Prepositions Governing the Genitive Case
There are more prepositions associated with the Genitive case than any other case. In fact, the genitive has become the default case for new prepositions. The best way to approach mastering them all is to sort them out into semantic families or classes. That is what we will do here.
The Genitive case historically has been associated with three core meanings:
- non-existence (negation)
- the origin direction ("from somewhere")
These three core meanings and a few others are associated with the use of the genitive without prepositions and so it comes as no surprise that they are associated with prepositions which govern the genitive. Let us begin our survey of the genitive prepositions with a review of all of them, then we will examine each one individually. There are about 24 altogether, listed below in the semantic order of the list above.
The Genitive Prepositions Non-Existence and Negation без+Gen
for the sake of
as far as
on the eve of
Now let's take a closer look at how the genitive prepositions operate in phrases.
Genitive Prepositions Indicating Non-Existence
The genitive case is associated with non-existence and negation. That is why the objects of sentences with negated verbs are placed in the genitive case if non-existence is implied. The prepositional meanings "without", "against", "except", and "instead of" also imply negation or non-existence of their objects. All these prepositions require the genitive in Russian.
The preposition без+Gen is very simple, even for Russian. In virtually every context it means "without". Its antonym is с(о)+Ins "with".
Она это сделала без труда. She did that without difficulty. Он вышел без шапки. He went out without his cap. Без сомнения он это сделает. Without a doubt he will get it done.
The preposition против+Gen is a bit more complicated for it may mean either "opposite" or "across from" in the physical sense of location or "against" in the sense of "if I am not for it I am against it". In this sense it is the antonym of за+Acc. This same preposition may also be used to indicate spatial location, in which case it means "opposite (of)"; however, in this sense young Russians are more likely to use напротив+Gen. Here are a few examples to illustrate what I mean.
Я не против этого. I'm not against that. Он боролся против капитализма. He fought against capitalism. Он всегда сидит (на)против меня. He always sits opposite me. Они живут (на)против нас. They live across from us.
The preposition кроме+Gen means "except" or "but", when but is used as a preposition.
Я никого не знаю кроме тебя. I don't know anyone except you. Все кроме него пришли. Everyone came but him.
The preposition вместо+Gen (Don't confuse it with the adverb вместе "together"!) means "instead of" or "in place of". Here are some examples.
Пусть она поёт вместо меня. Let her sing instead of me. Вместо физики он выбрал музыку. In place of physics he chose music.
Genitive Prepositions Indicating Closeness
There are 8 genitive prepositions indicating closeness or nearness in various forms. Some of them have other functions, as well. Here are the ways in which each is used.
The preposition у+Gen basically means "by, near" or "at". It is historically related to в+Loc and in some dialects these remain the same preposition, the consonant used before words beginning with a vowel, the vowel used before words beginning on a consonant. If the object of у is inanimate, it means "by, near", as in the top two examples in the table below.
If, however, the noun is animate, the meaning can also be "at someone's". So, rather than "near Masha" or "by Masha", у Маши is more likely to mean "at Masha's".
It is also possible for this preposition to simply imply possession, e.g. зуб у Маши болит simply means "Masha's tooth aches". If the prepositional phrase is used in the predicate with (an optional) есть, this possessive construction may be interpreted by the English verb "have", e.g. у меня (есть) Биг Мак "I have a Big Mac", that is, literally, "there is a Big Mac by me".
Finally, у+Gen can also be used to indicate the origin of something in certain contexts. Я узнал об этом у Саши means "I found out about that from Sasha." Here are some more examples to work on.
Их дом стоит у самой реки Their house is right by the river. Это Дарья у руля. That is Darya at the wheel. Вчера я была у Маши. Yesterday I was at Masha's. Мы все ждали у него. We all waited at his place. У него есть всё. He has everything. У нее сестра заболела. Her sister got sick. Я купил машину у Льва. I bought the car from Leo. Я занял деньги у него. I borrowed money from him.
близ+Gen has the same meaning as the adjective it is derived from: близкий "near, close".
