Немно́го о языке́ 4.2 Где мо́жно купи́ть ча́йник?

Expressing “Not Having”

When we express the idea of a person not having something, Russian uses the у + genitive to name the “owner,” plus the verb form нет (“there is not/there are not”) and then the genitive case for the item that is absent or lacking.  Here, for example is how you would say "I don't have a book":

У меня́ нет книги́.
Literally: By me (there is) no book.

The genitive case of masculine and neuter singular nouns has the ending –а ( for soft stems), while feminine nouns have the ending –ы ( for soft endings or following spelling-rule consonants).

Overview of Forming the Genitive Case

Genitive case Basic ending Soft stem or stem with a
spelling rule consonant.
  Nominative case Genitive case
  ø                                → а
  й                                → я
  ь                                → я
У вас... есть журна́л? нет журна́ла.
  есть музе́й? нет музе́я.
  есть слова́рь? нет словаря́.
  Nominative case Genitive case
а                                → ы *
  я                                → и
  ь                                → и
У вас... есть кварти́ра? нет кварти́ры.
  есть кни́га? нет кни́ги.
  есть пе́сня? нет пе́сни.
  есть тетра́дь? нет тетра́ди.*
  Nominative case Genitive case
о                                → а
  е                                → я
У вас... есть окно́? нет окна́.
  есть зада́ние? нет зада́ния.
Nominative case Genitive case
У вас... есть интере́сные кни́ги? Will be discussed later.

Summary of Having/Not Having

Although the genitive case has many uses, there are two main uses that you have seen this far:

1. the possessor of an item with the preposition у

2. absence with the verb form нет (“there is not/there are not”)

As you can see from the third example, both things and people can be thought of as “absent.”

Summary of Having/Not Having

The genitive (shown in bold in the examples below) has two possible functions: 1) it can show the person who has - the possessor or owner; 2) it can show absence - what the person does not have. The nominative (shown in purple) can have only one possible function: it shows what the possessor has, i.e., what there is.

Note that none of these sentences have direct objects in Russian, because they literally mean “by X there is …” or “by X there is not .…” Therefore, the accusative case is never used.

  Possessor   Possession
У меня́ есть ла́мпа.
Not having:
У меня́ нет ла́мпы.

The interactive sentences below will help you see these relationships more clearly. Click on the below to see which words and cases express the following ideas.

Indicating Presence and Absence

In addition to their use in sentences for expressing “having” and “not having,” есть and нет can be used on their own to express the ideas “There is/there exists” and “There is not/ there does not exist,” respectively.  As Natalya Mikhailovna looks at the hotel room, she might wonder:

Natalya Mikhailovna

по-ру́сски по-англи́йски коммента́рий
Здесь есть стул? Is there a chair? focus: does it exist? is there one?
And she would have to answer:
Здесь нет сту́ла. There’s no chair here. focus: the object isn’t there. It doesn’t exist.

Describing Things You Have (What kind of X do you have?)

Natalya Mikhailovna might also express these thoughts about objects in Amanda and Caitlin’s room:

In Уро́к 2 you learned how to use forms of the word како́й to ask and make exclamations about the qualities of a person or thing.

You will often see an у + genitive construction in these kinds of sentences to indicate who has the object. These sentences do not use the words есть / нет because they are not focused on the existence/absence of items.  They focus instead on describing qualities of objects that we already known to exist.

Modal Words: на́до and мо́жно

In Уро́к 3 you saw how adverbs like интере́сно, легко́, тру́дно could be combined with verbs in their infinitive form to make sentences such as:


Интере́сно смотре́ть ру́сские фи́льмы. = It is interesting to watch Russian films.

Тру́дно писа́ть интере́сные сочине́ния. = It is hard to write interesting compositions.

In this unit you will meet two more words that, like adverbs, are used with the infinitive form of verbs.


Там мо́жно купи́ть ча́йник. = One may/can buy a kettle there.

На́до купи́ть но́вый ча́йник. = One must/needs to buy a new kettle.

Strategy: If you have studied Spanish in the past, you will need to disassociate the sounds in the Russian word на́до from the Spanish word nada = “nothing.”