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The phrase "У меня машина" is interpreted as "I have a car". Here is my understanding of the "layers" of that translation:

  1. The phrase "У меня машина" literally means "Car near me".
  2. In Russian, we leave the verb "to be" implicit. Thus a possible interpretation of this sentence is "There is a car near me".
  3. The concept of something being "near" someone, indicated by the word "У", is a common idiom to indicate that the thing belongs to that person. Thus "There is a car near me" is interpreted here as "I have a car".

My question is, is the interpretation in point 2 the only possible interpretation? Couldn't we also not take there to be an implicit verb "to be", and take the phrase as just meaning "my car"? For instance, if A and B walk into a garage, and A sees a strange machine and asks what it is, could the following exchange occur?

A: Что это?

B: У меня машина.

or even

B: Это у меня машина.

Which we could literally translate as "That (is) the car which is near me".

11

First of all, the literal translation is not really "the car near me"; a better match would be the French la voiture chez moi. (Shameless plug for my long answer about the semantics of the possessive у.)

Secondly, and more to the point, the simple answer is "no" and the complicated one is very complicated. As a basic phrase, моя машина is decidedly not interchangeable with у меня машина. However, the line starts to get blurred when more information is added to the message; thus it's much more idiomatically correct to express "my car is old" as машина у меня старая than as моя машина старая.

It's rather hard (though not impossible) to imagine a context in which someone would say Это у меня машина instead of Это моя машина. Perhaps if the машина in question was some kind of a steampunk monstrosity not immediately recognisable as a car, or if it was a "pretend" car that a child has made out of, I don't know, sofa pillows. Yes, there are some super-subtle rules involved in such seemingly simple word choices.

The logic goes something like this: у меня can (in fact, must) replace the possessive pronoun when the sentence is about what the thing I own is like, rather than what it is. Which is why for Это у меня машина, I had to come up with such outlandish examples: they had to involve the "carness" of something that fundamentally isn't a car. Stick with это моя машина if you want to err on the safe side.

Vernacular Russian taken to the extreme sometimes flaunts such constructions as у меня у сестры свадьба через две недели "my sister's getting married in two weeks". That kind of syntax is generally frowned upon.

2
  • Very nice, as always
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 18 '15 at 7:09
  • I read your other post too)) They're always great, but it seems to me that you have strengthened the idea that "у" does at it's heart mean "by". In your outlandish example, one could translate the phrase to: "This (thing) by me (near me) is a car" And thus, other phrases "у меня машина" итд basically do mean "by me (in my sphere of existence) is a car" = i have one. I'm a big believer in the idea of reducing grammar to the most physical meanings of words, because there lies the core of the meaning. It gets perverted over time but nonetheless remains at heart.
    – VCH250
    Jul 19 '15 at 4:54
2

just to illustrate the answer of Nikolay Ershov

        Phrases      ----      Сочетания слов

a father's car                  папина машина
a cat's tail                    кошачий хвост
a day's journey                 дневная прогулка 
a [I]'s car                     моя машина
   \
    a Russian way to think

    sentences           ----          предложения
                [Noun + has + noun]

Father has a car.                     У папы есть машина.
Cat has tail.                         У кота есть хвост.
A day has 28 hours.                   У дня 28 часов.
Each day has his own angel.           У каждого дня (есть) свой ангел.
The library has the long history.     У библиотеки (есть) длинная история.
The library has over 1 million books. В библиотеке (есть) более миллиона книг.

—————
words in braces ( ) can be omitted


    sentences           ----              предложения
                [Noun + has + verb]

The day has gone.                         День прошёл.
Father has come.                          Отец пришёл.
The library has been closed for 10 years. Библиотека закрыта уже 10 лет.
The library has acquired a new books.     Библиотека получила новые книги.
He has being as a student.                Он является учащимся.

    sentences           ----              предложения
                [Noun + has + verb]

     ----------- English way to think -----------------

The day has gone.                         День есть прошедший.
Father has come.                          Отец есть пришедший.
The library has been closed for 10 years. Библиотека имеет быть закрытой 10 лет.
The library has acquired a new books.     Библиотека есть получившая новые книги.
He has being as a student.                Он есть являющийся учеником.

