In the following sentence:

Сколько тебе лет?

Why do you use тебе, the dative form of ты? I think this sentence means "How old are you?" but why not say it with genitive, like:

Сколько тебя лет?

Or nominative? I'm not sure why you have to use dative here...

  • 1
    The full sentence will be "Сколько тебе исполнилось лет". And "How old are you" literally means "Насколько старый ты". In this case you'll need nominative case Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 9:22
  • It is simply a convention. You are essentially asking "how many years to you?" Why in English do we say "this is for you" instead of "this is to you" when giving a gift? That is the convention in English. There is no strict logic that can explain why we say "for you." In Russian you'd say this as Это тебе, with the dative, so essentially "to you."
    – KCd
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 10:19
  • 4
    @DmitryOlyenyov Sorry but you're wrong. The verb implied here is not исполнилось but simply есть, omitted for the reasons it's always omitted. You'd intuitively say сколько тебе было лет in the past tense. Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 10:22

3 Answers 3


The dative case marks the indirect object of a verb, but your example does not have a verb.

You may think it is a shortened form.

Please look at this examples, with a verb:

  Сколько исполнилось тебе лет?
  Сколько дают        тебе лет?
  Сколько было        тебе лет?
  Сколько стукнуло    тебе лет?
  Сколько осталось    тебе лет до пенсии?

The examples given are not in the literary forms, but still in a valid form, for the sake of explanation. Their literary forms are:

  Сколько лет тебе исполнилось?  или, Сколько тебе лет исполнилось?
  Сколько тебе лет дают?
  Сколько лет тебе было?         или, Сколько тебе было лет?
  Сколько тебе стукнуло лет?     или, Сколько тебе стукнуло?
  Сколько тебе осталось лет до пенсии?

__ Update __

Let us consider more interengaged examples for both langs.

  How        young   were   you?         | original phrase
  Как        молоды  были   вы?          | morpheme-by-morpheme glosses
  "Насколько молоды вы были?"            | literary, idiomatic translation

  how young were you (when it happened)?
  "Насколько вы были молоды (когда это случилось)?"

Now, we're switching from "young" to "old":

  How         old     were  you?         | original phrase
  как         старый  быть  ты           | vocab. forms
  Насколько   стар    был   ты?          | morpheme-by-morpheme glosses
  "Сколько тебе было лет?"               | literary, idiomatic translation

All three together:

  How old were    you?              Сколько тебе было  лет?
  How old are     you?              Сколько тебе       лет?      (*)
  How old will you be?              Сколько тебе будет лет?

In Russian, by default, if a scenario would need to be written for the Reality, usually we do not use the verb есть (*), but it is sometimes also used for stylistic amplification. Such a redundancy used to bringing a hints, and not in line with standard usage patterns.

Thus, returning to the Q: Why there is Dative for ты. A life is the gift from God/Nuture to humans, which measured in a year. The Dative case (по-русски дательный падеж, от глагола дать) is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to which something is given, i.e. to addressee, destination.

"he gave the girl a gift" = "he gave a gift to the girl"; 
                                         the girl is addressee. 

 He gave   me  his  heart,  so  I gave      him     mine    | original phrase
 Он дать|P я   его  сердце, так я дать|P.F он|DAT  мой|N    | vocab. forms with grammatical labels
 Он дал    мне его  сердце, так я дала      ему     своё    | morpheme-by-morpheme glosses
 Он отдал мне своё сердце, а я отдал(а) ему своё."            | literary, idiomatic translation 

         Here me=мне and him=ему are addressee.

see The Leipzig Glossing Rules for list of standard abbreviations

 I     just received a call
 "Мне только что звонили."

 I     am very sorry to hear
 "Мне очень жаль это слышать."

 Let       me    stay here, and be a servant
 "Позвольте мне   остаться здесь и быть вашим слугой."

 He      ought     now    to have been at school
 "Ему     следовало сейчас быть в школе."

 How  old  are  you?
 "Сколько тебе лет?"

If we have the Dative, this marks addressee.

  • I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say here. The verb implied in сколько тебе лет is rather obviously the copula, I.e. есть. Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 10:19
  • @NikolayErshov , But the copula must be present, if we talk of the copula. Due to the absence of a copula, what would I say?
    – Avtokod
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 10:35
  • Sorry that I started Russian just two weeks ago and I don't know most of your verbs (nor can't hit the dictionary)... So shall I be able to take it something like "How old is it to your age?" in English?
    – Blaszard
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 6:56
  • @Blaszard , please see my update
    – Avtokod
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 9:40

Сколько (Чего?) лет (Кому?) тебе?

Сколько тебя лет?

Сколько (Чего?) лет (У кого?) у тебя?

Так как лето это пора года, то у тебя его быть не может. По этому в таком контексте не употребляется.

Сколько (Чего?) лет опыта (У кого?) у тебя?

А вот так можно сказать поскольку опыт у тебя может быть (измеренный летами).


Years are a gift from God, thats why we use dativ and say „how many [of the]years [have been given] to you?“

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.