avoid unintended intonations. Although one will, of course, sound "robotic", "boring", and "unnatural" (which is expected from the non-native speaker), the risk of being misunderstood, looking stupid, or even insulting someone will be minimised.

Let's take the first sentence of the famous child's poem "Мячик" ("The ball") by Agnia Barto as an example.

The original text uses the SVO order (object is not present because the action is self-oriented):

"Наша Таня громко плачет".

The literal translation will be "Our Tanya loudly cries", which, I believe, is grammatically correct but sounds really theatrical; the "regular" translation would be "Our Tanya is crying loud".

Now, we may put those four words in any order, and the meaning will remain the same. Well, kind of. Intonations, however...

I am not autistic enough to go through all 24 permutations; let's try a few notable ones.

"Громко наша плачет Таня" -- ough, that'll be an epic 200 pages poem, right?

"Громко плачет наша Таня" -- it's gonna be a lengthy description of Tanya's personality flaws, right?

"Наша Таня плачет громко" -- other Tanyas are no match for our Tanya when it comes to crying loudly.

"Плачет наша Таня громко" -- look, I do appreciate our Tanya's vocal abilities, but maybe she could moderate it a bit?

I am, of course, joking quite a bit. But I hope you got the point. Russian language, like all Slavic languages, is extremely flexible. This, however, should be exercised with caution. It makes Russian an easy language, but it also makes it impossible sometimes.

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  • @Sam, my comment is more about English but still related to your question: In English, you need to put these direct objects to clarify what you mean. You cannot say "Martha will comfort" because comfort sounds identical to the noun "the comfort", but you can say, for example, "Silence! Martha will read now." without adding book or letter. I guess it is because read mostly used as a verb in English. Because in Russian the distinction between verbs and nouns is more obvious, Russian can omit direct objects without problems for understanding the meaning.
    – farfareast
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 21:25
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 21:36
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Object omission has been a field of extensive study (both in Russian and in English), mainly in the context of language models and automated translation.

The paper Unexpressed Objects in Russian examines it in detail, with comparisons between English and Russian.

The part which is most relevant to your question is this:

2.1. Object Ellipsis in Repetition Structures

Repetition structures are what I call contexts in which two consecutive clauses contain the same verb selecting the same object(s). In almost all Russian repetition structures, the object in the second clause not only can, but should, be elided, regardless of its case-marking. The preference for object ellipsis derives from the function of repetition structures: to focus on the verb and defocus its argument(s). In repetition structures, one can repeat the verb alone for emphasis (2-3), repeat it with a modifier (4-5), or repeat it in a different tense and/or mood.

  • Красное небо, уже начинает восходить луна, и я гнала лошадь, гнала. (Чехов)

  • — Это шапка-невидимка. — Прелестно! — Как только вы её наденете, так и исчезнете, и бедный мастер вовеки не узнает, идёт она вам или нет. Берите, только не примеряйте при мне. Я этого не перенесу! Нет, не перенесу. (Шварц)

(transliteration and minor corrections mine).

The author identifies several more contexts in which the object drop can happen and makes a comparison between the two languages:

There are three sources of non-elliptical missing-object phenomena in Russian: non-selection of an optional object, non-expression triggered by modality, and non-expression due to a generalized human referent. English permits only the first two, and for a smaller subset of verbs than Russian.

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  • "There are three sources of non-elliptical missing-object phenomena in Russian: non-selection of an optional object, non-expression triggered by modality, and non-expression due to a generalized human referent." То есть по сути написали похожее, о чем и я написал, только про вещи, а я про человеков? Ну ничё так, тоже неплохой салат получился. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 5:30
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If you use pronouns for every object in the sentence, you'll be understood correctly.

If you don't use some of them, but the context provides clues, you'll still be understood correctly.

Using pronouns in every instance is 100% correct. It almost always sounds more formal, and may or may not even sound 'boring'. The rhythm of the phrase is slower, even (arguably) 'dignified'. You always use that style, for example, in documentation, but not always in live conversation.

The reduced use of pronouns is good for colloquial, not-so-formal use. Phrases composed that way sound (arguably) a bit more 'lively'.

Your first example would sound like this with the full use of pronouns:

Не плачь, Григорий, ступай к Марфе, она тебя утешит, она тебя спать уложит.

The two italicized instances of 'тебя' and the one of 'она' aren't 'really' needed here and are in fact omitted.

-2

—Не плачь, Григорий, ступай к Марфе, она утешит, спать уложит.

