The Dative Case in Russian: The Definitive Guide


In this post we’ll explore the dative case: you’ll learn the underlying meaning that is not usually discussed in textbooks, and how the different parts of speech behave in the dative case. Look, how many things you can find here!

Table of contents:

In recent posts, I told you that a grammar case is a special term that describes the role of a word in a sentence. If you want to better understand the concept of  Russian cases, I encourage you to look at this post, where I answer the burning question: what is this and why do Russian speakers need it

Where to Use the Dative Case?

So, first of all, let’s find out what roles “belong” to the Russian dative case. As it usually happens in Russian the dative case is responsible for a number of functions. 

Some of them are easily connected to the initial meaning of Latin the word “dativus” – giving (to), and some look absolutely random. Anyway, let’s list and provide them with the most illustrative examples. 

Function #1: The Addressee of an Action

The Dative case question: to whom?

Have you ever written letters to someone? The person you’re writing to is called an addressee. He or she is the receiver of your message. 

The same thing happens when, for example, you give your friend a phone to call – he or she becomes the recipient of your action of giving or an addressee.

When your friend calls his or her boss, the last one immediately becomes the recipient of your friend’s calling, or, as you may guess… an addressee. 

When we address the action to someone or something, we should use the dative case.

Here are some examples that illustrate this idea:

  • Я пишу брату (I’m writing to my brother). My brother is a recipient of the action of writing, so the noun брату (brother) is in the dative.
  • Ты позвонил маме? (Have you called mother?) The call we’re asking about is addressed to mother, so the word маме (mother) is in the dative too. 
  • Покажи мне свои новые фото, пожалуйста (Show me your new photos, please). I’m asking to show new photos “to me”, so I’ll be the recipient of this demonstrating. Consequently, we put the pronoun Я (I) in the dative – мне.

English doesn’t have a dative case, but still successfully expresses a similar idea: very often with the particle to:

  • Передай это Николаю, пожалуйста (Pass this to Nikolay, please) 
  • Не забудь позвонить доктору (Don’t forget to call to the doctor)
  • Кому ты это объясняешь? (Who are you explaining this to?)

Function #2: The Recipient of a Feeling

The dative case question: кому? (to whom?)

Usually, Russian language textbooks say that you should use the dative case after certain words. One learning strategy is cramming them:

Pronouns in the Dative “Certain words”          
Мне (I)
  • холодно (cold)
  • жарко (hot)
  • интересно (interesting)
  • весело (funny)
  • стыдно (ashamed) etc.
Тебе (you)
Ему (he)
Ей (she)
Вам (you, pl)
Им (they)

What I offer is to go a bit deeper and analyze the sense, the core idea of the sayings. 

The dative is used to express the recipient of a feeling. 

Let’s say we’re somewhere in Siberia in winter, and I’m complaining: “I am cold”. The Russian language looks at my moaning from a slightly different perspective. I mean, to express the same thing I need to say “Мне холодно” that means something like “It is cold to me”. 

So, to put it simply, I am a recipient of the feeling of cold, and for this reason, the pronoun я (I) is in the dative – мне.

Here are some other examples with adverbs that illustrate the function of the dative in Russian.

  • Мне так жарко! (I’m so hot/ It is so hot to me) I am the recipient of the feeling of hot, so the pronoun я (I) is in the dative – мне.
  • Ему очень трудно учиться (It’s so difficult for him to learn). He is a recipient of the feeling of “hardness to learn”, so the pronoun он (he) is in the dative – ему.
  • Детям было очень интересно! (It was so interesting for kids!) Kids are the recipients of this feeling of interest and the word детям (kids) is in the dative.

Function #3: In the Following Constructions

The dative case question: кому? (to whom?)

