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Why Dative?

Why is "telephone" in the phrase, говорить по телефону, in the dative rather than the instrumental case?


  • edited June 2018
    Hi Scottydog!

    In Russian, it's important to pay attention to prepositions and their meanings when figuring out cases. Certain prepositions take certain cases, but the intended meaning of the preposition can be important in determining which case to use with prepositions that take more than one case. 

    The preposition по can take three different cases* depending on its intended meaning; when it is used to suggest motion along, across our about a surface, as in "talking along the telephone line," it takes the dative case; thus in the phrase говорить по телефону, "telephone" is in the dative.

    This can be tricky if you can't intuit the original meaning of the preposition, so often with Russian it's best to just memorize these usages as set expressions. Also, if you look in the section on cases in the grammar guide of our Russian course, you can find a list of cases with the prepositions that most commonly take them along with their meanings. 

    *По is never used with the instrumental case; it can also be used with the prepositional case to mean "for" or "after," and with the accusative case to mean "until" or "up to." По is also used with the dative to mean "according to." 

    Hope this helps!
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