Lesson Five: Cases Of Nouns

In the last lesson you have learned that a Ukrainian noun can have different endings in its singular and plural forms, which in fact help to distinguish whether the noun is plural or singular. Now you will see that endings of a noun also change depending on the function of the noun in sentences. Here's a simple example. In English sentences, "The girl sees the boy" and "The boy sees the girl," we can easily understand who does the action of seeing and who is "being seen." The word order helps us to understand it without confusion, while the words "boy" and "girl" do not change in any way regardless of whether they are the object or the doer of seeing. It's different in the Ukrainian language, which has a flexible word order. The word "boy" (and the word "girl," too) in Ukrainian translations of the two sentences will have different endings indicating that in the first sentence it is the subject and in the second one the object. In grammar terms, a change in the ending indicates that the noun has changed its case, that is, it has occured in a different situation.

Ukrainian nouns have seven different cases (we've just reviewed two of them -- "subject case" and "direct object case", or nominative and accusative). You may be wondering why we need so many while the English language has none. Well, apart from it being a feature of the Ukrainian language, which it, by the way, shares with some other languages (e.g., German with four cases and Russian with six), there are two good reasons. One was already mentioned: the word order in English helps to identify the subject and the object easily, while a flexible word order in Ukrainian can be of no use here. And secondly, where Ukrainian has changeable endings that identify cases the English lanugage may have prepositions that basically do the same. For instance, in phrases like "he hit the knife" (it sounds awkward but is grammatically correct) and "he hit with a knife" the word "knife" is first the object and then the instrument of action, and the difference is clearly marked by the preposition "with" in the second sentence. Ukrainian equivalents will have different endings instead of the preposition.

The Ukrainian language has prepositions as well, and a good deal of them. The example above illustrates that, besides prepositions, endings of nouns in Ukrainian also have their meanings.

Let's take a look at specific examples. We will decline the noun (sister). Please note how the endings change and pay attention to the verbs and prepositions that govern (i.e., require, regulate) the case of the noun.

NOTE: As in the previous lesson, red letters show which syllable is stressed. Blue letters identify changeable noun endings. If there's no red in a word, it either has only one syllable or the stress falls on the ending marked in blue.
Case Examples in Ukrainian Translation Comments
Nominative sister This is the case of the subject in a sentence and the form in which nouns are listed in the dictionary. Nouns you've learned in the previous lesson were also given in this form.
Genitive .
I have no sister.
I came without (my) sister.
You should learn the " " (I don't have...) combination as a whole since it has a different structure (not a word by word translation by far). The genitive case is often used with negative verbs. It can also follow some prepositions, as in the second example here.
Dative .
I'm calling (my) sister.  
Accusative .
I'll meet (my) sister at the train station.
I'm looking for (my) sister.
I'm looking at (my) sister.
This case is used with (3rd example here) and without (1st & 2nd examples) prepositions.
Instrumental .
I admire (my) sister.
I will come with (my) sister.
This case often indicates the means of doing something, e.g., - I'm going by train - the masculine noun "train" is in the instrumental case. It is also used with some prepositions (example 2).
Prepositional .
My sister is wearing a beautiful dress. (literally: There's a beautiful dress on (my) sister.) Used only with prepositions. Also called "locutive," this case often describes a place in its broadest sence: location, destination, etc.
Vocative ! (42)
Note the stress shift
Sister! Used to address people.

Exercise 1. The following nouns are given in the nominative case. Write down in your notebook the remaining six cases. Refer to the table above; the nouns in the exercise follow exactly the same declination pattern (have the same endings). Memorize the new nouns.

(mom), (apartment), (koffee), (Ukraine). (43)

Key to the exercise

Although we'll review verbs a bit later, the important thing is to remember that when you use a verb (e.g., see) and want to use a noun with it (e.g., see a girl), ideally you should know what case that noun has to be in. Therefore cases are not only about memorizing the correct endings, but also knowing what verbs (and prepositions!) they go with. You should try to memorize verb-noun combinations rather than single words and pay attention to cases of nouns that follow this or that verb (preposition) whenever you can figure it out.

Exercise 2. Review the examples in the table again and translate the following phrases. It will basically involve inserting new nouns (you've learned them in the previous or this lesson) in the examples above. Words in parentheses are used in English but should be omitted in the Ukrainian translations. Make sure the nouns have correct case endings!

1. I don't have an apartment.
2. I'm calling (my) mom.
3. I'm meeting (my) girlfriend at the train station.
4. I am going by car.
5. I'm looking for an apartment.

Key to the exercise

Exercise 3.Without looking at the table, try to remember the names of cases you have used in exercise 2.

Key to the exercise

Unfortunately there are quite a few patterns of noun declension. Nouns of different genders and endings decline differently; plural nouns also have their rules and exceptions. Moreover, there are variations in the pattern for the nouns that end in -a given above (besides a change in the ending, other letters may drop out, appear or change). Yes, it is complicated, but you really don't have to know it all now. At this point it is important to know that cases exist and how they are manifested.

Practice to speak

Read the following dialogue, listen to it several times and learn it by heart. Don't forget to use a tape recorder for practicing. Make sure you learn whole phrases rather than individual words.


Mykola: - , : i. i, . Ira, meet Richard. Richard, this is my sister Ira. (note the vocative case)
Ira: - . i ? Nice to meet you. Where did you come from?

Richard: - .

From America (often used in colloquial Ukrainian instead of "the United States").
Ira: - ? Have you been long in Kyiv?
Richard: - ͳ, . No, I've come by plane (literally: I've "flown in") today.
Ira: - ?

Are you staying in a hotel? (Note that the subject "you" is omitted in the Ukrainian phrase as it can be easily understood from the context. The masculine noun "hotel" is used in the prepositional case -- note the ending.)
Richard: - , "". i .
Yes, in Dnipro hotel. Mykola has booked a room for me there. (The name of the hotel is also the name of a major Ukrainian river. Kyiv is located on its banks.)
Ira: - ? Have you come on business, or just travelling?

Richard: - ³. , , i. (It's) a business trip. But, if there's time, I would like to see the city.