However, some of the constructions may not be explained with this “impression’s recipient rules” and need to be learned by heart. Let’s list them/

1. We use the dative case to say how old someone or something is.

  • Ей уже 40 лет. Время летит так быстро! (She’s 40 already. Time flies so fast!)
  • Моей сестре 25. (My sister is 25)

2. We use the dative case with the words нужно (need), надо (need), можно (may, allowed to), нельзя (forbidden, can not, must not)

  • нужно (need)
    • Мне нужно работать. (I need to work) 
    • Мне нужно в туалет. (I need a toilet) 
  • надо (need) 
    • Тебе не надо стесняться! (You don’t need to be shy)
    • Коле надо сильно постараться, чтобы сдать экзамен (Kolya needs to try hard to pass the exam)
  • можно (may, allowed to)
    • Мама, можно мне мороженого? (Mom, may I have an ice-cream?)
    • Извините, можно мне войти? (I’m sorry, may I come in?)
  • нельзя (forbidden, can not, must not)
    • Здесь никому нельзя курить! (Nobody can smoke here)
    • Ей нельзя беспокоиться (She mustn’t excite herself)

3. We use the dative case with the words приходиться (have to), удаваться (manage), казаться (seem), везти (fare well)

  • приходиться (have to)
    • Родителям приходится много работать. (Parents have to work a lot). 
    • Мне постоянно приходится её ждать! (I always have to wait for her!)
  • удаваться (manage)
    • Спортсмену удалось побить старый рекорд (The sportsman managed to break the old record)
    • Нам не удалось встретиться (We didn’t manage to see each other)
  • казаться (seem)
    • Мне кажется, это крутая идея! (It seems to me that the idea is awesome!) 
    • Ему кажется, что все будет в порядке (It seems to him that everything is going to be alright)
  • везти (farewell, to have luck)
    • Мне везет в любви (I’m lucky in love)
    • Почему мне так всегда не везет? (Why am I always so unlucky?)

Function #4 With the prepositions “к” and “по”

The list of Russian dative case prepositions isn’t large: it’s mostly used with к and по. The thing is that these prepositions may be translated into English differently. So as not to give dozens of different translations, I accompanied these examples with the questions the dative nouns answer.

  • к [to whom? or to where?]  
    • Я иду к другу. (I go to a friend
    • Он уехал к маме (He’s gone to the mother)
  • к [by what time?]
    • Я сделаю задание к понедельнику (I’ll make the task by Monday)
    • Они обещают открыть бассейн к следующему месяцу (They promise to open a swimming pool by the next month)
  • по [where? on what?]
    • Мы гуляем по площади (We’re walking around the square)
    • Иди прямо по улице (Go straight along the street
  • по [how often?]
    • Они играют в покер по средам (They play poker on Wednesdays)
    • У меня уроки музыки по вторникам (I have my music lessons on Tuesdays)
  • по [which?]
    • Сегодня лекция по физике (Today is the lecture on physics)
    • Мы прошли тест по математике (We’ve passed on maths
  • по [by what? via what? on what?]
    • Мы долго говорили по Cкайпу (We were talking via Skype for a long time)
    • По телевизору сказали, что инопланетяне существуют! (They said on the TV that aliens exist!) 
    • Позвони ей по телефону (Call her on the telephone)

How do you form the dative in Russian?

In this part, we’ll look through all the rules that tell us how to “convert” different parts of speech into the dative cases. 

There’re quite a lot of endings that you’ll need to know, so to make this job easier, I worked out a helpful method that will help you to end up with cramming tables. You can find it right here. 

For new learners, I let myself to remind briefly a couple of definitions, you’ll need further. 

  • A stem of a word – is the whole word without ending 
  • Soft consonants – are consonants followed by the letters ь, и, е, ё, ю, я. The letters ч, щ, й are always soft. 
  • Hard consonants – are all other consonants except for the soft.   

Russian dative case nouns, singular

Gender Rule Nominative, sin. Dative, sin.
Masculine, neutral Hard stem —> У Озеро Озеру
Soft stem —> Ю Море Морю
Feminine A, Я —> E Мама, Катя Маме, Кате
Ь —> И Любовь Любови
ИЯ—> ИИ Мария Марии

There are only five rules that regulate the endings of the Russian nouns in the dative case. 

