Немно́го о языке́ 7.3 Кем вы хоти́те стать?

Predicate Nouns and the Instrumental Case

Tense and Case of Predicate Noun
Ле́на — бухга́лтер. = Lena is a bookkeeper. Present / Nominative
Ле́на была́ бухга́лтером. = Lena was a bookkeeper. Past / Instrumental or Nominative
Ле́на бу́дет бухга́лтером. = Lena will be a bookkeeper. Future / Instrumental
Ле́на хо́чет быть бухга́лтером. = Lena wants to be a bookkeeper. Infinitive / Instrumental

In sentences that have “be” or “become” as their main verb, the second half of the sentence (i.e., the predicate) often contains a noun or adjective that refers back to the subject of the sentence and describes the subject of the sentence.

From the examples above, you can see that the word “bookkeeper” is a predicate noun that links back through the verb “be” to describe the subject Lena. Lena and bookkeeper refer to the same person.

Predicate nouns in Russian can be expressed with either the nominative case or with the instrumental case. 

Present tense

In the present tense, when predicate nouns are connected to the subject through an unexpressed verb быть, Russian always uses the nominative case for both the subject and predicate noun. You already have seen many sentences like this:  Ама́нда — аспира́нтка, а Ке́йтлин — студе́нтка. Они́ америка́нки.

Past tense

In the past tense, predicate nouns that are linked to the subject through the forms был/была́/бы́ли can be in either the nominative or instrumental cases. There is a lot of variation. A basic rule of thumb is that the predicate noun will be in the nominative case if it refers to some permanent quality (such as nationality), but in the instrumental case for a quality/feature that is changeable (such as profession).

Future tense

In the future tense, when predicate nouns are linked to the subject through the forms бу́ду, бу́дешь, etc., predicate nouns are almost always in the instrumental case.  Similarly, after the infinitive быть, predicate nouns are almost always in the instrumental case.

Other verbs

Predicate nouns are always in the instrumental case, no matter what the tense of the sentence, when the main verbs are:

станови́ться / стать = to become
рабо́тать = to work as

The Verb станови́ться / стать: Conjugation and Meanings

The imperfective verb станови́ться belongs to the second conjugation; its stem is: станов- +ся and it has the в > вл mutation in the first person singular.  Its perfective is the first conjugation verb стать, whose stem is стан-.  Note that the perfective does not have the reflexive particle.

Infinitive станови́ться стать
Stem: станов-  + ся стан-
Conjugation: 2 1
Mutation: в > вл
я становлю́сь ста́ну
ты стано́вишься ста́нешь
он/она стано́вится ста́нет
мы стано́вимся ста́нем
вы стано́витесь ста́нете
они стано́вятся ста́нут
An Additional Meaning of стать

When you read the two sentences below from the story line, you will realize that the verb стать is being used in two different meanings.  Decide where the past tense forms of the verb стать means “became” and where it means “began.”

1) В конце́ концо́в я ста́ла бухга́лтером...
2) ...лаборато́рию закры́ли, и я стал рабо́тать хи́миком...
The form ста́ла in the first example means:
а. became
б. began
The form стал in the second example means:
а. became
б. began

This second meaning of «begin» is restricted to the perfective form стать, which is used with imperfective infinitives. Its synonym начина́ть/нача́ть can be used in a wider range of contexts and tenses.

Predicate Adjectives

Just as there can be predicate nouns, there can be predicate adjectives. You already know that in the present tense these adjectives are in the nominative case. 

Ко́мната больша́я. = The room is large.
Зе́ркало ма́ленькое. = The mirror is small.

We can also use short form adjectives as predicate adjectives.

Суп гото́в. = The soup is ready.
Вы пра́вы. = You are right.
Ке́йтлин сего́дня свобо́дна. = Caitlin today is free.
То́ни сего́дня за́нят. = Tony today is busy.

In the past tense, such predicate adjectives can be in either the nominative or instrumental cases, and the difference can often be very subtle.  At present learn the two phrases below for “when I was young / when I was little,” where the instrumental case usage is common.

То́ни: Я занима́лся му́зыкой, когда́ я был ма́леньким.
Ле́на: Когда́ я была́ ма́ленькой, я ходи́ла в музыка́льную шко́лу.

Asking About Professions

Кто вы?
Кем был Дми́трий Менделе́ев?
Кем вы рабо́таете?
Кем вы хоти́те стать?
Кем вы не хоти́те быть?

When inquiring about someone's profession in Russian, we use the question word кто.  The choice of case form кто? or кем? will depend on the the structure of your sentence.   Note that in English we tend to use the question word what when asking about professions (e.g., what's your dad?), but Russian never uses что/чем? when asking about a person or animate being.

Verbs With the Instrumental Case

The instrumental case is used for the complements of certain verbs that in English might be a direct object.

увлека́ться (stem: увлека́й- + ся I) чем? = to be keen on, to be “into”
занима́ться (stem: занима́й- +ся I) чем? = to be engaged in, to “do” or to “study” (in the sense of doing homework)

The Instrumental For Instruments

Toward the end of the New Year’s feast, Tony makes the cultural observation.  Tony’s comment and its English equivalent are given below:

То́ни: У нас до́ма торт обы́чно едя́т ви́лкой.
Tony: Back at home people usually eat cake with a fork.
In the English sentence, the preposition with conveys the idea...
а. in the company of
б. by means of
The idea of “by means of a fork” is expressed in Russian...
а. by a preposition and the instrumental case
б. by the instrumental case without a preposition

The most essential meaning of the instrumental case is to tell by what means or through what instrument an action takes place. 

Russian uses the preposition с plus the instrumental only to convey “with” in the sense of “together with/ in the company of.”  Not every English “with” conveys that meaning. Be careful not to overuse the preposition с.

Упражне́ние 1

Read the sentences below and check whether they represent the way you usually do things or not by checking the appropriate box.

1. Я ем бана́н ви́лкой. Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.
2. Я ем суп ло́жкой Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.
3. Я пишу́ конспе́кты ру́чкой. Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.
4. Бутербро́д я ем рука́ми. Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.
5. На контро́льной рабо́те я пишу́ отве́ты карандашо́м. Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.
6. Я ем моро́женое ви́лкой и ножо́м. Да, я так де́лаю. Нет, я так не де́лаю.