Unraveling the Instrumental Case in Russian Grammar

In the heart of the Russian language lies a captivating puzzle that adds a kaleidoscope of depth to its sentences – the instrumental case. Imagine a conversation that goes beyond the mere “who,” “what,” and “where,” delving into the nuanced whispers of “with whom,” “by whom”, “by what means,” and “with what.”

It’s as if each sentence is a brushstroke on a canvas, not merely depicting an action, but painting a vivid portrait of the tools, companionship, and means involved in the intricacies of communication.

This case, with its complexity, opens the door to a world where sentences become not just a conveyance of action, but a tapestry interwoven with the subtleties of usage and companionship.

Instrumental case example

Definition

The instrumental case in Russian is an important part of the language that helps show how things are used or what’s involved in an action. We use it when we want to express the means, tools, or companionship used to perform an action. It’s like saying “with” or “using” something or someone in English.

The instrumental case answers questions like:

By what? / With what? – What do you use to perform an action?

By what means? – How do you achieve something?

By whom? / With whom? – Who is involved in the action?

In Russian, such questions sound like “Кем?” and “Чем?”.

The instrumental case has quite a wide range of uses, and many points may not always be obvious, so you will have to memorize them.

Forming

Now, let’s talk about how to form the instrumental case. For most nouns, we add different endings to the word, depending on their gender, number, and whether they end in a soft or hard consonant or a vowel.

For masculine nouns ending in a consonant, we usually add “-ом” to the nominative form. For example:

Стол (table) in the nominative becomes “столом” (with the table) in the instrumental case.

Дом (house) becomes “домом” (with the house).

For masculine nouns ending in a soft sign, we add “-ем” to the nominative form:

  • учитель (teacher) – учителем
  • гость (guest) – гостем
  • камень (rock) – камнем (we lost “е” here, it happens with other cases too)

The masculine nouns ending in ж, ч, ц, ш and щ can acquire both “-ом” and “-ем” endings. In this case, the ending “-ом” is stressed, and “-ем” is unstressed.

  • муж (husband) – му́жем
  • нож (knife) – ножо́м
  • кирпи́ч (brick) – кирпичо́м
  • ко́уч (coach) – ко́учем
  • лжец (liar) – лжецо́м
  • та́нец (dance) – та́нцем
  • малы́ш (baby) – малышо́м
  • замо́рыш (starveling) – замо́рышем
  • о́вощ (vegetable) – о́вощем
  • плащ (raincoat) – плащо́м

For feminine nouns, if they end in “-а” or “-я” in the nominative case, in the instrumental case, they usually replace these endings with “-ой” or “-ей” respectively. For example:

Книга (book) becomes “книгой” (with the book).

Мама (mom) becomes “мамой” (with mom).

Молния (lightning) becomes “молнией” (with lightning).

If the last consonant in a word is ж, ч, ц, ш or щ (If a word ends in жа, ча, ца, ша or ша), it takes the ending “-ей”:

  • кучакучей
  • юношаюношей (masculine)
  • курицакурицей
  • сажасажей

but: госпожагоспожой

For neuter nouns ending in a consonant, we add “-ом” or “-ем” to the nominative form. For example:

  • окно (window) – окном
  • небо (sky) – небом
  • солнце (sun) – солнцем
  • чтение (reading) – чтением

For plural nouns the ending is “-ами” or “-ями“:

  • друзья (friends) – друзьями
  • слова (words) – словами
  • книги (books) – книгами
  • мужчины (men) – мужчинами
  • крылья (wings) – крыльями

See Also: Understanding Russian Genitive Case

Using

The instrumental case is versatile, adding layers of detail to sentences, illuminating the various facets of an action, association, or creation.

In fact, In Russian, the instrumental case is far more than a tool to indicate instruments in an action. While it does serve to highlight the tools used to perform an action, it extends its function to encompass a broader spectrum of expressions.

But we’re going to start from the basics.

Tools/Means

We use the instrumental case when we’re talking about doing something with or using something or someone. For instance:

Они украсили блюдо зеленью. – They garnished the dish with greens.

Картина написана маслом. – The painting is in oil.

Чем” in Russian can be translated to English as “by what.” It refers to the instrumental case form of the pronoun “what” and is used to ask about the means, tool, or method by which an action is performed.

For example:

Чем ты пишешь? – What are you writing with?

Чем ты занят? translates to “By what are you occupied?” or more idiomatically, “What are you doing?”