For masculine and neutral nouns:

  • If the stem of a word ends up with a hard consonant, add the ending у
    • мыло -> мылу ( neut., a teacher)
    • друг  -> другу (masc., a friend)
    • суп -> супу (masc., soup)
  • If the stem of a word ends up with a soft consonant, add the ending  ю
    • словарь  -> словарю (masc., a dictionary)
    • писатель  -> писателю (masc., a writer)
    • музей -> музею (masc., a museum)

For feminine nouns:

  • If the stem of a word ends up with the letters a or я change it with the letter e
    • мама -> маме (fem., a mother)
    • сестра -> сестре (fem., a sister)
    • Катя -> Кате (fem. name)
  • If the stem of a word ends up with a ь, change the ending for и
    • боль -> боли (fem., pain)
    • соль -> соли (fem., salt)
    • бровь -> брови (fem., an eyebrow)
  • If the stem of a word ends up with the letters ия, change the ending for ии
    • лекция -> лекции (fem., a lection)
    • революция -> революции (fem., a revolution)
    • организация -> организации (fem., an organisation)

Russian dative case nouns, plural

The dative case plural rule is so simple that we don’t need any table here.

So, if the stem is hard, we use the -ам ending, and if it’s soft, we use – ям.

Here are some examples:

  • студент – студентам (students)
  • вопрос – вопросам (questions)
  • словарь – словарям (vocabularies, dictionaries)
  • музей – музеям (museums)

Russian dative case nouns, exceptions

The dative case exceptions are accumulated mostly in the masculine plural. Pay attention that these nouns have not standard nominative plural form too. 

Nom. sing. Nom. pl. Dative pl.
Сын (a son) Сыновья Сыновьям
Стул (a chair) Стулья Стульям
Брат (a brother) Братья Братьям
Лист (a leave) Листья Листьям
Дерево (a tree) Деревья Деревьям
Друг (a friend) Друзья Друзьям

However, there are a couple of feminine plural exceptions too:

Nom. sing. Nom. pl. Dative pl.
Мать (a mother) Матери Матерям
Дочь (a daughter) Дочери Дочерям

We’ve looked through the basic rules that regulate nouns endings in the dative case. To make sure that you understand all the rules explained do the following test, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments below.

Russian dative case adjectives

To make an adjective agree with a noun in the dative we need to know the specific endings that the adjectives get in this case. 

Make a note that the rules for adjectives are basically the same for all of the cases with little to no fluctuations. The only different thing is the endings. However, the general pattern they follow will be the same everywhere. 

Gender Rule Nominative, sin. Dative, sin.
Masculine & Neutral, sin. hard stem -> ому красный красному
ий that goes after г к х  -> ому легкий легкому
soft stem -> ему синий синему
Feminine, sin.

яя -> ей

синяя синей
ая that goes after ж ш ч щ   -> ей хорошая хорошей
ая -> ой розовая розовой
Plural hard stem -> ых новые новых
soft stem -> их синие синих

Masculine and neutral adjectives have the endings -ого and – его. The rules here will be the following:

  • If a stem ends up with a hard consonant, change the ending to ого:
    • зелёный -> зелёному (green)
    • классный -> классному (great)
    • отличный -> отличному (excellent)
  • When a stem of a word ends up with ий and a stem ends up with one of the special letters: г к х  change the ending to ого:
    • маленький  -> маленькому (small, little)
    • долгий  -> долгому (long)
    • тихий  -> тихому (quiet)
  • However, if a word ends up with a soft consonant, we should change the ending to его:
    • ранний  -> раннему (early)
    • весенний  -> весеннему (spring, adj)
    • поздний  -> позднему (late)

Feminine adjectives have endings -ей and -ой (the same as in the Genitive!):

