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One of the first things a student of Russian learns is that living things belonging to the masculine or plural genders (but not the other two) take on accusative forms identical to their genitive forms, e.g. identical noun endings for наткнулись на девочек and украли у девочек мяч

But I keep running into cases where nonliving things seem to take on genitive endings where the accusative would be expected.

Examples:

«Наконец пришла война, которой долго ждали» из исторического романа

«Когда умолкнут все песни, которых я не знаю» вы уже знаете откуда это ))

In both cases, I am referred to the declined forms of который.

Does this usage have a different shade of meaning?

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  • Which words are in the genitive or in the accusative case in these examples?
    – Dmitry
    Apr 16 '14 at 1:39
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    Nika is presumably asking about которой in the first sentence and которых in the second. The reason for genitive in the first sentence is that objects governed by ждать take the genitive case: ждать чего-то (to wait for something). In the second sentence, it is related to the phenomenon of negative genitive. Negation often is expressed using genitive, e.g., у меня нет таких книг (I have no such books).
    – KCd
    Apr 16 '14 at 1:51
  • So does the second example mean "songs of which I know nothing" ?
    – Nika
    Apr 16 '14 at 2:58
  • @KCd is absolutely right, that comment should be turned into an answer. And yes, you can translate the second example as "songs of which I know nothing", but a more exact translation is "songs I don't know."
    – Yellow Sky
    Apr 16 '14 at 5:58
  • Thank you KCd—- you can submit that as the official answer and I'll mark it as such.
    – Nika
    Apr 16 '14 at 6:17
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The genitive которой in the first sentence and которых in the second have different explanations. The reason for genitive in the first sentence is that objects governed by ждать take the genitive case: ждать чего-то (to wait for something). In the second sentence, the genitive is related to the phenomenon of negative genitive: negation, non-possession, or non-existence is generally expressed using genitive for the object that is being negated, e.g., здесь нет таких книг (here there are no such books) or это дифференциальное уравнение не имеет решений (this differential equation has no solutions).

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  • Further information about negative genitive (or, rather, partitive, but the latter is not fully acknowledged) and accusative after transitive verbs with negation can be found in Rozental's book.
    – Viridianus
    Apr 16 '14 at 17:53
  • Not exactly so: ждать is a transitive verb. For example, a child could not 'ждать мамы с рынка', but only 'ждать маму с рынка'. However, with events, such as war, partitive is used: ждать войны. The reason for partitive is, that the event does not exist before it happens, therefore you cannot wait for a 'the war', you can only wait for a 'some war'.
    – ach
    Apr 21 '14 at 9:50
  • @AndreyChernyakhovskiy: thanks for the clarification on usage. So I should have said inanimate objects governed by ждать take the genitive case.
    – KCd
    Apr 21 '14 at 14:42
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    @KCd, Animacy is a fairly good approximation of a criterion but it isn't perfect either. For example, in a hospital ward you might 'ждать медсестры' or 'ждать медсестру'. In the former case, you expect a nurse, in the latter, the nurse. Likewise, you can 'ждать машину' or 'ждать машины' etc. These distinctions are quite subtle though, rarely making great difference in meaning, and not even every native speaker is expected to use the partitive consistently here.
    – ach
    Apr 21 '14 at 15:41
  • I did not know about such a distinction. Thanks for pointing it out (I'm not a native speaker).
    – KCd
    Apr 21 '14 at 23:27

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