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Some textbooks on Russian grammar say that the partitive genitive of a noun appears only as the object of a verb, never as the subject. It appears to me that воды in the above expression would be the subject. If so, it should be replaced by вода grammatically. But воды seems more frequently used. Why?

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In the phrase мне хочется воды, grammatically, there is a zero subject, one verb and two objects.

It's an impersonal phrase, which is similar to English impersonal constructs like "it seems to me", "it occurs to me" etc, except that phrases like that have a zero subject in Russian (as opposed to English, which has an actual subject, "it").

So grammatically, both мне and воды are objects to хочется.

Note that object, subject and verb are purely grammatical terms, which are not to be confused with thematic roles of agent, patient and instrument.

  • Thank you so much for your answer. I understand that the воды is one of the objects in this sentence. On the other hand, I have learned that the accusative does not appear as the object of a reflexive verb. If so and if the case where the object is такая кукла, instead of вода, what can you say other than "мне хочется такую куклу"? – okazatsky May 27 '15 at 2:43
  • @okazatsky "Я хочу такую куклу" i.e. non-reflexive form. But I should note sometimes people do use reflexive+accusative. It's not a good habit but could be tolerable in a spoken language. – Matt May 27 '15 at 6:50
  • @okazatsky: it's not accusative, it's genitive. You can only use partitive genitive with uncountable nouns. But could you please cite the excerpt from the textbook about no accusative with reflexive verbs? Бояться, слушаться etc. do accept animate objects in accusative. – Quassnoi May 27 '15 at 9:48
  • @Quassnoi: Thank you so much for your comment. One of my textbooks says (in Japanese) that verbs with -ся do not take any objects in accusative. After reading your comment, I found a report, which says that there are nine reflexive verbs accepting objects in accusative and that хотеться, one of them, takes an object in animate accusative or in inanimate genitive, in agreement with your comment. However, some main dictionaries show the phrase "дочке давно хочется такую куклу" as an example, even though кукла is inanimate. I am still confused. – okazatsky May 27 '15 at 13:46
  • @okazatsky: кукла can be both animate and inanimate (both взять свои куклы and взять своих кукол are valid), and it is animate in хочется куклу. With this very verb (хотеться), you can use inanimate uncountable objects in genitive or animate objects in accusative. The latter is grammatically acceptable but considered bad style, as user4419802 above mentioned. – Quassnoi May 27 '15 at 14:20
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The phrase мне хочется воды doesn't contain any subject. It's an impersonal sentence where мне and воды are objects. Therefore, the rule you mentioned isn't broken in the sentence.

Regarding the sentence, there's no direct analog of such construction in English. You may consider мне хочется as a synonym of я хочу.

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Мне хочется воды is exactly *I am in a state of* thirstyness, a physiological state (that implies a psychological) corresponding to a strong need of water".

Right from the English phrase we can see why there is genetive, because "of smth" has direct corresponding with Russian Gen.

The хочется is very special verb. It sets a person in a certain complex state in virtue of his perceiving.

мне чудится сон                  Nom
мне делается операция            Nom
мне хочется танцев                  Gen
мне видится образ                Nom
мне хочется моря, песка, солнца     Gen
мне слышится песня               Nom

In a certain sense in мне хочется воды there is a subject, a psychological state only I know I am in. This subject you may consider (in English, like weather verbs) as included, "It's needing; (my state of the need of ...)", where in the place of "need" can be placed smth with 25+ meanings in English.

Я хочу воды vs мне хочется воды is an inappropriate analogous. When we say Я хочу ... we mean, first, "I am needing smth", but мне хочется ... is "I am feeling ... (state of “being” in the present)" and "I am aware of this state".

Я хочу is an analogous Я делаю. Thus in мне делается операция the noun операция is a word in Nominative, and there is huge number of examples with such verbs. It's something that we consciously try to do, whereas a psychological state is something else.


As you say,

there are ... reflexive verbs accepting objects in accusative and that хотеться, one of them, takes an object in animate accusative or in inanimate genitive.

There is more examples хотеться_praes + N_accu without the connection with in/animate, so it is fully literate. Proof

It would be interesting to show that there are хотеться_praes + Noun_instr. Examples with a context the first , the second

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