We can also denote the transportation of someone or something in specific contexts, particularly when the emphasis is on transporting someone/something using a certain method, tool, or vehicle.

For instance:

Я часто заказываю товары почтой. – I often order items by mail.

В вашем магазине есть доставка курьером? – Does your store have courier delivery?

Они отправили раненых поездом. – They sent the wounded by train.

Груз доставили пароходом. – The cargo was delivered by steamboat.

In these instances, the instrumental case is employed to highlight the means or method through which someone/something is transported.

However, when indicating traveling or riding on a means of transportation, such as trains, planes, trucks, etc., the prepositional case is used, as in:

Мы едем на поезде. – We are traveling by train.

Я езжу на автобусе. – I travel by bus.

Она прилетела на самолёте. – She arrived by plane.

BUT: Они ходят пешком. – They are walking.

Besides the instrumental case, other cases are also used to highlight the means or method through which something is transported.

For instance, instead of “почтой” (by mail) you can use “по почте” (the dative case) to convey the method of sending or receiving something via mail.

Other examples:

  • отправить самолётом” (to send by plane) uses the instrumental case
  • отправить на самолёте” (to send by plane) applies the prepositional case

or:

  • перевезти грузовиком (transport by truck)
  • перевезти на грузовике (transport on truck)

See Also: Means of Transport in Russian

Author/Creator

The instrumental case is used in Russian when discussing the author or creator of something. It highlights the person responsible for the creation, production, or execution of an action or work.

We use the question “Кем?” here.

Кем был написан этот роман? translates to “By whom was this novel written?”

For instance:

Книга написана известным автором. – The book is written by a famous author.

Этот фильм создан талантливым режиссером. – This film is created by a talented director.

Картина “Утро в сосновом лесу” нарисована Иваном Шишкиным. – The painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” was painted by Ivan Shishkin.

So, the instrumental case is frequently utilized in passive constructions to denote the performer or the means by which something is or was done. Passive constructions often focus on the action itself or the object upon which the action is performed.

Employment or Occupation

The instrumental case in Russian is used extensively when discussing professions and occupations.

It is employed to denote one’s job or role. For instance:

Он работает психологом. – He works as a psychologist.

Он работает инженером. – He works as an engineer.

Моя мама всю жизнь проработала воспитателем в детском саду. –  My mom worked her whole life as a kindergarten teacher.

Она является директором этой компании. – She is the director of the company.

Additionally, the instrumental case is employed when indicating the tools, materials, subjects, or the area of focus associated with a specific job or occupation, indicating the means or the sphere in which the work is carried out.

Он работает с деревом. – He works with wood.

Я работаю с детьми. – I work with children.

Нам нужен специалист по работе с клиентами. – We need a customer service specialist (a specialist working with clients).

Я работаю с животными. – I work with animals.

Notice that all of these sentences have the preposition “с” (with), so the instrumental case is just perfectly spelled out here.

See Also: Essential Russian Vocabulary for Work

Social Interaction

This case is frequently employed to express social interaction or relationships, indicating with whom someone communicates, spends time, or engages in an activity.

When expressing social interaction, the instrumental case is used to denote the companion or the person with whom the action occurs:

Мы гуляем с друзьями. – We are walking with friends.

Они ужинают с коллегами. – They are having dinner with colleagues.

Он играет с братом. – He is playing with his brother.

Мой ребёнок занимается с репетитором. – My child is studying with the tutor.

Студенты готовятся к экзаменам с профессором. – The students are preparing for exams with the professor.

Хочешь потанцевать со мной? – Do you want to dance with me?

Understanding these contexts helps in correctly identifying when to use the instrumental case in Russian. It is crucial in portraying the means, tools, or companionship involved in various actions and interactions.

Instrumental case in Russian

Prepositions Used With the Instrumental Case

Prepositions play a crucial role in determining the case in Russian. When the instrumental case is required, you’ll often find these prepositions of place:

  1. за – behind
  2. между – between
  3. над – over, above
  4. под – under, below
  5. перед – in front of, before (can be used with time expressions as well)

Another preposition, which, as you’ve already realized, is always accompanied by this case is с / со (with). And it has some variations: вместе с (together with), в связи с (in connection with, due to).

Here are some examples of how prepositions work with the instrumental case:

Мужчина скрывается за кустом. – The man is hiding behind the bush.

Между нами возникло недопонимание. – There was a misunderstanding between us.

Солнце взошло над горизонтом. – The sun rose above the horizon.

Они скрываются под деревом. – They are hiding under the tree.

