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Notes on Word Order in Russian

This post is inspired by tons of comments asking if you can use another word order. Sometimes I even read that the word order does not matter because Russian is an inflected language.

You have to know that the word order is not completely random. Sometimes you can change it without any change in the meaning, and sometimes you'll give the sentence another tone or even turn it into a nonsense.

Here is an example. The initial sentence is "Кошки здесь нет," the default translation being "The cat is not here." The words in italic are stressed.

  • Кошки здесь нет. The cat is not here. Pretty neutral, no emphasis on whatever.
  • Здесь нет кошки. There is no cat here. Pretty neutral, no emphasis on whatever.
  • Кошки нет здесь. The cat is not here. A less common word order, emphasizing "not".
  • Нет здесь кошки! There's no cat here! (I fail too see any cat here!)
  • Нет кошки здесь! The cat is not here! (I looked for it and couldn't find it, I swear!)
  • Здесь кошки нет. The cat is not here (but I'll keep looking for it elsewhere).

Note that some of these versions are pretty emotional and situational. Should you learn them all while you're still a beginner? I don't think so. That is why, I believe, many possible but not very common versions are not accepted - just so that you would not pick one of them as your favorite and sound funny when using it in the wrong context.

I have to admit I came to enjoy answering all those questions.

Keep asking, and happy learning!

November 8, 2015



Reminds me a bit of the word order in my native language ( Dutch). De kat is niet hier. ( Emphesizing not) De kat is hier niet. ( emphasiszing place) Is de kat hier? ( Question form) Hier is de kat..... niet. ( Thinking you found the cat but then you find out that you didn't)


Great, I was able to understand your examples because I know some German :-)


Ich auch!!! It's really cool how one can do that


I don't know much German or Dutch (I'd love to learn them both!) but could understand it :).


«De kat is niet hier», «the cat is not here». This is English! And Homer demonstrated that German language is English language! LOL!


Wow I forget how much English shares with other Germanic languages. I would like to learn one soon!


Is Кошки not cats plural?


It's genitive singular here, though the nominative plural would have the same shape.

Negative sentences, saying that something is not there, usually take the genitive rather than the nominative, as I understand it.

I remember a picture from my history book of a shop with "Хлеба нет" in the shop window - "There is no bread" / "We don't have any bread (today)".


Ah of course. Thanks. Tired brain not working today!


And also "Пива нет" )))


Would «нету» work in that sentence?


It would. However, in this course such colloquial expressions are mostly limited to the corresponding skill at the far end of the tree.


I asked the question earlier in another thread, but if it were multiple cats that were being looked for, would it be кошак I think?

I think this is one of the hardest parts of russian...remembering to use the right case, and then remembering the right endings for that case.


It would be "кошек". Кошек здесь нет.


Yes, but this word is homonymic to "cat" (singular) in the genitive case.


Нет! Здесь кошки! (No! Here are the cats!)

Нет! Кошки здесь! (No! The cats! are here)


How can we know when the word order is talking about one specific cat or the fact that there are no cats? Some sentences in the examples above are translated along the lines of "The cat is not here" whereas others are translated as "There are no cats here".


The word order is the indicator:

Кошки здесь нет. The cat is not here. Since you put кошки first, then you're speaking about a specific cat. This then gets translated to "The cat" in English.

Здесь нет кошки. There is no cat here. Now that you have здесь first, you're talking about a specific place. Roughly "This place" or "The here" in English. I've stretched the English a little on the second version in order to emphasize that we are addressing a particular known location. In this case, any cat will do.


Just tagging it for later use. Thanks, olimo!


How would you render in russian the French expression "il n'y a pas un chat ici" (there isn't anybody nor anything present here, not even a cat.) Нет здесь кошки?

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