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How are Russian possessives used?

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Words like “my,” “your,” and “ours” are called possessives because they show ownership. They are some of the most frequent words in both Russian and English, and are probably as old as the concept of private property itself. In Russian some possessives change their gender, number, and case to blend in with the surrounding context, and some do not. Let’s see how they work.
(If you want to brush up on the meaning of “gender,” “number,” and “case” in grammar, head to the bottom of the article!)

Words like “my,” “your,” and “ours” are called possessives because they show ownership. They are some of the most frequent words in both Russian and English, and are probably as old as the concept of private property itself. In Russian some possessives change their gender, number, and case to blend in with the surrounding context, and some do not. Let’s see how they work.
(If you want to brush up on the meaning of “gender,” “number,” and “case” in grammar, head to the bottom of the article!)

Russian possessive forms and endings

First, let’s have a look at some of the basic forms of possessives:

Screen Shot 2021-12-15 at 1.25.49 PM

While его [his/its], её [her/hers/its], and их [their/theirs] do not change their forms at all for gender, number, and case, the words чей [whose], мой [my/mine], твой [your/yours], ваш [your/yours], and наш [our/ours] do — see here.

Examples

  • Это ваше мороженое? (Eta VAshe maROzhenaye) neuter singular
    Is this your ice cream?

  • Ваша фамилия? (VAsha famEEliya) feminine singular
    Your last name?

  • Ваш паспорт готов. (vash PASpart gaTOF) masculine singular
    Your passport is ready.

  • Это его вещи, а это - ваши. (Eta yeVO VEshchi a Eta VAshee)
    These are his things, and those are yours.

⤷ Did you know?

While having some words that (at last!) do not change their forms, Russians still came up with substandard alternatives for these words that do change their endings depending on gender, number, and case. They are used in colloquial speech:

Евонный (yeVOnnyy) instead of его (yeVO) his/its

Ейный (YEYnyy) instead of её (yeYO) her/hers/its

Ихний (EEKHnyy) instead of их (eekh) their/theirs

Some experts include the pronoun, свой (svoy) [one’s own] in the category of possessives, but we’ll look at it in a separate article.

Position and use of Russian possessives

As I mentioned before, possessives are used to show what belongs to whom. In Russian, like in English, they normally go before the noun and show who the owner of it is.

  • Его документы находятся в моём портфеле.
    (yeVO dakuMENty naKHOdyatsya v maYOM partFYElye)
    His documents are in my briefcase.

  • Наши дети играют с вашей собакой.
    (NAshi DYEti igRAyut s Vashey saBAkoy)
    Our children are playing with your dog.

  • Моя мама переехала в ваш город.
    (maYA Mama pyeryeYEkhala v vash GOrad)
    My mother moved to your city.

Which ending to use with the possessives?

In Russian you constantly need to think ahead as the gender, number, and case of the possessive adjectives normally depend on the word after them.

Masculine           Feminine
Singular              Singular
Nominative         Nominative

  • И мой брат, и моя сестра живут в Москве.
    (I moy brat i moYA sestRA zhiVOOT v maskVE)
    Both my brother and my sister live in Moscow.

  • У моих родителей нет машины. (Genitive plural)
    (oo maEEKH raDEEtyelyey nyet maSHEEny)
    My parents do not have a car.

  • Мою квартиру нужно ремонтировать. (Accusative singular feminine)
    (maYU kvarTEEru NOOZHna ryemanTEErovat)
    My apartment needs to be renovated.

  • Моего кота зовут Барсик. (Accusative singular masculine animate)
    (mayeVO kaTA zaVUT BARsik)
    My cat’s name is Barsik.

Let’s clarify: the form of the possessive does not depend on the gender/number of the owner, but rather on the gender/number/case of the object in the owner’s possession.
In the first example above, we would say мой брат [my brother]. However, we would say моя сестра [my sister] regardless of the gender of the speaker, because what really matters is the grammar of the nouns that are modified.

“My” or “Mine”?

You might wonder why мой is translated as both “my” and “mine,” as those two words function quite differently in English and are not interchangeable. Words like “my” are called “possessive adjectives” and are always followed by a noun, while words like “mine” are called “possessive pronouns” and are used without a noun. 

The answer is simply that in Russian, there is no difference in the form between “my” and “mine,” “your” and “yours,” etc. But you still need to keep in mind the forms the possessives may take depending on what they agree with or refer to (i.e., changes in gender, number, and case), regardless of whether you mean “my” or “mine.”

Это моя книга. 
(Eta maYA KNEEga)
This is my book.

Эта книга - моя
(Eta KNEEga maYA)
This book is mine!

Это наш офис, а это - ваш.
(Eta nash Ofis, a Eta vash)
This is our office, and that is yours.

В квартире было две спальни: его и моя.
(V kvarTEErye Byla dvye SPALni: yeVO i maYA)
There were two bedrooms in the apartment: his and mine.

  IMPORTANT 

Screen Shot 2021-12-15 at 5.01.19 PM

Two forms of “your/yours”

You may also notice that твой (tvoy) and ваш (vash) are both translated as “your, yours.” The difference between them is basically the same as the difference between ты (ty) [you (informal)] and вы (vy) [you (plural or formal)]:

  • Твой is used when referring to a singular person.

    • Где ты, и где твоя машина?
      (gdye ty i gdye tvaYA maSHEEna)
      Where are you, and where is your car? (about one person)

  • Ваш is used when the possessor is a group of people. It is spelled with a lowercase letter in this case.

    • Уважаемые посетители, предъявите ваши документы.
      (oovaZHAyemyye pasyeTEEtyeli pryedyaVEEtye VAshi dakooMYENty)
      Dear visitors, please show your IDs.

  • Ваш is also used when the possessor is an individual in highly formal contexts. In this case, it is spelled with a capital letter.

    • В ответ на Ваш запрос ….
      (V atVYET na vash zapROS)
      In response to Your inquiry…

“Its” vs. “his” or “her”

Finally, since both animate and inanimate nouns in Russian have grammatical gender, её and его are translated as “its” if they refer to an inanimate object. Please mind the gender of the noun though — use его if the inanimate object is masculine or neuter, and её if it is feminine.

  • Район  был безопасным, его жители даже не запирали двери.
    (masculine)
    (raYON byl byezaPASnym yeVO ZHEEtyeli DAzhe nye zapiRAli DVYEri)
    The district was safe, its residents did not even lock the doors.

  • Москва - гигантский мегаполис, её жители часто жалуются на пробки.
    (feminine)
    (maskVA giGANskiy myegaPOlis yeYO ZHEEtyeli CHASta ZHAluyutsya na PROBki)
    Moscow is a gigantic megapolis, its residents often complain about traffic jams.

Ready for the next step? Try practicing Russian possessive words!

Unpacking the grammar

  • Gender represents categories in which nouns are split. In Russian, there are three: masculine, feminine, and neuter.

март (m.)       March
книга (f.)       book
кафе (n.)       café

  • Number represents the quantity the noun refers to, meaning if it is singular or plural.

the boy (s.)    the boys (pl.)

  • Case is the form of a noun (and the adjective etc. that modifies it) or of a pronoun that shows the role it plays in the sentence.
    For example, the accusative case indicates that the noun or the pronoun are the object (= receiver of the action) of the verb:

I saw him 
("him" is in the accusative case; it is the object of the sentence)

Nominative case indicates that the noun/pronoun is the subject (=what/who does the action):

He saw me 
(“he” is in the nominative case; it is the subject of the sentence)

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