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When to use "есть" in possessive constructions

My understanding was always that when indicating possession, есть is sort of an optional word. So:

У меня есть стул.


У меня стул.

are both correct.

Am I incorrect about this? I've come across several sentences that were counted wrong with есть or wrong without it, and I'm honestly not sure whether to flag them as mistakes or not.

November 23, 2015



It is not an optional word.

If you want to express the existence of said object in your possession, you use есть.

If the existence is not questioned (like "I have long legs"—surely, having legs won't surprise anyone) or the identity of the object is stressed ("Careful! He got a gun!"), you do not use есть. In practice, this often happens when your sentence describes a property of an object using an adjective or expresses quantity. Then, chance is «есть» should not be used (you still need to check what the sentence is really about).

Here, I mean that in English you say that you "have" things for all kinds of reasons. For example, "I have a brother" does express the existence of a relative while, from a Russian POV, "I have 3 brothers" or "I got a smart brother" is more about quantity and quality. "We have a grey cat" focuses on a characteristic if said by an average Joe but it might focus on possession if said by a pet shop owner (or by a person who has cats but of whom it was not clear if they had a gray one).

You do not use «есть» with body parts and illnesses.


More examples:

  • У меня есть стул. I have a chair.
  • У тебя есть стул? Do you have a chair?
  • Да, у меня есть стул. Yes, I have a chair.
  • У кого есть стул? Who has a chair?
  • У меня! I have!


  • У кого стул? (I know that someone has a chair and I want to know who is it.)


Notably, "У меня стул", isn't always about furniture.


Ok, thank you! This is the explanation I was needing!


It is right there, in the tips to one of the skills (I do not remember which one).


You're right. I should have looked first. I've just been testing my way through each skill. Having read three English to Russian textbooks, I didn't think I needed the tips :-/

I guess this is helping me find the weird gaps in my knowledge.


The tips are good, even if you've studied Russian before. Sometime the different slant from what you've seen before is really helpful.


"У меня стул" is not the same as "У меня есть стул". That means "I have the chair" but means "I have the chair, and say that YOU have chair. It must be said as "у меня есть стул""

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