  • If a word ends up with яя, change this ending to ей:
    • домашняя -> домашней (homemade)
    • лишняя -> лишней (extra)
    • летняя -> летней (summer, adj)
  • If an adjective ends up with ая that goes after ж ш ч щ change this ending to ей:
    • хорошая -> хорошей (good)
    • рабочая -> рабочей (work, adj)
    • будущая -> будущей (future, adj)
  • If a feminine adjective ends up with ая, change this ending to ой:
    • милая -> милой (lovely)
    • новая -> новой (new)
    • известная -> известной (famous)

Plural adjectives have the endings -ым and -им:

  • When the stem of a word ends up with a hard sound, the ending will be ым:
    • любимые  -> любимым (favorite)
    • старые  -> старым (old)
    • центральный  -> центральным (central)
  • If the stem of a word ends up with a soft consonant, the ending will be им:
    • высокие  -> высоким (high)
    • низкие  -> низким (low)
    • жаркие  -> жарким (hot)

Russian dative for numbers 

Russian ordinal numbers in the dative 

  • Ordinal numbers borrow the endings of adjectives: 
  Nom. Dat. masc. & neut. Dat. masc. & neut. Dat. plural
    -ому -ой -ым
1 первый первому первой первым
4 четвёртый четвёртому четвёртой четвёртым
10 десятый десятому десятой десятым
15 пятнадцатый пятнадцатому пятнадцатой пятнадцатым
40 сороковой сороковому сороковой сороковым

Exception! 3 – третий — третьему — третьей — третьим

  • Он передал мяч пятому игроку (He passed the ball to the 5th player)
  • Я обещал подготовить доклад к одиннадцатому числу (I promised to make a report by the 11th)
  • Они собираются играть в покер по двадцатым числам (They gather to play poker on the 20th of the month)

Russian cardinal numbers in the dative 

“Usual” or, so-called cardinal numbers  (like one, five, twenty-six), use different strategies to change their endings.  

The numeral один (one) has all three forms, while all the rest have two: 

1 — один (masc., nom.) — одному (masc., gen.) — одной (fem., gen.) — одним (pl., gen.)

  • Я дам награду одному из вас (I’ll give a reward to one of you)
  • Мне одному грустно? (Am I the only one who’s sad?)

The numbers from 2 to 4 follow a similar model:

  • 2 — два — двум
    • Я обращалась к двум докторам (I was seeing two doctors)
  • 3 — три — трём 
    • Эту новость показали по трём каналам (They broadcasted these news on three channels)
  • 4 — четыре — четырём
    • Нужно отправить приглашение ещё четырём гостям (We need to send an invitation to three more guests)

The numbers from 5 to 20 follow the next rule: the ь at the end of the word is changed for и.

  • 6 — шесть — шести
    • Мне придется отказать шести претендентам (I’ll have to refuse to 6 applicants)
  • 8 — восемь — восьми (! pay attention to the fleeting “e”)
    • Отправь это сообщение восьми друзьям (Send this message to 8 friends)
  • 12 — двенадцать — двенадцати 
    • Он пожертвовал деньги двенадцати разным фондам (He made donations to 12 different funds)

The tens from 50 to 80 also get this -и ending in the dative, but not only at the end of a word but also in the middle:

  • 50 — пятьдесят_ — пятидесяти
    • Я хочу выглядеть как Мадонна к пятидесяти (I want to liik like Madonna by my 50s)
  • 60 — шестьдесят__ — шестидесяти
    • Он дал указания пятидесяти работникам (He gave orders to 50 workers)
  • 80 — восемьдесят_ — восьмидесяти
    • К восьмидесяти годам он всё ещё руководил компанией (By his 80s he still ruled the company)

The tens 40, 90 and 100 follow a different strategy: they are added the letter -a at the end:

  • 40 — сорок — сорока
    • Некоторые полицейские выходят на пенсию к сорока годам (Some policemen get retired by their 40s)
  • 90 — девяносто  — девяноста 
    • К девяноста годам я хочу выглядить так же бодро как он! (By my 90s I want to look as sprightly as he does!)
  • 100 — сто — ста
    • Как я буду выглядеть к ста годам? (How will I look like by my 100s?)