Их дом стоит близ леса. Their house is near the woods. Дарья живёт близ Наташи. Darya lives near Natasha.
The preposition Вдоль+Gen means "along(side), down" and is used with verbs of motion and nonmotional verbs.
Ребята бежали вдоль улицы The kids were running down the street. Вдоль реки тянулся ряд дубов. Along the river stretched a row of oaks.
The preposition возле+Gen means "by, near" and may also be used as an adverb (not all prepositions may): Он стоял возле "he stood near-by".
Их дом стоит возле реки. Their house is by the river. Дарья живёт возле нас. Darya lives next to us.
Мимо+Gen means "past, by" and is often used with verbs prefixed with про-:
Дима прошёл мимо церкви. Dima walked by the church. Мяч пролетел мимо его рук. The ball flew past his hands.
The original meaning of около+Gen was "around" in the physical sense. However, like the English preposition "around", it has taken on the metaphoric meanings of (1) "near" and (2) "approximately".
Боря нашёл деньги около завода. Borya found the money near the factory. Ваня всегда сидит около меня. Vanya always sits near me. Наташа пришла около двух часов. Natasha arrived around two o'clock. Она живёт около 4 километров отсюда. She lives about 4 kilometers from here.
(По)среди+Gen comes from the same Old Church Slavonic stem as среда "Wednesday" (the day in the middle of the week) and the Russian variant середина "middle". Today it means "among" if its object is plural but also retains the original meaning of the phrase it is derived from, "in the middle of", with either singular or plural objects.
(По)среди поля стояла берёза. In the middle of the field stood a birch. Среди девушек я увидел подругу. Among the girls I saw my friend.
The preposition вокруг+Gen derives from круг "circle", so it originally meant "in a circle (of)". Today, however, it is used only in the physical sense of the English preposition "around".
Вокруг меня всё было тихо. Around me everything was quiet. Все сидели вокруг стола. Everyone was sitting around the table.
Genitive Prepositions Indicating Origin
There are six genitive prepositions which indicate the origin or source of their objects: из(о)+Gen "(out) of", с(о)+Gen (down) from, от(о)+Gen "(away) from", из-за+Gen "from behind, because of", ис-под+Gen "from under", and после+Gen "after". In its drive for simplicity, Russian has avoided a single preposition meaning simply "from" in favor of three other more specific prepositions already in the language. That is, the first three prepositions in this list may mean either "from" in general or, specifically, "out of", "away from", and "down from", respectively. Clever, huh? This strategy reduces the number of Russian words needed to speak clearly. For more about how they pair with prepositions referring to the direction toward something, go here.
- The threesome из(о)+Gen "(out) of", с(о)+Gen "(down) from", от(о)+Gen "(away) from" are interesting for several of reasons.
First, notice that they have a fleeting vowel. Remember that the o is inserted if the preposition is followed by a pronoun or one of a select group of nouns that begins with a consonant cluster containing the same or a similar consonant (с, з, ш, ч, ж, щ for из and т or д for от).
Second, all these prepositions may also be used to refer to time. That use will not be discussed here but on a separate page on Time Expressions in Russian.
Finally, these three prepositions form a class with the prepositions indicating where an object is at and where it it moving to. This class is best explained with the following important table, which you may have seen elsewhere in the grammar.
Prepositions Expressing Basic Motions Object is Откуда? Где? Куда? Inani-
из(о)+Gen (out) of в+Prep in/at в+Acc (in)to с(о)+Gen (down) from на+Prep on/at на+Acc (on)to Animate от(о)+Gen (away) from у+Gen by/at к+Dat to(ward)
This table shows that Russian lacks prepositions meaning specifically "from", "at", and "to". Rather it uses ambiguously the prepositions meaning specifically "out of", "off of", "away from" and "in", "on", "by", and "into", "onto", "up to" , for expressing "from", "at", and "to". Which set of 3 is used depends on the animacy of the noun serving as object of the preposition and whether it is a flat place or an object with an interior. The important point to remember is that if a noun uses any one of these prepositions because it is flat, has an interior, or is animate, it uses all three in the set. The sets cannot under any circumstances be mixed.