                                          └──────────────────────────────────────┘
                                              understandable, but very strange
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  • "У дня 28 часов." sounds really weird, both grammatically and semantically. "He has being as a student." doesn't seem a correct sentence, either.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 18 '15 at 9:15
  • @YellowSky , В юпитерианском дне 10 часов. так лучше? А где дно на Юпитере? Там на дне, или внутри, есть часы? :) About the second note, let us tell the native speakers.
    – Avtokod
    Jul 18 '15 at 10:03
  • 1
    Actually, one says "В юпитерианских сутках 10 часов." And one doesn't have to be a native speaker of English to tell that there's no such form of the verb 'to be' as "*has being."
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 18 '15 at 10:34
  • 1
    @Avtokod It is a gerund: a verb form that means the process or instance of performing and action. "It has doing something in mind" means roughly "Оно подразумевает делание чего-то". Which is pretty obvious. If I were you, I'd avoid using sentences I do not understand as examples. You can just ask native speakers, which are plenty here, if something seems off.
    – Shady_arc
    Jul 18 '15 at 13:40
  • 1
    @Avtokod Use dictionaries. I do not provide translations. I just pointed out that the last example is off and does not match the other four (for one, the first four examples use "have" as an auxiliary verb, while the examples you base the last sentence off use it as a usual verb meaning roughly "to own, to possess").
    – Shady_arc
    Jul 18 '15 at 14:08
1

Speaking about posessive "У" in Russian I'd like to cite the well-known nursery rhyme by S. Mikhalkov which shows the flexibility of this construction. Hope it could be of some fun for those learning Russian too. Yet be warned that it imitates the childish talk so it contains a couple of intended errors.

С. Михалков
А ЧТО У ВАС?

Кто на лавочке сидел,
Кто на улицу глядел,
Толя пел,
Борис молчал,
Николай ногой качал.

Дело было вечером,
Делать было нечего.

Галка села на заборе,
Кот забрался на чердак.
Тут сказал ребятам Боря
Просто так:
- А у меня в кармане гвоздь!
А у вас?
- А у нас сегодня гость!
А у вас?
- А у нас сегодня кошка
Родила вчера котят.
Котята выросли немножко,
А есть из блюдца не хотят!

- А у нас в квартире газ!
А у вас?

- А у нас водопровод!
Вот!

- А из нашего окна
Площадь Красная видна!
А из вашего окошка
Только улица немножко.

- Мы гуляли по Неглинной,
Заходили на бульвар,
Нам купили синий-синий
Презеленый красный шар!

- А у нас огонь погас -
Это раз!
Грузовик привез дрова -
Это два!
А в-четвертых - наша мама
Отправляется в полет,
Потому что наша мама
Называется - пилот!

С лесенки ответил Вова:
- Мама - летчик?
Что ж такого?
Вот у Коли, например,
Мама - милиционер!
А у Толи и у Веры
Обе мамы - инженеры!
А у Левы мама - повар!
Мама-летчик?
Что ж такого!

- Всех важней,- сказала Ната,-
Мама - вагоновожатый,
Потому что до Зацепы
Водит мама два прицепа.

И спросила Нина тихо:
- Разве плохо быть портнихой?
Кто трусы ребятам шьет?
Ну, конечно, не пилот!

Летчик водит самолеты -
Это очень хорошо!

Повар делает компоты -
Это тоже хорошо.

Доктор лечит нас от кори,
Есть учительница в школе.

Мамы разные нужны,
Мамы разные важны.

Дело было вечером,
Спорить было нечего.
1

"To be" is indeed implicit, but you put it into a wrong position. It's "у меня (есть) машина". This "у меня есть (something)" is the standard translation for "I have (smth)".

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