Russian dative pronouns

The last part of this big dative case story will be devoted to the various forms of pronouns. Further, I’ll explain the five different groups and illustrate them with real-life examples. 

Russian personal pronouns (I, you, they…) in the dative

The first group consists of the “usual” personal pronouns like I, he, she and so on. As you know, they decline (or change by cases) and this is how they do this:

Nom. Я Ты Он Она Оно Мы Вы Они
Eng. I/me You He/him She/he It We/us You (pl./pol.) They/them
Dat. Мне Тебе

Ему/

Нему

Ей/

Ней

Ему/

Нему
Нам Вам Им

Here are two things I want you to pay attention to. 

1) Don’t rely on direct translation, but pay attention to the sense of a sentence. 

It’s true that in some situations the English language can help us to identify the dative, as it’s pronouns also look different: me, him, her, etc. For example,

  • Я поеду к нему завтра (I’ll go to him tomorrow)
  • Я обещал вернуть ему приставку полгода назад. (I promised to return him his playstation a half year ago)
  • Она забыла телефон, передай ей его пожалуйста (She’s forgotten her phone, give it her, please)

However, sometimes they may be false friends. Firstly, because they may indicate the genitive or the accusative as well. And secondly, the English version may contain the “regular” form of a pronoun but in Russian, it will still be in the dative. 

  • Зачем мне это нужно? (Why do I need all this?)
  • Нам не понравились последние “Мстители” (We didn’t like the last “Avengers”)

2. Pay attention to the appearance of the extra н- at the beginning of the forms: ему – нему, ей – ней им – ним.

We use the form with extra н (нему, ней, ним) when a pronoun follows a preposition  because it’s phonetically easier to pronounce them together

  • Твой дедушка очень скучает по тебе. Зайди к нему завтра. (Your grandpa misses you a lot. Come to see him tomorrow.)  
  • Да, я тоже по нему соскучился (Yeah, I miss him too.)

Russian possessive pronouns (my, his, their…) in the dative

The next type of pronouns are possessive like his, her, my etc. They also have their own forms in the dative. 

As you may remember, pronouns in Russian are divided into three “groups” or persons. The pronouns of the first two groups (1st and 2nd person) have specific dative forms for feminine, masculine, neutral and plural objects, while the pronouns of the third group have only one possessive equivalent. 

1st person

This category includes the pronouns я (I) and мы (we). They get the forms my and our in English respectively. However, for Russian, person, and number are not enough. The language requires us to inform our partner what sort of an object is my or our: feminine, masculine, neutral or plural. More importantly, each of these forms has its own endings in different cases. This is how they look in the dative:

  My, Nomin.

My,

Dative

  Our, Nomin.

Our,

Dative

Я (I) masc. Мой Моему Мы (we) masc. Наш Нашему
fem. Моя Моей fem. Наша Нашей
neut. Моё Моему neut. Наше Нашему
plur. Мои Моим plur. Наши Нашим
  • Я иду к моей подруге (I’m going to my friend) Подруге (friend) is a feminine noun, so we use the feminine form – моей
  • Почему ты больше не веришь моим обещаниям? (Why don’t you believe my promises any more?) The word обещаниям (promises) is plural, so we should pick up the plural dative form – моим
  • Нашему сыну почти год. (Our son is almost a year old) Сыну (son) is a masculine noun, so the correct form of a pronoun is masculine too –  нашему

2st person

There’s only one pronoun of the 2nd person in English – you. While in Russian this group unites two: ты (you singular) and мы (you plural). These are the forms they take in the dative. 

  My, Nomin.

My,

Dative

  Our, Nomin.

