1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Russian
  4. >
  5. "На чём ты умеешь играть?"

"На чём ты умеешь играть?"

Translation:What instruments can you play?

December 19, 2016



Could this also be translated to "What can you play?" It seems like the literal translation, and it is also natural English.


You need to distinguish playing instruments and playing games, since Russian uses different prepositions for those. "Играть на" refers to musical instruments, "играть в" refers to games.


...So, translating the Russian phrase into English as 'what can you play' would be fine, as the Russian phrase does refer to a musical instrument and so does the English one.

  • 2158

and so does the English one.

Not so fast. If I join a new soccer team, a natural question to me would be 'what can you play' meaning '(In) what position can you play?'. I usually play defence.
Equally well, this question may be about the types of card games I can play.
You have assumed a certain context, but the English sentence is much broader. I agree that the Russian phrase unambiguously refers to musical instruments though.


Ah, yeah, you're right.


Yes, that was my accepted translation.


I tought about "instruments", but given that Duo usually do not accept anything other than literal translation...


I'm confused. I translated this literally as "on what can you play" which it marked wrong. I figured it probably meant music but how do we know that? I mean couldn't it mean like a jungle gym or swing set? I don't see anything about instruments in the sentence..

  • 2158

Well, aside from very specialised contexts (I much prefer playing football on real grass rather than AstroTurf) where "на"="on" can be translated literally, Russian "играть на X" fairly unambiguously points towards "playing X" where X is a musical instrument.
Given the combination "умеешь играть"="can play", this becomes completely unambiguous: even in the context I gave you, I can certainly play football on either surface, it's just that I prefer one over the other.


Where the word instrument in the russian version ?


If you do not mean playing on a PC or PS2 or Xbox360 or something—or messing with someone's feelings—the structure "играть на" + Prepositional is mostly used for musical instruments.


When I did Russian at school, we called the propositional the Instrumental Case.

  • 2158

These are two different cases in Russian; you must be mistaken


i am confused. why cant we use что here. что ты умеешь играть? can it be like that?


Because playing an instrument requires the preposition "на" and the genitive case in Russian. This structure is preserved in questions as well. "Что ты умеешь играть" however can be used if the question is "what type of music can you play?".


I am trying to understand why we use the propositional of что (чём). I thought because the subject is "you" and I needed the propositional. But then, my Ukrainian girlfriend, told me this sentence:

Что ты умеешь играть?

Here что is accusative and matches with играть that is masculine accusative. Basically it is the verb who needs this associated case.

Is my thought grammatically correct?


Hm.. That does not seem right. There exist languages where the verb attaches affixes that agree with the subject AND the object.

Russian, however, is the same family as Swedish, Spanish, English, or German. For us, it is the grammatical subject (if present) that affects the form of the predicate, and that's it.

Играть is the infinitive; it does not have gender, number, tense, person or anything, really. It has a model of government, though. For games, it is играть + в + Acc. For roles, recordings or musical pieces it is играть + Acc.. For musical instruments it is играть + на + Prep :

  • Я играют в баскетбол.
  • Она играет Гертруду.
  • Мы играем сонату для скрипки и фортепиано.
  • Она играет на виолончели.

Literally speaking, it is playing "into a game", playing "a role" or "a song" and playing "on a musical instrument".


What's the rule with ь? Thus far guessing listening exercises seems random, depending on guessing which words get the ь and which do not...


Usually ь really means that the consonant changes its sound or a vowel has the initial й (including и, e.g. in "воробьи"). Вяз and вяpь are pronounced differently

Some Russian spelling conventions, however, follow legacy practices, such as what you saw here. Second person singular forms all end in a ь. It does not affect pronunciation since in modern Russian Ш is permanently non-palatalised.

Learn Russian in just 5 minutes a day. For free.