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In some cases one can write either в тазе/в тазу...на мысе/на мысу...в снегу/в снеге... и.т.д.

Is there a difference in meaning between the old locative case (у,ю endings) and the prepositional case?

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It's quite hard to argue on this. But I can say that my personal preference is to use locative as much as possible, reverting to the prepositional case only if the sentence has absolutely nothing to do with "physical location."

Yet there are some nouns which I never use in locative case. For example, I never say "на мысу" but only "на мысе."

Perhaps, what one is used to saying is more important here than some bookish rules.

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    @ user4419802 when would the sentence not be about physical location?)
    – VCH250
    Aug 18 '15 at 19:10
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    @CoreyRoberts-Reynolds "A needle in a haystack" - "Иголка в стоге сена" ))
    – Matt
    Aug 18 '15 at 19:51
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    @ user4419802 so like in the abstract sense? because the needle is still physically inside the stack, right?)
    – VCH250
    Aug 18 '15 at 23:20
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The short answer is no, in some constructions/phrases you use the former, in the others you use the latter form, also many nouns don't have a separate locative form. Here's an article that argues that the usage of the locative case signifies the fact of a full, intensive contact when the position of the object is strictly determined, or its freedom of movement is limited, or its nature is partially or fully changed, still this is of little practical value, in every Preposition + Noun phrase you have to know exacty which form of the noun is to be used.

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The difference in meaning is only evident in a relatively small group of nouns:

  • сад, лес, мост, берег, Крым, Дон, ад, кровь, даль, Пермь and others.

These words have a clear distinction between the locative and the prepositional: using one instead of the other will sound ungrammatical to most native speakers: *гулять в саде, *разочароваться в Крыму.

The second group is comprised of words that are gradually losing said distinction:

  • дуб, мыс, стог, щель, счёт and others.

Such words allow the use of the prepositional form in place of the locative form (but not vice-versa): на дубе / на дубу, в стоге / в стогу, на счёте / на счету.

Some of these words have only lost the distinction in some of their meanings while retaining it in other meanings, e.g. строй (социальный, музыкальный vs военный), круг (фигура vs общность), угол (angle vs corner).

На дому effectively became an adverb (vs на доме).

The third, and largest, group are those words which lost or never had the distinction. Using the -у form with them will sound odd. E.g. in 1920-1950s it was correct to say "в отпуску" but these days you are bound to raise some eyebrows if you dare to use such expression.

Related StackExchange questions:

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Difference between the two really does exist. It is a bit hard to describe but I will give you a couple of examples for a case where both options sound correct. It is not a strict rule but hope it will help you to get a hang of it.

When you tell that something is "в снегу" then it means that the object is surrounded by the snow. It has some close relationship with the snow but it is not a part of the snow. Example: "У нас до конца марта деревья в негу стоят."

But when you say that something is "в снеге" then it means that the object is a part of the snow itself. It is generally used if the snow itself as a substance has some its properties because of the object in questions. Example: "В городском снеге всегда полно цементной пыли."

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