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Что мне сказать?

Discussion in 'Русский (Russian)' started by onthemightofprinces, Nov 4, 2013.

  1. onthemightofprinces Senior Member

    English - England
    I was asking a Russian friend of mine about questions, and she said that when asking "What will I say?" it is preferable to use Что мне сказать? as opposed to Что я скажу?

    However, she couldn't really explain why, what's the sense difference between these to, and why is the dative used?
  2. Honeythunder New Member

    As far as I know, you could as well say it in English using the same tense e.g. "What do I say", "What do I do when I get there?". The reason for the dative case might be the transformation of phrases like "Что мне нужно сказать?", "Что мне следует сказать?", where dative is grammatically necessary, into the more colloquial variant like "Что мне сказать?" with the omitted verb.
  3. learnerr Senior Member

    Semantical subjects often go in the dative case in impersonal clauses, such as those involving infinitives. The sense difference is that the question "что я скажу" is more direct, it means she indeed asks you what she will happen to say in your opinion; she is interested to know that, she asks for information. I'd say, in this case Russian follows the direct logic (normal question in indicative mood = question about the actual events in the actual world), while in English the logic is modified: with the question "what will I say" she asks for advice, not for information.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  4. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    Either Что мне сказать? and Что я скажу? could be fine; it 100% depends on the context. Please provide context and you will get useful responses.
  5. Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    Hello OTMOP, Russian very frequently uses impersonal constructions with the dative. You have surely come across some already, e.g. Мне холодно - I'm cold (literally: it is cold to me). Мне скучно: I'm bored, I'm fed up. Ей трудно говорить по-русски - she finds it hard to speak Russian.

    The construction you are asking about - Что мне сказать? - is the same impersonal construction, but the difference between Что мне сказать? and Что я скажу? here is that the dative construction reflects a modal sense: Что мне сказать? What should I say, what ought I to say, what do I need to say? What will I say? (and the "will" here is interpreted as asking for advice [as learnerr says] - what would you advise me to say?). Here are some more examples with the dative impersonal construction, some of them have the "modal" sense, some don't.

    Ей интересно читать этот рассказ: [Literally: to her it is interesting to read this story, better:] she finds this story interesting.
    Mне приятно говорить об этом [Literally: to me it is pleasant to talk about this, better:] I enjoy talking about this.
    Вам слышно, что говорит преподаватель? [Literally: To you (is it) audible, what says the teacher? Better:] Can you hear the teacher?
    Почему нам не понять Постмодерн? Why don't/can't we understand Post-Modernism?
    Мне зайти завтра? Shall/Should I pop in / call in / come and see you / stop by tomorrow? (modal)
    Принести вам ещё водки? Shall/Should I bring you some more vodka? (modal)
    За нами следят: почему нам все равно? (source: psychologies.ru) We're being watched: why doesn't that bother us?
    Я не знаю, что мне делать. I don't know what to do (what I should do). (modal)
    Откуда тебе знать о моих чувствах? How can you know what I'm feeling? (modal)
    Для чего ему это писать? Why does he write this? (Why should he write this? What's his purpose in writing this?) (modal)
    Как нам обустроить Россию? How can we rebuild Russia? (a Solzhenitsyn article)

    As rusita says, it's difficult to be much more specific about a single sentence out of context. I understand your "what will I say?" here to mean "what do you think I should say?", i.e. modal.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2013
  6. onthemightofprinces Senior Member

    English - England
    Absolutely perfect answers, thanks people!
  7. Just to add up a tiny bit to already a very comprehensive answer provided by Enquiring Mind, Russian dative+infinitive contruction has a more or less similar meaning to English "Shall I" phrases. You won't say Я читаю? for Shall I read? or Я убираю комнату? for Shall I make up the room?, but rather Мне читать? and Мне убрать(ся) в комнате? "What will I say" in the meaning of "What else can I say?", "What can I add to it?" is similar to those contructions, and thus, if employed in such a meaning, it should be Что мне сказать? in Russian, not Что я скажу?

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