When it comes to learning Russian and grammar in particular, there’s a lot to take in.
With verbs, you have to think about conjugation and tense.
And with nouns, you have to consider things like gender and case. So it’s sometimes easy to look over something like Russian pronouns.
While this might sound like another hard piece of Russian grammar to learn, don’t worry! Pronouns in Russian aren’t so tricky and mostly work the same way that they do in English. So in this article, we’ll go over:
- What pronouns Are
- How Russian pronouns Work
- Possessive pronouns in Russian
- The possessive pronoun свой
What Are Russian Pronouns?
The Russian word for pronoun is местоимение, which literally translates to “in place of” (место) “a noun” (имя). This is a pretty good place to explain what a pronoun is.
Simply put, it’s a kind of word that replaces a noun. Think about how you refer to yourself as “I” and talk about your friends by their names as well as “he” “she” and “they”. A pronoun is simply a word that can replace another noun.
- I saw Dave > I saw him
- Danille read the book > She read it
Pronouns are also how we talk about most people and things. This includes words like “I”, “you”, “he”, “she”, “it”, “we”, and “they”. It also includes possessives like “my”, “your”, “his”, “her”, “its”, “our”, and “their”.
In English when we talk about people or things, it can sound pretty strange to keep saying their name. Consider this example
- I read a book by Isaak Babel. The book was really good so I want to lend the book to you.
Normally, we would replace “book” with a pronoun.
- I read a book by Isaak Babel. It was really good so I want to lend it to you.
How Do Russian Pronouns Work?
So this brings us to the question: How do Russian pronouns work?
The good news is that Russian pronouns work just like they do in English. You simply use them to replace another word.
- Мы говорили с Иваном. Он сказал “привет” (We spoke with Ivan. He (Ivan) said privjet)
And just like in English, Russian pronouns are used to talk about people.
So let’s look over the basic Russian personal pronouns (личные местоимения) to give you a better sense of them.
|I, Me||You||He, Him||She, Her||It||We, Us||You (plural)||They, Them|
*Important! Despite its spelling the pronoun его is pronounced like yih-VOH and not with a ‘g’ sound.
The first thing to notice is that Russian personal pronouns change according to case just like Russian nouns. That means that you need to decline them according to case.
Thankfully many of these cases match each other. For example the pairs of я/ты and мы/вы decline in the exact same way.
- Я тебя люблю (I love you)
- Ей нравится она (she likes it/her)
It is worth noting that when pronouns are used, they will refer to a word's grammatical gender. That’s why книга (book) is replaced with она and not оно.
- Книга стоит доллар > она стоит доллар
- The book costs a dollar > it costs a dollar
Being Polite With Russian Pronouns
You may have noticed that there are two different Russian words for “you”.
It’s important to be aware of this distinction because it matters a lot when speaking Russian. The pronoun ты is used for singular you while вы is used for plural.
- Ты поешь красиво (You (singular) sing beautifully)
- Вы поете красиво (You/y’all sing beautifully)
While the distinction between singular and plural you is important, there is one other aspect of ты and вы that you need to know. Deciding which pronoun to use is a matter of politeness.
The pronoun вы is used both for plural you and polite you. If you know French this is a lot like the distinction between tu and vous.
So if you’re speaking to a stranger, your boss, or someone you want to show respect to, you should address them as вы.
On the other hand, using ты is seen as a sign of closeness and affection. This is the form people use with family members, romantic partners, and good friends.
Just remember that the verbs will conjugate according to the pronoun and not the actual number of people.
- Иван, Вы поете красиво (Ivan, you sing beautifully (polite/formal))
- Иван, ты поешь красиво (Ivan, you sing beautifully (casual/close))
Russian Pronouns: Possessive Pronouns
Now that you understand how personal pronouns work, let’s look at possessive pronouns. These translate to things like “my”, “her”, “his” and “your” and show who owns something.
- Это мой друг (this is my friend)
- Это твои носки (they’re your socks)
- Это ваша подушка (it’s your pillow)
While all these forms may look like a lot to learn, it’s not that much new information. Firstly, these declensions follow much of the same patterns as Russian adjectives. Secondly, the patterns for мой/твой and наш/ваш are the same.
|1st Person Singular (my)||Masc.||Fem.||Neut.||Plural|
|Accusative (animate)||Мой Моего||Мою||Моё||Мои Моих|
|2nd Person Singular (your)||Masc.||Fem.||Neut.||Plural|
|Accusative (animate)||Твой Твоего||Твою||Твоё||Твои Твоих|
|2nd Person Singular (your)||Masc.||Fem.||Neut.||Plural|
|Accusative (animate)||Наш Нашего||Нашу||Наше||Наши Наших|
|2nd person plaural (your)||Masc.||Fem.||Neut.||Plural|
|Accusative (animate)||Ваш Вашего||Вашу||Ваше||Ваши Ваших|
As with adjectives, possessive pronouns match the case, gender and number of what they describe.
- Мой большой кот (my big cat) (nom, masc, sing)
- С твоим белым вином (with your white wine) (inst, neut, sing)
- К нашим друзьям (to our friends) (dat, masc, plur)
Look at these tables, you may have noticed that there’s a possessive pronoun for “my”, “your”, “our”, and “your” (plural). But what about “his”, “her”, and “their”?
The Russian pronouns for “his”, “her”, and “their” have single forms that do not change according to case. You might notice that these are the same as the accusative forms of the pronouns он/оно (he/it), она (she), and они (they).
- Her (ее) [yeh-yoh]
- His (его) [yih-voh]
- Their (их) [ikh]
These possessive pronouns stay the same no matter what case the object they describe is.
- Его машина там (His car is there)
- Я вижу его машину (I see his car)
- В его машине (In his car)
Since each of these start with a vowel, they sometimes need an н attached to help with pronunciation after some prepositions. This is a lot like how we say “an apple” rather than “a apple”. You’ll most often see this change with the preposition у.
- У него есть большая книга (he has a big book)
- У нее есть три сестры (she has three sisters)
- Письмо от них брата (a letter from their brother)
The Reflexive Possessive Pronoun
So far all the possessive pronouns we’ve talked about have clear equivalents in English. However, there’s one more possessive pronoun in Russian that’s a bit harder to understand – свой. This roughly translates to one’s own.
The declension of свой is the same as мой and твой.
|Accusative ||Свой Своего||Свою||Своё||Свои Своих|
So how exactly does the possessive pronoun свой work?
In a nutshell, you use свой to refer back to the subject. So while его, ее, and их refer to someone else, свой is used for someone already mentioned.
You can see the difference in the examples below.
- Иван увидел свой брата (Ivan saw his (own) brother)
- Иван увидел его брата (Ivan saw his brother (someone else’s))
While this might take some getting used to at first, a lot of Russian-learners find they appreciate the clarity that using свой gives them. To learn more, check out this post about Russian reflexive verbs.
Feeling Comfortable With Russian Pronouns
Although the term Russian pronouns might sound a bit scary at first, they're really not so hard.
Generally speaking they work the same way the English pronouns work. The only thing that you need to pay attention to is using the correct case.
Now you should have a solid understanding of
- Russian personal pronouns
- Russian possessive pronouns
- The reflexive pronoun свой
As you read in Russian, you'll start to feel more comfortable with Russian pronouns. It won’t take long before you’ll be using them naturally without a second thought!
So enjoy the journey and as always Удача из удач (best of luck)!