Our,

Dative

Ты (you) masc. Твой Твоему Вы (you) masc. Ваш Вашему
fem. Твоя Твоей fem. Ваша Вашей
neut. Твоё Твоему neut. Ваше Вашему
plur. Твои Твоим plur. Ваши Вашим
  • Передай привет твоей семье (Send my regards to your family) Firstly, the phrase is said to one person, so out of two options we pick up “you-singular”. The word семья is feminine, so we choose the feminine dative pronoun твоей
  • Передай подарок твоим мальчикам (Give the present to your boys) We say this sentence to one person, so we pick up “you-singular” again. The word мальчикам is plural, this means that we should pick up the plural dative form of “your” – твоим
  • Ребята, передайте эту информацию вашим родителям (Guys, say this information to your parents) It’s clear from the context, that we address to a number of guys, so we pick up the plural form of “you” – вы. Then, the word родителям is in plural too, so we should pick up the plural dative form of the pronoun вы – вашим
  • Мальчики, я всё расскажу вашей матери! (Boys, I’ll tell everything to your mother!) Again, we address to a number of boys, so we pick up the plural “you” – вы. As the word матери (mother) is feminine, we apply the feminine dative form – Вашей

3rd person 

This group unites the pronouns он (he), она (she), оно (it) in singular and они (they) in plural. Each of them has just one possessive version, and it works for all of the cases. 

Nomin. Gender Dative
Он masc. Его  (his)
Она fem. Её (her)
Оно neut. Его (its)
Они plur. Их (their)
  • Он подарил её родителям билеты в театр. (He presented her parents with tickets to the theatre)
  • Такси подъехало к его дому. (The taxi has driven to his house)

Russian reflexive pronouns (my own, his own…) in the dative

We’re moving to the next category of pronouns – reflexive. Generally speaking, they mean someone’s own. These are their dative forms.

Nomin. Gender Dative
Свой (his own) masc. Своему
Своя (her own) fem. Своей
Своё (its own) neut. Своему
Свои (their own) plur. Своим
  • Нужно позвонить всем своим друзьям и позвать их на День рождения (I need to call all my friends and invite them at the Birthday)
  • Он иногда пишет своей бывшей в Фейсбуке (He sometimes writes to his ex on Facebook)
  • Тебе нужно показаться своему врачу. (You need to see your doctor)

Russian demonstrative pronouns (that, these, those…) in the dative

  Masc. Fem. Neut. Plural
Nom.: That (Those) Тот То Те
Dat. Тому Той Тому Тем
Nom.: This (These) Этот Эта Это Эти
Dat. Этому Этой Этому Этим
  • Обратитесь к тому консультанту, пожалуйста (Ask that consultant, please)
  • Вернитесь к тем статьям. (Get back to those articles)
  • Я испытываю ностальгию, когда гуляю по этим улицам (I feel nostalgic when I walk by these streets)

Russian determinative pronouns (all, any, other) in the dative

And the last group of pronouns that we’ll discuss here is determinative pronouns that mean a common feature of an object. Examples speak for themselves: 

  • весь (all, the whole)
  • любой (any)
  • другой (another)…
  Masc. Fem. Neut. Plural
Nom.: All  (the whole) Весь Вся Всё Все
  Всему Всей Всему Всем
Nom.: any Любой Любая Любое Любые
Dat. Любому Любой Любому Любым
Nom.: another Другой Другая Другое Другие
Dat. Другому Другой Другому Другим
  • Я обращаюсь ко всем студентам… (I address to all the students)
  • Это отличная комедия. Всем было очень весело. (It’s an awesome comedy, Everyone had a lot of fun)
  • Это шоу показывали по другому каналу (They broadcasted this show on another channel)

Another big piece of Russian grammar is covered! I hope that this article gave you the explanations that you couldn’t find on the Internet. Save this article to look up later, share with your group mates on social nets. 

However, if you didn’t find what you were looking for, don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments below! 


Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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