Он лежит под одеялом. – He is lying beneath the blanket.

Стакан воды перед едой уменьшает чувство голода. – A glass of water before eating will reduce the feeling of hunger.

Машина остановилась перед светофором. – The car stopped before the traffic light.

Девушка танцует перед зрителями. – The girl is dancing before the audience.

Он выступает перед публикой. – He is performing before the audience.

Он говорит с акцентом. – He speaks with an accent.

Мероприятие отменено в связи с погодой. – The event is canceled due to the weather.

Мы путешествуем вместе с родителями. – We travel together with our parents.

Студенты готовятся к экзаменам вместе с преподавателем. – The students are preparing for the exams together with the teacher.

Он работает вместе с командой разработчиков. – He works together with the team of developers.

See Also: The Dative Case in Russian

Verbs that Take the Instrumental

Several verbs commonly use the instrumental case in Russian. These verbs are often associated with actions that involve using something, performing an action together with someone, or expressing a means.

Here are some common verbs that take the instrumental case:

  • быть / являться (be)
  • становиться (become)
  • владеть / обладать (possess)
  • пользоваться (use)
  • казаться (seem)
  • оказаться (turn out to be)
  • называться (be called)
  • считаться (be considered, reckon with)
  • интересоваться (wonder, be interested)
  • увлекаться (be fond, fancy)
  • заниматься (do, practise)
  • восхищаться (admire)
  • любоваться (feast one’s eyes on)
  • наслаждаться (enjoy, savor)
  • гордиться (be proud of)
  • делиться (share)
  • болеть (be ill)
  • страдать / маяться (suffer)
  • рисковать (risk)
  • жертвовать (sacrifice)
  • питаться (eat)
  • управлять (manage, control)
  • руководить (lead)
  • командовать (command)
  • служить (serve)

In fact, any verb that is used with the preposition “с” (with) can take this case. Its verbs that may involve a companion (a human, an animal or a thing).

  • проводить время с (to spend time with)
  • встречаться с (to meet with)
  • работать с (to work with)
  • гулять с (to walk, hang out with)
  • общаться с (to communicate with)
  • путешествовать с (to travel with/by)
  • приходить с (to come with)

Actually, any of the speaking verbs can take the instrumental case:

  • говорить с (to speak with)
  • болтать с (to chat with)
  • беседовать с (to talk with)
  • дискутировать с (debate with)
  • обсуждать (что-либо) с (discuss something with)
  • спорить с (to argue with)
  • ругаться с (quarrel with)

Example sentences:

Он общается с коллегами. (He communicates with colleagues.)

Она договаривается с партнерами. (She negotiates with partners.)

Мы любим делиться опытом. (We love to share our experiences.)

Они спорят с судьёй. (They argue with the judge.)

Мы переписываемся с кузеном. (We exchange messages with our cousin.)

Я встречаюсь с подругой. (I meet with a friend.)

Она празднует с семьей. (She celebrates with the family.)

Мы интересуемся искусством. (We are interested in art.)

Я был учителем. (I was a teacher.)

Он обладает талантом. (He possesses talent.)

Он владеет искусством приобретения друзей. (He knows the art of making friends.)

Он показался мне честным человеком. (He seemed honest to me.)

Этот город называется Петербургом. (This city is called Petersburg.)

Он считается экспертом. (He is considered an expert.)

Он рискует жизнью. (He risks his life.)

Я болею гриппом. (I have the flu.)

Она занимается спортом. (She is involved in sports.)

Он руководит проектом. (He leads the project.)

Он командует отрядом. (He commands the squad.)

Он управляет компанией. (He manages the company.)

Моя подруга восхищается этими картинами. (My friend admires these paintings.)

Мы любуемся закатом. (We admire the sunset.)

Они наслаждаются отдыхом. (They enjoy their vacation.)

Она гордится своими достижениями. (She is proud of her achievements.)

Он интересуется историей. (He is interested in history.)

Они увлекаются путешествиями. (They are passionate about traveling.)

There are also verbs that are used with certain prepositions (remember the prepositions we learned earlier in this article). For example, the verb смеяться (to laugh) is used with the preposition “над” when we are talking about the object of ridicule. That’s why we use the instrumental case.

This case is a pivotal element of the Russian language, adding depth, nuance, and a subtle intricacy that enriches every conversation, narrative, or written piece. Understanding its multifaceted use unlocks the potential for more nuanced and comprehensive communication, enabling speakers to convey not only actions but also the underlying relationships, associations, and dynamics within those actions.

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