Why is the accusative меня used here instead of я? And why the neuter conjugation of был? There's something vital I'm missing here.
It is Genitive. TheGenitive of negation, to be more exact. Russian has two ways of saying a person is not at a certain place:
- you can explicitly say the person is "not here": Мама не тут.
- you can say that no such person is found here: Мамы тут нет / Тут нет мамы.
You can compare it to У меня есть яблоко / У меня нет яблока.
A person may say "Вчера я тут не был" or even "Вчера я был не тут" but these would be slightly different and make the "absence" less emphasised in favour of stating a person's whereabouts.
Now, if you remember У меня есть / У меня нет structure, it has its past and future counterparts:
- У меня будет яблоко. У меня будут планы.
- У меня был сок. У меня было яблоко. У меня была проблема. У меня были друзья.
The negation is always не было and не будет regardless of gender and number of the absent object:
- У меня не будет яблока/планов.
- У меня не было сока/яблока/проблемы/друзей.
P.S. it is quite amusing that, unlike English. the past form of the Russian "to be" behaves almost like any other damn verb. The only thing different is the stress shifting to не in the negative non-feminine forms (не́ был, не была́, не́ было, не́ были). Otherwise the verb is perfectly regular, featuring the usual zero , а-, о-, и- endings depending on the gender of the subject.
I usually find your explanations so elucidating, Shady_arc. Here I am still confused.
So are you saying "Мама не тут" is "(Your/our/some known) mom is not here?"
Whereas "Мамы тут нет" / "Тут нет мамы" is more like "There is no <<mom>> here." (no "mom-like person").
But then how do I apply this to ""Меня вчера тут не было." That would seem to me to be there was no me-like person here yesterday. Is there a way I could think of this so I could understand it better? Also, could I say "Вчера, Я не тут."
PS I was a bit confused about your PS until I realized that you were talking about all past-tense verbs, not all verbs.
These two structures convey the same meaning, only the shades of meaning are different. The Genitive option treats a person more passively, along the lines of "this person cannot be found here". The Nominative option treats "being" as a more active action of visiting some place or remaining at a certain place, so if you ARE NOT somewhere, it is because you went somewhere else.
IRL «не здесь» would be used if you want to focus on "somewhere else" part. If you just want to say someone is absent, the Genitive option is preferred.
Sorry for being such a low, slow learner shady, but may I ask, since word order is "flexible" (which I love), is it OK to have вчера меня не тут было Would this be commonly spoken or is there a "specific way" that native speakers would form this phrase. (taking into account all of the subtlties that your have mentioned of course like stressing if you are thinking of .....the where ..... or the who ..... or the whatever is important
Two things make this harder for me to grasp, although begin to understand:
1. the word order is not logical to an English speaker. I've learned to deal with у меня есть [thing]. There's no у in this sentence, so the genitive connection is not readily apparent, especially since меня is at the other end of the sentence from не було. 2. The flow in syntactical logic is just not readily apparent to me, again because of the word order. Меня seems isolated, disconnected. It just feels like there should be some sort of preposition in front of меня, even if it's prepositional relationship expressed in English which translates the meaning and intent of using the Genitive here.
Something like "Of me = my presence yesterday was not here." Getting меня to fit into this seems peculiar.