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Russian Grammar

In response to:

The Perjured Saint from the November 19, 1964 issue

To the Editors:

For the information of Mr. Conor Cruise O’Brien, the word Tsargrad can be written:

  1. Tsargrada

  2. Tsargradu

  3. Tsargradom

  4. Tsargradye

  5. Tsargradi

  6. Tsargradov

  7. Tsargradam

  8. Tsargradami

  9. Tsargradach

Nine. Count them. NINE.

How can he be such an authoritarian on the Russian language, when he doesn’t seem to know his own English grammar—unless this rule has changed when I was in school: A singular possessive, when one syllable, ending with an “s”, is thus: Hiss’, not Hiss’s.

Mrs. Broaddus Jones

Conor Cruise O’Brien replies:

The declension of the word “Tsargrad” by Mrs. Broaddus Jones is also that adopted by Mr. William F. Buckley in the National Review. The Broaddus Jones-Buckley system of arriving at Whittaker Chambers’ figure of nine inflections for the Russian noun involves various peculiarities. The Russian noun has, in fact, six cases and two numbers. If you were to count the plurals as additional cases (or inflections) you would get a figure of twelve, not nine. The nine is reached by omitting the nominative singular and the accusative singular and plural. Mr. Buckley justifies this by arguing that only the variants on the basic form can be regarded as inflections, and that “the accusative case in the Russian declension is normally identical in form to the nominative,” a statement which is not true.

Chambers asserted that the word “Tsargrad” “is declined through all nine of the inflections of the Russian noun.” The declension produced by Mrs. Broaddus Jones and William Buckley in support of this statement includes five plural forms of the place name. Thus Chambers is credited with the thought that the “depth of the special Russian feeling for Byzantium” is proved by a Russian addiction to phrases including the forms “of Byzantiums,” “to Byzantiums,” “with Byzantiums,” etc.

The normal way of declining the word—for anyone not stuck with the task of proving Chambers right—is to give the nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, prepositional, and instrumental in the singular form, and omit the plural, there being only one Byzantium, or Tsargrad.

Editor’s Note: According to the University of Chicago’s Manual of Style: “Form the possessive of a proper name ending in s or another sibilant, if monosyllabic, by adding an apostrophe and s; if of more than one syllable (except names ending in -ce), by adding an apostrophe only.”

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