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I have read in "Ukrainian - A Comprehensive Grammar" by S. M. Pugh and I. Press that some Ukrainian inanimate nouns, such as лист, can optionally take singular-accusative in -а, i.e. they are treated gramatically as animate nouns. In this question I'll call this feature 'facultative animacy'. I would like to know how common facultative animacy is: are there a lot of nouns such as лист? Do such nouns belong to specific classes with common meanings? What is the perceived stylistic difference (if any) of facultative animacy?

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  • hi, I think that it's not about the animate and inanimate nouns, it's more about genitive/accusative cases used with certain verbs and nouns. – P. Vowk May 27 '20 at 12:55
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    @P.Vowk, this is one great question because it touches a deep historical background of Ukrainian language. And it is, indeed, tightly related to animacy. Wikipedia: «У сучасній українській форми родового відмінка витіснили форми знахідного для істот, а у розмовно-побутовому мовленні — навіть і для неістот – bytebuster May 27 '20 at 13:06
  • See also: “Genitive case after transitive verb?”. – Sasha May 27 '20 at 14:48
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Late reply.

Just a quick note, Ukrainian linguists don't refer to this as "facultative animacy". So I like to use the term "The second accusative case (другий знахідний відмінок)" or "The second form of the accusative case (друга форма знахідного відмінка)", which are both used by Л.М. Колібаба in her article "Новітні тенденції у функціонально-стильовому вживанні другого знахідного відмінка іменників в українській літературній мові початку XXI сторіччя".

Answering your first question, not many, at least officially. According to the Український правопис from 2015, only 6 nouns, mostly related to household items, can use either the nominative, or the "second accusative" form; those being: ніж - ножа (узяв), лист - листа (написав), дуб - дуба (зрізав), оліве́ць - олівця (поклав), карбованець - карбованця (дав), плуг - плуга (поставив).

To your second question, all of them have the genitive ending -a/я, and are generally related to household items.

For your third question, most Ukrainian linguistics seem supportive or the form, and embrace it, the author of the famous book "Як ми говоримо", mentions in the section "Родовий чи знахідний відмінок додатка?": "на відміну від російської мови, в українській мові іменник-додаток часто стоїть у родовому, а не в знахідному відмінку... Отож, у першій фразі ліпше сказати: писати (читати) листа; та й у другій теж ближче буде до народнорозмовної української традиції"

Further more, in another article by Колібаба, "Закінчення знахідного відмінка іменників в історії українського правопису", she states: "На сьогодні доведено, що форма знахідного відмінка на -а (-я) — це не штучно вигадана, а «жива ознака народної мови» [26: 255], «істотна й оригінальна» [27: 218], «традиційна українська форма знахідного відмінка» [10], «самобутня риса української мови» [18]"

But the author from the book "Ukrainian grammar in tables and schemes" (rus. "Украинская грамматика в таблицах и схемах"), has this to say about them:

Such forms are widely used in the colloquial speech, but are not used in scientific style.

"Такие формы широко употребительны в разговорной речи, но не используются в научном стиле.".

But as far as I am aware, people use the ones I mentioned above pretty often in all social contexts, so do as you wish.

There's way more to this, if you want to get some in depth view on this, you can read the article mentioned in the beginning of the post. It goes in depth about the possible development of these forms, and some other related discussions.

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    Warning: the book «Украинская грамматика в таблицах и схемах» has been published on Moscow in 2014, during the current war. Considering the official Moscow's stance towards the very existence of Ukrainian language and the absence of non-state controlled publishers on that territory, the source seems non-reliable, to say the least. I believe you can find a better source for a similar claim. – bytebuster Jul 11 at 22:43
  • @bytebuster I'll rewrite the third answer, mostly because I found some new articles, that made me change my idea about the general among most Ukrainian linguistics on this topic, although I'll still keep her quote there. I wasn't able to find much information on her online, but she has a page on the Saint Petersburg University site, and has participated in many Ukrainian related researches. This book, however, wasn't published in collaboration with the university, nor funded by it for what I've found here. So I believe her opinion is still valid on this topic. – Луге Ушчимі Jul 12 at 17:00

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