Is утешит a verb that takes an object? - nope, most russian words are out of subjective-objective relations.

она у+тешит - in translation on S-O relations it can be like: she will end the distress - object is distress, but in russian we say not about objects but about verbal conditions. Probably most of rus verbs are close to something "before" phrase verbs, but in some forms of them(with prefixes) are like Phrase Verbs. Where is тешить - to joy with something (Детей тешить, нянчить), or to have a passion addiction/distress influence with something(Тешить свой обычай, норовить прихотям своим(~to be led by passions/selfish feelings)). And prefix У- meaning is "the result of the "verbal condition": бить - убить(beat - the result of a beating=slay/kill), бежать - убежать(run - a result of a running action=run away. But away-У is not after but in prefix to the verb) Утешить ~ joy away/passion away/distress away.

— Так ему и надо! — задыхаясь, воскликнул Дмитрий. — А не убил, так еще приду убить.Не устережете!

Убил - beat away - I did not kill yet, - because the "verbal condition", not the finish of the result, did not away = did not yet, if phrase verb switching.

«Господи, помилуй их всех, давешних, сохрани их, несчастных и бурных, и направь. At the end of the sentence it says "и направь", I think in English this would be "guide them". But "them" is missing?

Is a pronoun implied, or not? - yes, but not "them".

Orthodox praying is not O-S relations, it is an inner monologue that faces to self willing. That is why no missing, but not all adepts of the religion understand this. И направь - направь myself only possible. In sense it is: Lord, (i will) mercy them all, elders, (i will) save them, because they are suffering unhappy and tempest(of feelings), and guide(myself) ~ something like "Lord, give me the power to do Good that i will do".

Many of honest pray words are not objective targeted. For example.

Спаси+бо(г) - god save, but whom?

If i say: Спасибо тебе - it is not looks harmonized. Спаси бог тебе, а не тебя!? So, honest meaning of спасибо is non-targeted, because it is inner targeted to self only, it has bin targeted from the sayer to himself, not to the hearer.

В общем, я добавлю сюда по русски, лень писать на инглише, да и нет смысла, потому что:

Как стало ясно из комментариев, спасибо Quassnoi за assistant, что субъект-объектные отношения в фразах присутствуют в принципе далеко не всегда.

Например, фразы с to be таковыми не являются:

The rest of the answer is just a word salad. Где здесь субъект? Один объект является другим объектом - объект-объектные отношения, лишенные субъектности.

Однако, в русском языке можно сделать фразу не только лишенную С-О отношений, но и при этом личную(и обезличенную тоже):

В чужом глазу соринку видишь, а в своём - бревна не замечешь.

Кто "видишь"? Я говорю что "ты видишь"? или я говорю, что "я вижу"? Кто субъект? Но предложение очевидно личное.

Так вот в русском, помимо бессубъектных форм существуют еще личные и безличные бессубъектные формы предложений.

Личность есть - а субъекта действия нет.

Вот такой вот салат, приятного аппетита. Кому - мне или вам?

Nice salad - bon appetite.

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  • Hi, you wrote "Is утешит a verb that takes an object? - nope". However wiktionary.org says утешить is a переходный глагол. That means a verb that also has an object.
    – Sam
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 19:58
  • verbal conditions in bold sounds like an important concept, but if I google russian verbal conditions, I don't see it. Do you means verbal aspects: imperfective versus perfective verbs? Could you add a hyperlink where it says verbal conditions ? Or, maybe the translation is wrong, what is the original russian word for verbal conditions ? Thanks.
    – Sam
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:02
  • verbal conditions - it is that i said, i named it, when i tried to explain how it works. The problem, that on wiki is not русский язык, it is russian language, how the language looks through the prism of the logic of English language, formal one, but russian language is not a formal kind. So, i tried to you how it works out of formal logic of subjective-objective relations. that is why i had invented new words) Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:55
  • So, i did something similar like English language did to russkiy when it become russian, i did a transfer of the russkiy language logic to english words, if it possible, i guessed this can work, i tried. It is the first of problem. And the second one, it is that you need a reference for understanding, so all that i say is like "useless information" until you don't have similar sample on wiki org. So it is a subjective-objective logic too. you need to play or subjective role or to be an object, one of this - it is not work in russkiy language logic Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 20:58
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    The first phrase in the answer is factually wrong, утешить кого/что takes a direct object in accusative. The rest of the answer is just a word salad.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 3:42

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