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What I don't understand in this sentence Мы с нашими четырьмя детьми are two things:

  • why the word "children" is in the instrumental case and not in genitve, as it normally is when preceded by a numeral?

  • why is even the word дети used, and not ребёнок in the genitive singular as would expect after the numeral "four"?

Russian numerals make me crazy! Thank you in advance to anyone who will solve my problem!

  • First, your example is not a sentence, but just a phrase (a piece of a possible sentence): "Our four children and I" and "Our four children and us" are not sentences in English either. Second, genitive is used for nouns following numbers (well, following most numbers) when the noun by itself - with the number taken away - would be in the nominative case or accusative case. But when there is a preposition involved that puts the noun into another case (e.g., в книгах uses prepositional case) then numbers modifying the noun go into that same case. (contd.) – KCd Jan 13 '15 at 6:46
  • Since the preposition с in your example governs the instrumental case, counted objects follows с have the number put into the instrumental case. So basically your confusion is due to not appreciating that as soon as you use a preposition that puts nouns and adjectives after it into a definite case (other than nominative and accusative) then numbers get put in exactly the same case as well. Maybe you have not seen case tables for numbers. Look for them. – KCd Jan 13 '15 at 6:48
  • If you ever have to pronounce equations or inequalities with numbers on the right side then you might put numbers into the dative case for equations since one thing is equal to another (hence dative) or the genitive case for inequalities since больше and меньше are followed by genitive. What fun! Of course books on Russian for foreigners do not really discuss how to pronounce math. Numbers in everyday speech are tricky enough. – KCd Jan 13 '15 at 6:49
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Let's start with your second question: There are numbers - два, три, четыре, and there are so called collective words: двое, трое, четверо. The rules you learned (2-4 take Genitive Singular, 5+ take Genitive plural) are for numbers. Collective numeric words are different, they normally take Genitive plural: двое детей, трое детей, шестеро детей. So, that explains the Plural. Please note that collective numeric words decline and usually act like adjectives (though some forms look different, because they've preserved their archaic endings), so the syntax here is different.

Now about the Instrumental case: the preposition c takes Instrumental. Since четверо is technically not a number, but a numeric adjective, the word for children, дети, should agree with the preposition, and the numeric adjective should agree with the noun: c четырьмя детьми.

I hope it wasn't too confusing.

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I must say, the example is weird. I guess it is OK to learn grammar but not something a native speaker would really say (at least, that would be a really rare occasion). Look at the end of the post if you want an explanation for your particular expression.

Один

Look. If your number ends in "один", they are used is as follows:

  • noun in singular
  • case is whatever reqired by the role in the sentence

Два/три/четыре ↔ пять, шесть... двадцать, сто..

If your number ends in words for 2/3/4 or 5 and bigger:

  • For Nominative-looking forms
    • 2-3-4 use Genitive singular
    • 5 and more use Genitive plural
  • For other, Oblique forms
    • both use plural forms
    • the case is whatever required by the role in the sentence.
  • awkward for animate Accusative with compound numbers like 23, 24, 44, 22, 1003, 133 and so on
    • both "Научил плавать двадцать три ребёнка" and "Научил плавать двадцать трёх детей" are possible, first sounding more formal.
    • Both sound unnatural to my ear.
    • So in a real-life situation it's best you think your way around this complication. Like "more than 20 children" or "Taught a lot of kids to swim. There were 23 of them, if I remember correctly"
    • after all, I believe these inconsistencies exist for this exact reason: in the past, no sane person would use large precise numbers in speech. So there used to be little demand for constructions like "invited 453 women".

