© Gaye Wilson 2008
As I’ve posted before, I’m learning Russian.

The Russian language has six cases:

  • Nominative
  • Accusative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Instrumental
  • Prepositional

Each case requires different word endings.

In order to make yourself understood in Russian, or to understand Russian, you need to know all the possible endings for all six cases for nouns, pronouns and adjectives (at least – that’s as far as I’ve got so far in learning the language).

I’ve been having trouble learning the case endings. We were introduced to two cases in first semester: nominative and prepositional. In second semester, we were introduced to the other four cases. Next semester we will learn all cases in the plural.

That’s a lot of case endings to learn in three months. Well, I think so, anyway.

So, here I was, studying for my end of semester exam, and having trouble remembering the case endings. I searched the internet, with no luck. I emailed Nathalie Fairbanks of SpeakEZ Languages if she had any tips on learning case endings. She did (thanks Nathalie!), but her method wasn’t going to get them into my brain quickly (the exam was approaching fast!).

Then I remembered a technique that I was introduced to when learning the order of the planets. Mnemonics.

When I went to school, we learnt the order of the planets from the sun using a silly sentence:

My Very Earnest Mother Just Sat Upon North Pole.

Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto.

You might have learned it using a different mnemonic sentence, but the point is, mnemonics work.

So I wondered if I could learn Russian case endings using the same technique. Turns out, I can.

The first problem I encountered was that no-one seems to have written about this on the internet. If you search on Russian case mnemonics, you get ways of learning colour names in Russian (Wikipedia), or suggestions to use mnemonics to learn vocabulary by associating the sound of a word with a silly picture, such as associating the German word for lobster (der Hummer) with a mental picture of a lobster with a sense of humour (see German by Association (Link Word) by Gruneberg for this example).

That’s fine, and useful, but didn’t help me learn the Russian case endings.

So I decided to write my own Russian case ending mnemonic sentences. Apparently no-one has done this before.

Here’s what I did:

I wrote out the case endings for nouns, and looked at the patterns. I discovered that feminine nouns have fewer case endings than masculine ones, but that didn’t help me learn them quickly (although the same observation about Russian feminine adjective endings was a godsend!).

I decided that, since I knew when each case should be used, I should write one mnemonic sentence for each case. The next problem was how to make an English sentence using Russian letters. This didn’t work. For instance, the Russian letter “Я” is pronounced “ya”, but there is no English letter that is equivalent. So I had to devise a system whereby I used a word starting with a “ya” sound. The only one I could think of was “YAK”. As it turned out, this wasn’t particularly helpful, because I couldn’t necessarily fit the same word into each case sentence.

My first try at a Russian case ending mnemonic sentence was for the Accusative Case. It won’t make sense to anyone but me (but feel free to use it or change it if it helps you):

Nominative Case
Accusative Case
Angry (1)
Don’t (2)
Hoy (3)
Velvet (4)

 Notes to Accusative Case mnemonic:

  1. I used a word starting with A so I know I’m using the Accusative case
  2. The ending doesn’t change, so I used “don’t” to convey that there is something on this line of the table, but it doesn’t have a sound value
  3. I couldn’t think of an English word that starts with this sound, so I made up a word. Hey, it works!
  4. I told you this doesn’t make sense, but I was trying to convey the soft sound ь here.

The Genitive Case was a little easier, and uses the Russian sounds in English words:

Great (1)
Armies (2)
Ignore (3)

Notes for the Genitive Case sentence mnemonic:

  1. The “Great” at the beginning shows me which case I’m talking about, and it worked out quite nicely in this sentence.
  2. This one evokes images of armies in the frozen wastes of Mongolia, arguing (or not) about the military uses of yaks.
  3. The sentence reads: Great Armies Yak About Yaks We Idiots (presumably a not-so-great army) Ignore.

The Dative Case gave me more trouble and it took me a couple of weeks to come up with this gem, which I’ll NEVER forget:


Note on the Dative Case mnemonic sentence:

  1. This sentence is my favourite. It is an exclamation of frustration and reads:
    Dammit! Ooh you – ooh you – execrable elephant eeking inside! (as opposed to making eeking noises outside, I suppose)
    This sentence works on how the case endings sound.

 The remaining two cases I’m not bothering with, because they are easier to remember than the others.

The Instrumental Case is a series of oms, ems, oys and eys, with a byoo at the end. If I know the adjectival endings, I can extraploate the Instrumental noun endings.

The Prepositional Case endings are mostly -e.

So, that is how I learned the case endings of nouns in Russian. Now, when I am doing an exercise or writing a sentence, I simply think of the appropriate mnemonic sentence to remember which ending I need to use.

Please make a comment if you find this technique useful.


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9 Responses to “Learning case endings in a foreign language”

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  7. TS on October 31st, 2011 10:53 am

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  8. John Weed on December 1st, 2016 1:21 am

    Dis you come up with any more Mnemonics for Russian language study?

  9. Gaye Wilson on December 1st, 2016 10:08 am

    Hi John, I’m not planning on putting up any more mnemonics for learning Russian here. Why don’t you post some? That would be awesome! Thanks for commenting.

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