Cases in the Ukrainian language mean that the ending of nouns, adjectives, and other words associated with those nouns change. If you have not been introduced to this concept yet, you have been learning words and phrases in their isolated pure forms.
Україна, Україно, України…
For example, you probably know this word:
Right? Україна – Ukraine.
As you go deeper into learning Ukrainian, you will start seeing words that you think you know, but that for some reason look different.
Конституція України – The Constitution of Ukraine.
Why did Україна turn to України?
Я люблю Україну. – I love Ukraine.
Україна turned to Україну.
Here we have:
Слава Україні! – Glory to Ukraine!
Україна turned to Українi.
З Україною в серці! – With Ukraine in the heart! Україна turned to Україною.
Зроблено в Україні – Made in Ukraine.
Україна turned to Україні.
And, finally, here we have:
Вперед, Україно! – Ukraine, go forward!
(Ukrainian (football) fans slogan) Україна turned to Українo.
So your head may be spinning, and you’re thinking, “What is happening? I thought I knew the word for Ukraine?..”
Well, that is because there are seven cases in Ukrainian. It means that the ending of the word changes depending on the situation in which you use the word.
It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but in this article, you will find out what cases in Ukrainian are and get some strategies of how you could learn them.
What if there were cases for English nouns…
English nouns do not have cases. We use word order and prepositions instead. If English had cases, it would look something like this:
- My brother gave thisu littleu booku to myi bigi sisteri. (Don’t try to pronounce this sentence )
My brother gave this little book to my big sister.
So in this sentence “my brother” is in one case, “thisu littleu booku” and “myi bigi sister” are in other cases.
“My brother” is the subject of the sentence, “thisu littleu booku” is the direct object and “myi bigi sister” is the indirect object, meaning the person that the book has been given to. It looks completely absurd in English, but we have all of these cases in Ukrainian.
1. Ukrainians will understand you!
Ukrainians will understand you, for the most part. And they will not judge you. They are used to foreigners struggling with the cases. Do not let cases scare you into not speaking Ukrainian!
2. Hungarian and Finnish have 15 or more cases!
And if it is any consolation, be glad you are not learning Hungarian or Finnish, because they have 15 or more cases, while Ukrainian has seven. Look on the bright side!
7 Ukrainian Cases in short
Here is a brief rundown of the seven cases in Ukrainian and some of the ways in which they are used.
1) Nominative case or Називний відмінок
This case basically tells us the subject of the sentence. ‘Nominative’ in English comes from Latin ‘nomen’ or ‘name’ and in Ukrainian ‘Називний’ comes from ‘назва’, also a ‘name’.
You can think of this as the ‘subject case’, or the case that the word is in when you look it up in the dictionary.
2) Genitive case or Родовий відмінок
The Ukrainian name for this one is related to the noun ‘рід’ (a gender, a generation).
You can think of the Genitive case in Ukrainian as an equivalent to when we say ‘of something’ in English. So, ‘The Constitution of Ukraine’ becomes ‘Конституція України’.
You can also use the Genitive case to say ‘from something’ or ‘from somewhere’, because it tells you where it originates from. Another use of the Genitive case is like the English possessive construction with apostrophe‘s to say that something belongs to someone. You also use the Genitive case in negative sentences (немає риби – there is no fish).
Want to learn more? Here are 10 Uses of the Genitive Case in Ukrainian.
3) Dative case or Давальний відмінок
The Ukrainian name for the Dative case is related to the verb ‘давати’ (to give).
The dative case is very similar to English’s indirect object. So, in the example ‘I gave the dog a ball’, the dog would be the indirect object and would take the Dative case in Ukrainian.
The Dative case in Ukrainian can also be used for a couple of other things, but, in general, we can think of the Dative case as the ‘indirect object case’. By the way, we see the Dative case in ‘Слава Україні!’ – ‘Glory to Ukraine!’
4) Accusative case or Знахідний відмінок
Its Ukrainian name is related to the verb ‘знаходити’ (to find).
Accusative case in Ukrainian is basically the direct object (the noun that is being acted upon). We use it to form simple sentences like ‘I love Ukraine’ – ‘Я люблю Україну’.
New to the concept? Episode 15 of 5 Minute Ukrainian Podcast is all about Accusative case and direct object in Ukrainian!
5) Instrumental case or Орудний відмінок
Its Ukrainian name is related to the verb ‘орудувати’ (to operate with, to handle with).
The Instrumental case tells us how we do something or use what we do it. In English, we use the word ‘with’ to describe this concept. Another use for the Instrumental case is to say that something is located above or under something.
The Instrumental case is used with a preposition ‘з’ – ‘with’. In the phrase ‘З Україною в серці!’ – ‘With Ukraine in the heart!’, we have the Instrumental case form.
6) Locative case or Місцевий відмінок
Its Ukrainian name is related to the noun ‘місце’ (a place).
This case indicates the location of something. It is used only with a preposition. Зроблено в Україні – Made in Ukraine. ‘В Україні’ is the Locative case form.
7) Vocative case or Кличний відмінок
Its Ukrainian name is related to the verb ‘кликати’ (to call someone, usually by their name).
The Vocative case is used only in direct speech when somebody is addressing somebody else. ‘Вперед, Україно!’ – ‘Ukraine, go forward!’ (‘Go Ukraine!’)
Learn more about the Vocative case with Episode 69 of Ukrainian Lessons Podcast and a Ukrainian Children’s Poem “Білі мухи”.
5 strategies to learn cases in Ukrainian
You might be feeling overwhelmed right now. Well, the good news is that there are some strategies for learning the cases in Ukrainian to break them down and learn them bit by bit.
1. Stay calm and be patient
You do not need to know everything at once. Just go forward! Practice makes perfect.
2. Memorize set phrases
Actually, this is the way kids learn their native language. They just memorize set phrases. They know how to get what they want, but if you ask a little four-year-old kid what Dative case is he would have no idea. He just memorizes the set phrases, and then he tries to experiment and say something new. Sometimes he gets it right, sometimes, he gets it wrong. You can do the same thing.
3. Work backward
For example, you learned the phrase ‘Я люблю Україну’. You can walk around Kyiv saying that to everybody, and they will think you are doing great.
Eventually, something will click in your brain, and you will realize: “Oh, Україна is the original version, but when I say that I love it, the ending changes to –у.” Then you can start trying new things with it.
This is called inductive learning – you first see all the examples, and then you figure out the rules going backward.
4. Use charts
For example, here is a chart of the cases:
Many students like to color the lines in the charts.
Then, you go through a text you’re reading and highlight the Accusative case in red, and then the Dative case in blue, and all others… your brain will start to separate those cases out from each other. It will start to make sense of them and give you a sort of visual representation.
If you are a visual learner, or you love charts, think of a way to use them in learning cases!
5. Every time you learn a verb or a preposition, memorize which case it needs.
If you want to reach an intermediate or advanced level in Ukrainian, be smart in the way you learn. When you write down new verbs or prepositions, mention the case they are used with. For example, про – about, is used with the Accusative case. You can find this information in your hardcover dictionary or in the biggest Ukrainian dictionary online here:
This article could help you: Ukrainian Prepositions With Cases That Follow (+ examples!)
Learning cases will take some time and in the meantime, just talk with Ukrainians and be excited about the language. Stay calm and be patient 🙂
Want to go deeper? Season 2 of Ukrainian Lessons Podcast has many different episodes on the cases. Check them out!
Looking for more resources to improve your Ukrainian vocabulary? Check our 1000 most common words in Ukrainian with interactive flashcards. Also, you can learn Ukrainian step by step with our free Ukrainian Lessons Podcast.