To express "from" when the noun is animate, you use от+Gen, e.g. от Ивана "from Ivan's", от Татяны "from Tatyana's".
To say "from" a place that humans or animals normally phycially go inside of, you say, из+Gen: из дома "from home", из школы "from school". There are a couple of exceptions.
To say "from" under all other circumstances (if the noun refers to a flat, open space or if it is abstract), use с+Gen, e.g. с поля "from the field", с лекции "from class".
The instrumental prepositions под+Ins "under" and за+Ins "behind" have genitive prepositions compounded with из, indicating the direction "from": из-под+Gen "from under" and из-за+Gen "from behind". There are no genitive prepositions corresponding to the other two directional instrumental prepositions, над+Ins "over, above" and перед+Ins "before, in front of".
Both of these prepositions have alternative meanings. In addition to "from under", из-под+Gen is occasionally used to indicate the use for which an object is intended: банка из-под варенья "a jar for jam" or "an empty jam jar". If the jar contains jam, the simple genitive is used: банка варенья. Из-за+Gen can also mean "because of" when referring to an unfortunate or disappointing result: Из-за снега мы опоздали на работу "because of the snow, we were late for work". (If the result is positive or fortunate, Russians use благодаря+Dat.)
Кошка выскочила из-под дивана. The cat jumped out from under the couch. На столе кувшин из-под кваса. On the table is the pitcher (we use) for kvas. Кошка выскочила из-за дивана. The cat jumped out from behind the couch. Я сделала ошибку из-за него. I made a mistake because of him.
The preposition после+Gen "after" has something of a temporal origin sense. It is used everywhere and only where English after is used and so requires no comment. Here are two examples.
Она вернулась домой после работы. She returned home after work. Он всегда занимается после лекций. He always studies after class.
Miscellaneous Genitive Prepositions
In addition to the more or less semantically ordered prepositions governing the genitive case, there are six which do not fit the large semantic categories. Some of them are semantically related, however; вне+Gen "inside" and внутри+Gen "outside" are antonyms and для+Gen and ради+Gen both imply a beneficiary. The other two, до+Gen and the borderline preposition накануне+Gen are simply left over.
The pair вне+Gen "outside" and внутри+Gen "inside" are recently derived from adverbs since it is still possible to create adjectives from both of them: внешний "external, outer" and внутренний "internal, inner". Their usage today pretty much follows that of English inside and outside.
Он действует вне закона. He operates outside the law. Внутри дома всё было чисто. Inside the house everything was clean.
The prepositions для+Gen "for" and ради+Gen "for the sake of" both indicate a beneficiary of something; however, ради+Gen, just as English for, may be used to mark the purpose of something or for which something is done and, also just as in English, it is more often used when high purposes rather than ordinary ones.
Она делает всё для меня. She does everything for me. Это посуда для кваса. That is a container for kvas. Ради бога, не плюй на пол. For God's sake, don't spit on the floor. Он погиб ради родины. He perished for the sake of his country.
The preposition до+Gen has two meanings. It's temporal sense is simply "before" or "until", the antonym of после+Gen. But it also can mean "as far as", differing from к+Dat in that it implies "reaching" something as well as going up to it. If the verb of the clause contains the prefix до-, too, often the entire phrase may be replaced by the English verb reach.
Он часто занимается до лекции. He often studies before class. Они доехали до Москвы к вечеру. They reached Moscow by evening. Температура дошла до 28 градусов. The temperature went up to 28 degrees.
The preposition накануне+Gen "on the eve of" is a marginal preposition because the noun канун "eve, time just before an event" still exists in the language, so in the spoken language it may just be a prepositional phrase itself, that is, на кануне. It is common for prepositional phrases and participles to develop into prepositions, however, since their meanings are often similar.
Накануне революции Ленин был в Финляндии. On the eve of the Revolution Lenin was in Finland.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA 17837
© 1996 Robert Beard