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  5. "Все улицы зальёт грязью."


"Все улицы зальёт грязью."

Saw this sentence in a chapter of Незнайка в Солнечном городе.

Is "зальёт" instead of "зальют" an error, or is there a grammatical point I don't know about?

September 14, 2016



No, this is quite a tricky sentence, because "все улицы" is in the Accusative case, because it is not the subject, but the object of the sentence. What is basically means is "all the streets are going to be flooded with dirt/mud"

So it's like an impersonal active construction and it uses the 3rd person singular, which is rendered in English by a passive voice.

Another example I can give you is меня захлестнёт любовью which means "I'm going to be overflown with love".

Hope this helps :-)

September 14, 2016


As a partially pro-drop language, Russian does not use a pronoun for an action that is performed by unknown individual or a force of nature. This boils down to two important structures.


When an action is performed by unspecified "they", you use the predicate in 3rd person plural without explicit subject. Including overt subject is ungrammatical. A few examples:

  • За нами следят. = We are being watched (lit. "they" watch us).
  • Недавно здесь снесли торговый центр. = A shopping was pulled down here recently.

Forces of nature

If a predicate is something caused by a natural force, weather or something, use 3rd person neuter singular. No overt subject will ever be present in such structure, though, if a force is provided by a noun in the Instrumental, the sentence can be rewritten in active voice . English sometimes uses "it" sentences of similar structure.

  • Нас несёт на камни. = We are being driven into the rocks. (e.g., by a torrent)
  • Дорогу замело снегом. = The road was snowed in.
  • На улице похолодало. ~ It became colder outside.


I guess the way you tried to read it was due to the word order :)

“Зальёт все улицы грязью” then?

“Улицы” is the object and the subject is not included in the sentence.

The sentence “Все улицы зальёт грязью” definitely implies some kind of disaster that will flood all the streets with mud.

A couple of sentences as possible example:

Катастрофа зальёт все улицы грязью.

Случится катастрофа, в результате которой все улицы зальёт грязью.


A combo of word order and the fact that "fill" in English is an ergative verb, I think!

The possibility of its being an impersonal construction flashed through my mind, but I've rarely if ever seen them with an inanimate object in accusative as the recipient of the action.

Your last example there would definitely have had me scratching my head even more!

Say one did switch the word order to the one you have at the top, how does that sound to the native speaker mind? Puts proportionally more emphasis on "все улицы" than the standard order?


Maybe it’s better to reduce the last one then:

Катастрофа зальёт все улицы грязью. (The disaster will fill all the streets with mud.)

Будет катастрофа. Bсе улицы зальёт грязью. (There will be a disaster. All the streets will be filled with mud.)

The first one could be used this way:

  • Что сделает катастрофа? (- What will the disaster do?)
  • Зальёт все улицы грязью. (- Fill the streets with mud.)

This one looks rather incomplete on its own.


Oops, I meant I was quite glad for the last example you gave since, if that's a type of sentence I might encounter somewhere, it would particularly have thrown me, so I'm glad to have seen it now!

Thanks again!


I am not sure what you imply. You CAN say «Катастрофа зальёт улицы грязью» but it is a highly unnatural sentence, making as much sense as «Катастрофа убила молоко».

It also does not quite explain why «Всю улицу залило» is a natural sentence whereas «Катастрофа залила всю улицу» not only uses a different gender (why?) but also isn't something you can hope to hear from a native. Ironically, the formal «Случится катастрофа, в результате которой все улицы зальёт грязью» is much more natural precisely for the reason it lacks the awkward subject in the second half.

As an analogy, it may work, though it does not seem to bear any resemblance to English. An alternative approach is to treat is as a passive.


My initial intention was to try to talk about it without introducing new words. I chose “катастрофа” as a replacement that would not require a dictionary. And I tried to find a way back from something he found difficult to something he will be familiar with.

I don’t know whether it’s a good approach, but I have seen this comment for example:

“Sometimes I feel like I need to brush up on my english a little more even, to help me learn russian. For example, in russianlessons.net they talk about Reflexive Verbs, Notable Irregular Verbs, Russian Imperfective, Russian Perfective, conjugations.. The list goes on and on. I have no idea what any of these are. Maybe I learned about cases and conjugations at some point in my life, but I have absolutely no idea what they are now, and what the differences are anymore.”

I am replying because you called that sentence highly unnatural. How about these ones then:

Селевой поток зальёт все улицы грязью.

Сход оползня заполнит все улицы грязью.

Наводнение зальёт десятки жилых домов.

Катастрофа унесёт десятки жизней.

Глобальная катастрофа уничтожит человечество.

Тех, кого пощадила глобальная катастрофа, уничтожит новая мировая война.

Do they still strike you as unnatural?

And can you compose anything decent at all with “убить молоко”?


I just think there is little in common between these two structures. The sentences you provided are more like something a native would say — some natural (e.g., "Катастрофа унесёт десятки жизней"), some a bit convoluted or suggesting a style filled with imagery of disasters breaking things on purpose.

Note that none of your sentences can be transformed into what the original post is asking about.

How about these:

  • В квартире этажом ниже прорвало трубу
  • Небо затянуло облаками.
  • Зал залило тёплой живой волной света.
  • Механика убило током.

What kinds of disasters cause these things to happen?


I would do this with them:

  • Высокое давление воды прорвало трубу в квартире этажом ниже.
  • Возвращение циклона затянуло небо облаками (и обрушило на жителей проливные дожди).
  • Выглянувшее из-за туч солнце залило холодный зал тёплой живой волной света.
  • Упавший высоковольтный кабель убил механика током.

There is always some kind of a reason but disaster as a term was of course not a universal example. The term “something” probably would be. My assumption is that people most likely first started to make sentences with a subject. Sentences without a subject somehow originate from them and can be restored back to full forms.

It all is just playing with the language though :)

As for the set of rules you have already provided in this thread it should be correct – no arguing with that of course.


That's not an assumption. However, the process you describe happened quite a while ago, way before Modern Russian. So these sentences cannot be restored to their full forms. Modern speakers do not think that "... убило током" inherently has a subject, even though some such sentences might imply there was a known cause other than an accident. Or not. The sentence says nothing about that: it just says that an object "got affected" by some action.


Could one also have said «Все улицы зальются грязью» with approximately the same meaning as the original?


I don't think I would say something like that. Maybe "Улицы зальются лучами солнца" if I decided to sound poetic.

The thing is, you would only use -ся more or less consistently to passivise imperfective verbs:

  • Неподалёку строится дом.
  • В такую погоду улицы часто заливаются водой.
  • Такие книги читаются быстро.
  • Это явление активно изучается.
  • Вчера в суде слушалось два дела.

With perfective verbs, however, it is hit or miss... I'd say, a miss is even more likely. You should check the usage carefully because we do not generally use them in the passive meaning. I do not feel it is very common for залиться... it works with a metaphor, though, just not in the strictly literal interpretation (which would equate "залиться" and "to be filled with something by something through spilling all over it").

Even if the verb is imperfective, it might not work. Also, the Instrumental agent is usually not stated unless you are ready to sound official and quite formal (e.g., "Здание строится крупной компанией"). This is probably one of the reasons many imperfective verbs that have a different use of -ся version (e.g., reciprocal, intransitive or habitual) or a different meaning altogether, do not get used in passive. Semantics matters, too.


Figuring out these patterns have been in the back of my mind for a while. Thank you for helping me take a great step forward.

Why is it "слушалОсь два дела"?

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