How to say you have something in Russian

In this lesson we are going to talk about possession in the Russian language. This topic is essential for understanding Russian. The point is that we don't use the phrase "I have" to express possession. The actual possessive construction might be very confusing for English speakers. Not only for them probably, because most languages use the structure "I have" when talking about possession.

That's one of the reason to hate the Russian language. But it's not that hard as you think. Just relax, breathe and have some patience.

When we want to say that we have something, we start with "У меня есть..."

У is a preposition, which can be translated as "at" or "by" to English. Меня is the personal pronoun я in the genitive case. And есть is... surprisingly, a verb "to be" in the present tense! What a horror! How is it possible? How can I remember that? If you ask these questions, I can understand your resentment. Just hold on. You don't need to understand this construction, just remember it, as we, Russians, do. It's not that hard. But these three words (or even two) will help you to express almost any kind of possession.

It doesn't mean that there is no equivalent verb for "to have" in our language. We have such verb - иметь. So, "I have" will be "я имею" in Russian. But this sounds terribly unnatural in Russian. Never say it! Say у меня есть instead.

Depending on who has something, you should use different pronouns:

у меня есть - I have
у тебя есть - you have
у неё есть - she has
у него есть - he has
у нас есть - we have
у вас есть - you have (plural)
у них есть - they have

Only the second word is changing. It makes things a little easier.

You don't even use the whole construction. Sometimes it's enough to say у меня (у тебя and so on). For example:

У меня есть сестра. - I have a sister.
У меня две сестры. - I have two sisters.

In the second example we got rid of the verb and it's still correct. However, you can't say "у меня сестра" - this phrase is incorrect. We usually throw off есть when we talk about having more than one of something. Here's another example.

У меня есть машина. Точнее, у меня две машины. (I have a car. I have two cars, to be precise.)

But there is not always true. In the next sentence there is no "есть" in both cases.

У них две собаки, а у меня одна. - They have two dogs, and I have one.

There are some informal situations where you can use just "у меня". Not only for talking about possession. Almost every phrase with the verb "to have" in English  we tramslate using "у меня (тебя, его, нас и т. д.)".

У меня болит голова. - I have a headache.
У меня болит горло. - I have a sore throat.
У меня выходной. - I have a day off.

Russians use the construction "у меня" all the time in many different cases. It can make your speech sound really natural. For example, we don't say "в моём доме", "в моей машине", "на моём столе", "в моём шкафу", we say "у меня дома", "у меня в машине", "у меня на столе", "у меня в шкафу". Well, actually it is correct to say it both ways but phrases with "у меня" sound a way more natural for Russian speakers. So, you can also find the expression "у меня (тебя, нас, etc.)" in impersonal sentences.

There is a piano in my house. - "У меня дома есть пианино" or "В моём доме есть пианино" (this one sounds less natural and we rarely say it this way).  

I can go on about other uses of this structure but it can continue forever. Let's find out how to say that you don't have something in Russian. It's easy - just use "нет" instead of "есть".

у меня нет - I don't have
у тебя нет - you don't have
у неё нет - she doesn't have
у него нет - he doesn't have
у нас нет - we don't have
у вас нет - you don't have
у них нет - they don't have

У меня нет времени. - I don't have time.
У неё нет парня. - She doesn't have a boyfriend.

Notice that the construction "у меня нет" is followed by the noun in the genitive case.

Well, it was very difficult to explain but I tried my best. If you have a question about expressing possession in Russian, just post a comment here.