Grammar 9--Motion and Location

Concepts of location, direction, and motion are very important in Russian. Careful study of the way Russians think about and talk about motion and location will provide you with a rich set of tools for expressing yourself.

Russian makes a distinction between being at a location and moving toward or away from it. This is a distinction which was lost in English around the time of World War I. In the table below we show the archaic English words in parentheses:

From WhereWhereTo Where


from where? (whence?)




to where? (whither?)



from here (hence)




to here (hither)



from there (thence)


over there


to there (thither)

This distinction holds even when we name the location:

From Where

Genitive Case


Prepositional Case

To Where

Accusative or Dative Case


со стола́

off the table

на столе́

on the table

на стол

onto the table

Enclosed Space

из ба́нки

out of the can

в ба́нке

inside the can

в ба́нку

into the can

Unpenetrated Space

от челове́ка

from the man

у челове́ка

near the man

к челове́ку

toward the man


From a surface:Дай таре́лку со стола́.Pass the plate from the table.
Into a space:Сыпь са́хар в ба́нку.Pour sugar into the can.
Toward a space:Я иду́ к врачу́.I am going toward the doctor.

The classification of a space may at times surprise:

As a surface:Он прие́хал на маши́не.He arrived on an automobile.
As a surface:Он пришёл на рабо́ту.He arrived onto work.
As a surface:Он пришёл на собра́ние.He arrived onto the meeting.

The classification can depend on how the space is used:

An enclosed space:из коро́бкиfrom inside the cardboard box
A surface:с коро́бкиfrom on top of the cardboard box

Thus as the interaction with a space changes, the classification may have to change to match:

Seen as unpenetrated:Он шёл к челове́ку.He was walking toward the man.
Seen as a surface:Он насы́пал на челове́ка песо́к. He poured sand onto the man.
Seen as enclosed:Он стреля́л в челове́ка.He shot into a man. (Seen as enclosed)