If I'm honest the dative case was one of the most challenging cases for me to use when I first started learning Russian. The case is used in a variety of ways, not all of which make that much sense when translated to English (at least for me anyways).
I think the biggest reason I struggled with the dative was because I never really sat down to learn the rules of the case: how it was used, the correct noun endings, etc.
In this post we'll save you from making that same mistake. First we'll look at some of the common ways the dative case is used. After that we'll look at the rules for noun endings.
Common uses of the dative case
To describe someone's physical or emotion state
The dative case is commonly used to describe the physical or emotional state of a person. Here are a few examples:
the friend (male) is cold
a friend (female) feels bad
a brother is bored
Note how statements in the dative like брату скучно (brother is bored) and подруге плохо (friend feels bad) differ in meaning from statements like скучный брат (boring brother) or плохая подруга (bad friend).
After certain verbs
The dative case is used with certain verbs. The dative case will used for the direct object of this verbs. For example:
Я позвонил своему брату.
I called my brother*.
*We use the dative case for "my brother", because "my brother" is the one who was called.
Here's some of the more common verbs used with the dative case:
Common verbs used with the dative case
поверить (to believe), звонить (to call), нравится (to like), отвечать (to answer), верить (to believe), призывать, продавать (to sell), давать (to give as a gift), объяснять (to explain), помогать (to help)
The above list is by no mean exhaustive. Here's a more comprehensive list of verbs used with the dative case.
After the preposition "k"
In Russian the preposition k means "in the direction of" or "towards". A common English translation of k is the word "to"; as in "He goes to the doctor". K is used with the dative when we use it to talk about going toward people. We do not use the dative when we use k to talk about going toward places.
Here are some examples of how we can use the dative case with the preposition k:
Он идёт к врачу.
He does to the doctor.
Я иду к маме.
I'm going to mom
мы летим к друзьям.
We fly to friends.
After the preposition по
as in "by"
We use the dative case after the preposition по. This preposition has several meanings. We can use to по to mean something similar to "by" in statements like:
говорить по телефону
Lit: "to talk by telephone" (to talk on the phone)
искать по интернету
lit: "to search by internet" (to search on the internet)
as in "through"
The preposition по can also be used to mean "through". Examples include:
Он идёт по улице.
He goes through the street
Мы гуляем по городу.
We walk through the city.
as in "on" (as in the case of a school subject)
Another use of the dative case with по is for the English preposition of "on" in statements like:
учебник по физике
The text book on french
Урок по математике
The lesson on math
When talking about age
When we mention someone's age we also use the dative case:
Маме пятьдесят лет.
Mom is fifty years old.
The basic dative case ending for masculine and neuter nouns is -у for hard stem endings and -ю for soft stem endings.
Masculine/Neuter hard stem endings:
Masculine/Neuter soft stem endings:
The basic ending for feminine nouns in the dative case is -е. We will use this ending for both hard and soft stem endings.
feminine endings (hard and soft):
One exception for feminine nouns
Feminine nouns ending in -ия receive an -и ending. Feminine nouns that end in a ь (soft sign), also receive an -и ending.
Plural nouns endings in the dative
In the dative case plural nouns receive an -ам ending if they have a hard stem and a -ям ending if they have a hard stem. This is true of both masculine and feminine plural nouns.
The dative can seem a bit mysterious, but a little knowledge and practice will help you cut through the fog. I recommend focusing on the more common uses of the case and then moving on to other users.
Little by little you'll see yourself become for comfortable with this case the more you use it!