"To Be" vs. "To Have" in Russian

Linguists have noticed that all languages could be divided into two categories: "to have" languages and "to be" languages.

"To have" languages are mostly European languages such as English, German and French. They use the verb "to have" to express an idea of possession, as in "I have a car" or "He has a brother".

"To be" languages are presented by Russian, Japanese and others which say about possession as quality or even location. For instance, Russians normally use structures like что-то у кого-то есть (there is smth. at smb.) or что-то где-то есть (there is smth. somewhere) to express possession. A possessor is passive in the languages of a "to be" group.

To Have

Though there is the verb "to have" (иметь) in Russian, it is rarely used to designate possession. Instead, Russian uses the preposition y (at) followed by the genitive, plus the word есть (is/are), plus the possessed object at the nominative.


У меня есть ключ.
I have a key.

Literally: At me there is a key.

У сестры есть кошка.
The sister has a cat.
Literally: At the sister's there is a cat.

У тебя есть компьютер?
Do you have a computer?
Literally: Is there a computer at you?

To Be

Russians omit the verb "to be" (быть) in the present tense.


Я учитель.
I am a tutor.

Literally: I -- tutor.

Мне холодно.
I am cold.

Literally: Cold to me.

At the same time, "to be" is used in the future and past tense:


Я буду читать книгу.
I will read the book.

Я был в театре.
I was at the theatre.


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