Иди, дело есть. ― Чего? ― спросил Карусельщик с подозрением, но из тумана все же показался. // [Елена Хаецкая. Синие стрекозы Вавилона/ Семеро праведных в раю господина (2004)]

Could anybody explain why чего is used in genitive here?

In English you can say "What?"

But why don't they use the nominative case?

  • I don't understand your question. "What are you doing?" = "Что ты делаешь?", What is translated as Что. In Russian when you don't understand you can also answer "Что?". Can you give an example where you don't understand usage? And where is the Nominative case usage?
    – Artemix
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:36
  • 3
    First of all, not all Russians use чего in such cases. It's quite common to get что, especially from educated ones. But then if we have to answer negatively (forget it...), we would say ничего. So the colloquial use tends to genitive case. I'm a native speaker but I can't explain that.
    – Outtruder
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 17:36
  • Thx, @Outtruder this is what I was looking for I think. Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 17:45
  • 1
    You might also hear шо (hu/what) in western Russian slang.
    – rsavchenko
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 17:55

10 Answers 10


Не все россияне говорят "чего?", культурная часть россиян говорит "что?". Кроме разговорного варианта "чего?" есть ещё совсем просторечный вариант "Чё?".

Not all the Russians say "чего?", the educated Russian people rather use "что?". In addition to the spoken version "чего?", there is quite low colloquial variant of "Чё?".


These phrases should be understood as contractions. I wrote the full forms to the right.

Что? = Что [ты говоришь]? or Что [ты сказал]? (What do/did you say?)

Чего? = Чего [ты хочешь]? or Чего [тебе надо]? (What do you want/need?)

The later variant suggests that the listening party thinks the speaker wants/asks something from them, possibly something the listening party does not have or does not want to give or to do. As such it is usually considered less polite or more unfriendly/reluctant/unentusiastic/skeptical.

In your example if the Карусельщик asked "что?" it would mean he requests the call to be repeated because he failed to hear it clearly. Asking "чего?" does not imply he wants a repeat. It rather requests for clarification as in "What do you want from me?"

  • 2
    Что [ты хочешь]? and Что [тебе надо]? are ok too. Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 15:31

This is one of many examples of Fenno-Ugric impact upon the Russian language. The fact is that Russian Genitive bears, among other semantical aspects, also that of Partitive (just like in Estonian, Basque and Finnish).

That is, the Possessive Genitive is like that in phrases similar to брат друга, сестра отца, крыша дома, рукоять оружия.

The Partitive Genitive is used together with the quantitative structures, like counting objects from 2`

to 4 (and bigger numbers like 52, 64, etc) or in phrases like много человек, много людей, мало умных.

In this sense, the is identical to Finnish mitä? (or its shorterned form 'täh?) and stands for thema/rhema, definite/indefinite and visible/invisible semantical aspects.

So, whenever the Russian speakers think of the adressee as of holding lower and/or equal social position and of the thing they ask about as of a new theme, or as of something invisible/indefinite, they are most likely to use чего? (provided they use the 'living' form of a language and not that of some 'high speech').


Actually "чего" isn't necessarily vulgar. A lot depends on intonation of the speaker and the context. But it tends to sound ruder and more colloquial than "что". Still people who are in very good relations can use "чего" as well.


Это разные падежи.

доска (доски), папа (папы) - И.п. (Кто? Что?)   
доски (досок), папы (пап) - Р.п. (Кого? Чего?)  
доске (доскам), папе (папам)- Д.п. (Кому? Чему?)    
доску (доски), папу (пап) - В.п. (Кого? Что?    )
доской/доскою (досками), папой/папою (папами) - Т.п.(Кем? Чем?)
доске (досках), папе (папах) -П.п.(О ком? О чём? В ком? В чём?)

Пример (вопрос и ответ):

У тебя есть ручка? (Есть что?) - Да (есть ручка).
У тебя нету ручки? (Нету чего?) - Да (нету ручки). 

В первом вопросе интересует присутствие ручки, а во втором отсутствие. Отсюда и значение ответа будет разное хотя одно и то же слово.

Оружие? (Спрашивает милиция) - Чего? (ответ, может иметь значение "Да конечно есть, что за дурацкий вопрос")

Sorry for my English. These are different forms of words.

 купить танкИ (buy TANKS) - Именительный падеж (Кто? Что?)  
 мир танкОВ (world OF TANKS) - Родительный падеж (Кого? Чего?)  

Example (question and answer):

У тебя есть ручка(Что)? (Do you have a pen?) - Yes (I have).
У тебя нету ручки(Чего)? (Don't you have a pen? or Do you not have a pen?) - Yes (I don't have). 

In the first question it is important to have. In the second question it is important to don't have.

Weapons? (said a policeman) - Чего? (I mean: "Yes, of course there are, what a stupid question")
  • Hi and welcome to Russian.SE! This site is aimed at non-native Russian speakers. While we do accept answers and questions in Russian, we strongly urge everyone to answer in English if the question was asked in English. Could you please translate your answer into English? Thanks!
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 21:44
  • I translated. Sorry for my English.
    – zerg
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 22:18

For the familiar-colloquial/low-colloquial word чего? there is equivalent in English A what?


Why should it be in Nominative? For me что? is a shortening of Что вы сказали?, Что вы хотите? or a similar question. In most such questions что is the object, so it must be Accusative.

In colloquial speech, the Accusative is in some cases replaced with Genitive/Partitive. People say Чего ты хочешь? and sometimes even Чего ты спросил?. And the short form of such questions would be just Чего?


I should note that in this particular case "Что/чего?" does not stand for "What do you say? I didn't understand" but rather for "What do you want?" Although that depends upon the pronunciation yet more often people say "Чего?" when they really mean the latter.


Could anybody explain why чего is used in genitive here?

Not at all, that is not Genitive, just vulgar form for Nominative/Accusative "Что". From other hand, it may be short form for "Чего ты хочешь?" (what do you need?) or something similar. At the last sentantion the Genetive "Что" is fully correct as by as The Accusative "Что?"


First of all, "чего?" is a rather rude form of answering. The speaker sounds rude or just uneducated. An educated person would say "Что?" or, if she\he wants to sound really polite: "Что, простите?" or "Извините, что вы сказали?" "Чего?" also could mean "What do you want?" (again, it sounds rude. The polite form would be longer: "Чего вы хотите?" or, to sound really polite, "Чем я могу вам помочь?". And the third meaning is expressing disbelief and\or outrage. Sometimes it is written as Чего-о?. –"Чего-о? – Ден оторвался от оптики, с недоумением зыркнул на командира. – Ты серьезно?"

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