A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That
Published: February 12, 2014 (Issue # 1797)
Купи сыру: buy some cheese
We’ll pause in our round-the-clock coverage of the Olympic Games for a small commercial break. That means you get off the couch, stretch and head for the kitchen. Что ты хочешь? (What do you want?), you ask your significant other. Чаю? Коньяку? Шоколаду? (Some tea? Some cognac? Some chocolate?)
How charming to offer to get your companion something to eat. How clever of you to use the partitive case.
Also by this author: A Trip Down Soviet Culinary Lane
You’ll be forgiven if you missed this in your Russian language lessons. Called in Russian родительный частичный падеж (the genitive partitive case), it is a nifty way of indicating some or part of something. With most nouns it is just the standard genitive case endings and means some, a little, part of whatever is being discussed. For example, a teenager heading to the mall to buy a pair of glasses might approach a parent with a hand extended and the phrase: Дай денег за очки! (Give me some money to buy glasses). That is the partitive case. But if said teenager has already ordered the glasses and knows the exact price, the request would be: Дай деньги за очки (give me the money for the glasses).
Also by this author: Words of the Year 2013
This might be one of those arcane bits of Russian grammar that you file away and figure no one will notice if you get it wrong. That is fine. Except for a list of about a hundred Russian words — all masculine gender — that have a special partitive ending: -у or –ю in the singular. Recognizing them is important. Using them makes you sound less like you just got off the boat clutching your Russian-English dictionary. The -у/-ю partitive forms are a little like Dr. Who’s bowties: a little old-fashioned, a little dorky, but cool.
Besides, you probably hear or use these forms every day in the kitchen: чаю (some tea); шоколаду (some chocolate); сыру (some cheese); сахару (some sugar);супу (some soup); чесноку (some garlic); and жиру (some fat, grease). Or you might use them when you are knocking back some cold ones: коньяку (a little cognac); самогону (a bit of moonshine); спирту (some grain alcohol).
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