By Nominative-looking I mean either Nominative or inanimate Accusative for numbers ending in два, три, четыре. Some examples:

Real Nominative:

  • Тут два стола
  • Там три женщины
  • Там пять столов

Accusative:

  • Я вижу два стола
  • Я вижу двух женщин/двух мужчин/двух детей
  • Я вижу две реки

Now, oblique forms:

  • NOM: У меня два одеяла (одеяло = blanket)
  • INSTR: Я под двумя одеялами
  • INSTR: Я под пятью одеялами
  • DAT: Добавь к трём одеялам ещё одно.
  • PREP: Книга о трёх/пяти/десяти одеялах

Numbers like тысяча, сотня, миллион, миллиард when they are singular act as nouns themselves. The real "thing" becomes its subordinate, not the other way round (eg. Я под тысячей одеял).

With "тысяча" a rare variant form exists (Я под тысячью одеялами).


Now, back to your expression:

  • "четыре" belongs to 2-3-4 group
  • "с" in the meaning "with" requires Instrumental
  • thus you use plural of this case
  • Instrumental plural of "дети" is "детьми"

Let's imagine you want to say "I see 4 children": - "четыре" belongs to 2-3-4 group - "дети" is animate, so Accusative looks like Genitive rather than Nominative - use plural of the case required here (Accusative that looks the same as Genitive) - "Я вижу четырёх детей"

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    Your analysis is good, but I cannot see anything weird with the original phrase. It's just rather standard whay of expression, especially in written text. Even colloquialy, one can hear people complaining «Ну как мы с нашими четырьмя детьми полетим, да еще заграницу?». – J-mster Jan 12 '15 at 17:59
  • Note that Accusative looks like Genitive only for numerals from 1 to 4. Therefore, Вижу двадцать детей, двадцать трёх детей, двадцать пять детей, тысячу одного ребенка, etc. – J-mster Jan 12 '15 at 18:22
  • Ah, my bad. Fixed that – Shady_arc Jan 12 '15 at 19:07
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    I checked at gramota.ru, and, weirdly enough, "уволил двадцати трёх работников" is what they recommend. Again, they both sound weird to my ear, since no matter how you put it, something's wrong with the agreement – Shady_arc Jan 12 '15 at 20:34
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    Yep, pretty weird. – jwalker Jan 13 '15 at 12:57
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First of all, you can omit the numeral and write "Мы с нашими детьми". or "Мы с нашими двумя(двоими?),тремя,десятью детьми".

That's what the form "двое", "четверо" exist for.

As usual, you can try formulating the question to determine which case is needed (and singular/plural).

Мы со сколькими нашими детьми? Мы с нашими четырьмя детьми.

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What you expected is perfectly correct with и preposition: мы и четыре наших ребенка. However, normally you would use с preposition ("with", not "and") that requires instrumental.

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I think that your confusion resides at the cross-section of three phenomena:

  • As @Eugenia Vlasova notes, there are collective numerals - as opposed to cardinal numerals. Please see e.g. here how they decline.

The thing is that, when talking about one's (multiple) children one will invariably use a collective numeral by saying У меня четверо детей rather than У меня четыре ребёнка. With Nominative collective numarals, where the collective word itself is Nominative the dependent word must be Genitive plural. And the plural of ребёнок is дети.

  • As @Shady_arc mentioned, Oblique cases of cardinal 2-3-4 require plural.

So where the Nominative cardinal number четыре ребёнка is distinctly different from the Nominative collective number четверо детей, they become very similar in, say, Dative: четырём детям and четверым детям.

  • Russian native speakers are notoriously illiterate when declining numerals, Instrumental happening to be the most difficult case.

So, to make matters worse, the speaker in your example (the one who said Мы с нашими четырьмя детьми) is likely to have made a mistake. While s/he would almost undoubtedly use Nominative collective numeral when referring to the children (Наши четверо детей - not Наши четыре ребёнка!), s/he neglected the correct declension when using Instrumental and said Мы с нашими четырьмя детьми instead of the correct Мы с нашими четверыми детьми. While четырьмя детьми is the correct Instrumental of четыре ребёнка, what the speaker most likely wanted to inflect here instead was четверо детей.

Finally, I cannot sympathise enough - Russian numerals are a living nightmare.

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