Interrogative pronouns are questionable at best

Flower   The Questionable Interrogative Pronouns   Flower

Now that the personal, possessive, and demonstrative pronouns have been conquered, the next type of pronoun you need to have under your belt before you can bubble pronominally in Russian are the interrogative pronouns, the ones we use to ask questions. Once you have these mastered, you can ask Russians about the remainder of the grammar of their language.

Now that we have mastered (more or less) the personal, possessive, and demonstrative pronouns, the next type of pronoun you need to have under your belt before you can bubble pronominally in Russian are the interrogative pronouns, the ones we use to ask questions. Once you have these under your belt, you can ask Russians about the remainder of the grammar of their language.

All the languages of the world have exactly two types of questions and that includes Russian. The first type is called a 'yes-no' question. 'Yes-no' questions beg the answer "yes" or "no" and do not require an interrogative pronoun. In English, for exmaple, if I ask you, Did you do your homework? I expect a crisp, clear answer of either yes or no, not, Uh, well, you know, uh, like, my mother doesn't, like, like me answering questions like, like, that. Sometimes I'm disappointed but my intent in asking a 'yes-no' question is clear.

In other situations, however, we need to know who did what to whom if not even when and where and how. The boldface words in the previous sentence are the English interrogative pronouns; their Russian counterparts are listed on the right-hand side of the following table, taken from the demonstrative pronoun page.

T-K Pronominal Pairs
Demonstrative PronounsInterrogative Pronouns
тот, то, та; те that, thoseкто, что who, what
(Possessional Pronouns)чей, чья, чьё, чьи whose
такой, такая, такие
that kind of
какой, какая, какие
which, what kind of
так thus, soкак how
там, туда, оттуда
there, to there, from there
где, куда, откуда
where, where to, from where
тогда thenкогда when
столько that much/manyсколько how much/many
потому for that reasonпочему why

Notice that this table has a new member, чей "whose", that has no demonstrative correlate. That is because the answer to this interrogative pronoun must always be a personal pronoun: мой, твой, его, её, наш, ваш, их.

Here are some sentences illustrating how they are used in actual questions.

Кто открыл дверь? | Who opened the door?
Что открыло дверь? | What opened the door?
Чья это лягушка? | Whose frog is that?
Какая она женщина? | What kind of woman is she?
Как сказать по-русски «like»? | How do you say 'like' in Russian?
Где ты нашла его? | Where did you find him?
Куда он девался? | Where did he get to?
Откуда ты взяла его? | Where did you get him from?
Когда он родился? | When was he born?
Сколько ты хочешь за машину? | How much do you want for your car?
Почему ты хочешь её настолько? | Why do you want it so much?

Remember that the nominal (кто, что and the adjectival pronouns (какой, чей) are sensitive to case just like lexical nouns and adjectives. The following examples illustrate this.

На чём сидит твоя лягушка? What is your frog sitting on?
Кому ты дал свою лягушку? To whom did you give your frog?
Каким ножом он кушает? Which knife does he eat with?
С чьей индейкой он идёт? Whose turkey is he going with?


Flower   Now Interrogate Yourself on the Interrogatives   Flower

Here are a few exercises to test your grasp of the interrogative pronoun in Russian. Choose the correct interrogative pronoun and type it into the appropriate space. If it is a nominal or adjectival pronoun, don't forget to add the correct case ending. Since interrogative pronouns are naturally drawn to the beginning of the sentence, they almost always begin with a capital letter.

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

Learner's letter-for-letter and standard Russian keyboard layouts are available here if you need them. They will disappear when you scroll down this page. Refresh them by clicking the browser icon that comes up with them. Close the window in the usual way by clicking the "X" in the upper righthand corner. Don't forget to turn off your popup blocker!

Possessive Pronoun Exercises
Fill in the Correct Form of the Pronouns to the Left Push Response

они видели этот фильм?
Where did they see that movie?

они это сделали?
How did they do that?
я говорю с таким дураком?
Why do I talk to such a klutz?
Боря вчера девался?
Where did Borya get to last night?
спектакли Ира любит?
What kind of plays does Ira like?
они пришли?
Where did they come from?
мы обратились к такому врачу?
Why did we go to such a doctor?
вы живете?
Where do you live?
ты хочешь заниматься?
When do you want to study?
он заплатил за мотоцикл?
How much did he pay for the motorcycle?
он дал мою книгу?
To whom did he give my book?
С планеты он добрался?
Which planet did he come from?
О утке они говорят?
Whose duck are they talking about?

Flower   The Relatively Relative Relative Pronouns   Flower

An interesting fact about interrogative pronouns is that they double for relative pronouns. So if you know the interrogative pronouns, you already know the relative pronouns. Things get simpler and simpler, don't they? What is a relative pronoun, you may want to ask. Whose relatives are they, anyway?

Relative pronouns are those which introduce relative dependent clauses, such as I know where you live or Fred knows what you said; even Where you live isn't important. A relative clause is one that functions as a noun in another clause. Notice that what you said functions as the direct object of Fred knows X in the sentence above and Where you live functions as the subject of its phrase. In both English and Russian relative pronouns come at the beginning of the clause no matter where they belong logically, just as they do in their interrogative function. Here are some examples in Russian. Notice that there is always a comma before a relative pronoun.

Я знаю, что ты делаешь I know what you are doing
Он мне сказал, где ты живёшь. He told me where you live
Ты знаешь, какую лягушку он съел? Do you know which frog he ate?
Скажи мне, куда ты плывёшь. Tell me where you are swimming to.
Я не сплю, когда он читает лекцию. I don't sleep when he's lecturing.

Child's play! You can do that, right? Let's try a few (don't forget to check the case of the nominal and adjectival pronouns).

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

Learner's letter-for-letter and standard Russian keyboard layouts are available here if you need them. They will disappear when you scroll down this page. Refresh them by clicking the browser icon that comes up with them. Close the window in the usual way by clicking the "X" in the upper righthand corner. Make sure your popup blocker is off!

Relative Pronoun Exercises
Fill in the Correct Form of the Pronouns to the Left Push Response

они видели змею неважно.
Where they saw the snake isn't important.

Я не знаю, они сделали это!
I don't know how they did that!
Мне всё равно, лягушек у него.
I don't care how many frogs he has.
Ты знаешь, ушли твои дети?
Do you know where your children went to?
Кто знает, он любит Иру.
Who knows why he likes Ira.
Вася узнал, они пришли?
Did Vasya find out where they came from?
Откуда я знаю, она пишет письма?
How would I know what she writes letters with?
Я забыл, я живу.
I've forgotten where I live.
Сейчас я вспомнила, я должна делать.
I just remembered what I'm supposed to do.
Я не уверен, ты должен прийти.
I'm not sure when you should come.
Ты знаешь, он дал лягушку?
Do you know who he gave the frog to?

This page has shown you how to get two pronominal systems for the price of one. Interrogative and relative pronouns are identical in form and occupy the identical position at the beginning of the clause. They differ only in their meaning.

Back to the interrogative pronouns Up to the alphaDictionary homepage Up to the top of this page To the Interactive Reference Grammar's table of contents Onwards and sidewards to the indefinite pronouns
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© 1996 Robert Beard