The Russian T-K Constructions
We've mentioned this problem before but now we will investigate its major implications: case cannot be assigned to clauses but sometimes it needs to be. For example, it is easy to say in English We talked about what you were reading x because what may be in two places at one time: simultaneously serving as the objects of both about and read (invisibly occupying the position 'x'). In Russian, however, the preposition о(б) requires the prepositional case while читать "read" requires its objects in the accusative case.
The Governance Rule Russian case governance must be observed at all times at all costs!
So what happens when Russians want to say something like "We talked about what you were reading?" First notice that a pronoun like what is required. The problem is that what plays a role in both the main clause and the subordinate one, where different cases are required. Because of the rule above, however, if two cases are required in Russian, two pronouns are required, and that is precisely Russians resolve this problem. The first pronoun is a demonstrative pronoun (usually beginning with 't') and the second is a relative (interrogative) pronoun (usually beginning with 'k' or a related sound), e.g. Мы говорили о том, что вы читали. These constructions are called 'T-K Constructions'. Remember, a comma is required between the two pronouns, as the examples below illustrate.
Гоша настаивал на том, что хотел.
Gosha insisted on what he wanted.
Мы думали о том, что ты сказал.
We were thinking about what you said.
Надя интересуется тем, о чём вы говорили.
Nadya is interested in what you were talking about.
Я посмотрел на то, (на) что он указывал.
I looked at what he was pointing at.
Я знаю, о чём ты думаешь.
I know what you are thinking about.
Он сказал (то), что он хотел сказать.
He said what he wanted to say.
There is one exception to this rule. If the T-form is the direct object of a regular verb, that takes the accusative case, the T-form is not required. This is illustrated in the last row of the table above.
More Amusing Exercises
In the following exercises, choose the Russian sentence most closely expressing the sentiment of the English sentence above by clicking the corresponding radio button. If you choose the wrong sentence, the explanation box will tell you exactly what your mistake is, so that you may quickly correct it.
Now, I wish that were the end of it, but it goes on. Not only must you use the nominal T (demonstrative) and K (interrogative) pronouns in constructions like these, the adverbal T- and K-pronouns may, and often must, be used in similar constructions. First of all, let's review all of them. Click here for a new review window. (Close the new window to return here.) This is the entire T-K family of pronouns and all may occur in T-K constructions with the exception of почему-потому что. Here are some more examples.
Он такой мужчина, с каким я часто сталкиваюсь.
He is the kind of man I frequently bump into.
Я иду туда, где живёт Надежда Семёновна.
I am going where Nadezhda Semёnovna lives.
Он жил тогда, когда Пётр Первый напал на Азов.
He lived when Peter the First attacked Azov.
У него столько детей, сколько у Толстого.
He has as many children as Tolstoy had.
YET MORE EXERCISES
Here are some fill-in-the-blank exercises to check whether you are catching on. Complete the T-K conjunction then press the «| ? |» button to see if your answer is correct (правильно).
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