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The complementary concepts "in theory" and "in practice" are expressed in Russian with different prepositions: в теории and на практике. Perhaps there is no good explanation of that, but if someone could provide any reason why the same preposition is not used in both phrases I would appreciate it.

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    I think reasons are purely euphonic (good sounding). All four combinations are attested in older texts.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 23:06
  • @Quassnoi, are в теории and на практике better sounding than на теории or в практике only because you are used to them? Thanks for telling me that all the possibilities have been used in the past.
    – KCd
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 16:39
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    I'm theorizing here, but впр is a little bit hard to pronounce, and while the Russian can cope with it if there is no grammatical substitute for it (like in в предыстории) they would still enjoy an extra syllable within a consonant cluster every now and then, if they are free to choose the preposition. Note that в моей практике is still used with в.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:49
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    @Quassnoi Note that you can't say на моей практике, while случай в практике is very much extant. Also, consider во сне vs. наяву. Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 18:56
  • @NikolayErshov: that's a good point too.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 18:59

4 Answers 4

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На практике is probably modelled after на деле, and is a more abstract use of the на that is more or less grammaticalised as the "at" preposition for organised activities: на работе, на уборке урожая, на вечеринке, etc.

(Edit: or, now that I think of it, it may be something else: Russian may implicitly regard "unreal"/mental spaces as enclosed, and "real"/physical ones as open. Best illustrated by во сне vs. наяву.)

As for not using the same preposition — Russian essentially shrugs it off. Remember that the Russian multi-paradigm declension means that a speaker gets used to forming sequences of entirely different morphemes meaning exactly the same thing, e.g.

В лесу мы видели ежей, куниц[-Ø] и барсуков

— and that sense of equivalence in difference may carry over to prepositions. Speculatively, I even sometimes feel that в and на used with the prepositional case in a locative sense have come, subjectively, to be perceived as the front part of a circumfix, rather than a "detachable" preposition.

(That may also be a subtle yet powerful influence the на Украине/в Украине controversy, since for many people, using a different preposition would feel like an intervention into the deepest workings of grammar itself, rather than word choice.)

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    Куда ни сунься, везде про Украину, даже на stackexchange ))) Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 18:41
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    @NickVolynkin Это вы в такой момент зашли. До прошлого раза скроллить и скроллить. Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 18:46
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A consonant cluster "пр" in the beginning of the word might be the reason for the choice of "на" - making it easier to pronounce. That would also explain why "на практике" but "в моей практике".

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  • Well, there's no issue with saying в прошлом году...
    – KCd
    Commented May 17 at 21:07
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I will also add a hypothesis that в теории is compared to sources of information like в книгах, в рукописях, в идеях, в мыслях, while на практике is like на работе, на деле, на месте, на объекте, на задании and refers to actually being on location and physically encountering some situation.

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"na" literally translates to the english word on. like powering "on"

the letter B (pronounced VVV) means in.

so the Russians for reasons unknown to science have two ways of saying it. Both or correct you could say "в теории и в практике" (in theory and in practice) and they would both be correct for some reason. At this point it does not necessarily make a difference which word you choose people will understand you. however saying you are "на туалете" is strange but "на Украине" is correct... but "на России" is wrong..... so when talking about a location best use "v" (or in Russian alphabet B), whichever you choose V is your safe option.

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