12 big game changers to learn Russian declensions without declenching yourself » NEWS 244



This post is a summary of what has and hasn’t worked for me with declensions (падежи). They are the computer algorithm component of Russian that аrе a hard stop for so many when it comes to this beautiful language.

Notes: though the following techniques have been amazing, this is in addition to the standard fare of reading/listening, watching shows, vocabulary & speaking/writing. I cobbled together an [earlier version](https://www.reddit.com/r/russian/comments/nmi8m7/6_big_game_changers_to_help_learn_declensions/) of this a year ago but the images dropped out and I have revised/expanded it significantly since then. Any feedback is welcome & appreciated.

# 1st big game changer: Perspective

It is key to first develop perspective with declensions so you don’t lose the forest from the trees. This is my Rosetta stone:

​

[Left column: Declensions & 6 major questions \/ Top row: male-neuter-female-they forms](https://preview.redd.it/cdkwt64syd1a1.png?width=1485&format=png&auto=webp&s=13088890a02ef22c3c8b6ada52731d30b93640b1)

These charts show the accusative/genitive split for *inanimate* and *animate* objects and the chaos of the accusative case in general. I return here while studying if I need to get my bearings.

[With Mnemonics & Prepositions](https://preview.redd.it/tp0uztc0zd1a1.png?width=1066&format=png&auto=webp&s=4768d91e82da10c65e2bea38ace2db29896b5a7b)

*The 6 Major Questions:*

The next key for perspective is remembering cases in context of *the 6 major questions* (second column above):

1. Nominative — кто-что — who-what
2. Accusative — что-кого — what-whom
3. Genitive — кого-чего — of whom-of what
4. Dative — кому-чему — to whom-to what
5. Instrumental — кем-чем — with whom-with what
6. Prepositional — о ком-о чём — about whom-about what

​

* The frustrating thing about these questions is that natives use them as an obvious answer for how a sentence should be declined. These do not always correlate to their usage conventions in English.
* It is more helpful to think of these questions as mnemonics — to remember clusters of associations by rote memorization and associate them with question pairs by brute force.
* Doing this over time, the feeling that natives have for context or what «makes sense» will emerge and the mnemonics will finally seem intuitive. The best way I have found to do this is generative repetition.
* Using this mindset will help reduce frustration when the sentence doesn’t seem to answer the «major question» but its declension suggests otherwise.
* Until this point, it can be very frustrating for adult foreign learners to be taught by natives, and I think a lot of people give up too early as a result.
* For example, some verbs always associate with certain cases:
* Помогать/помочь + кому?
* Восхищаться/восхититься + кем?
* Достигать/достичь + чего?
* Вспоминать/вспомнить + о чём/ком?
* Способствовать/Поспособствовать + чему?
* Гордиться + кем?
* Управлять + кем?
* Заключаться/заключиться + в чём
* бойться + чего/кого (this is the same in English: to be afraid **of** someone)

Others have general tendencies depending on context:

[Verbs that tend to be used with specific cases. Phrased with \\»Russian\\» usage conventions to answer the 6 major questions](https://preview.redd.it/2sikra06zd1a1.png?width=1485&format=png&auto=webp&s=7bbf77b877d84e4bebf98b1cda40ed7176e18747)

Miscellaneous case mnemonics/rules:

* To change accusative singular → genitive singular (feminine):
* а goes to у, я goes to ю, soft sign (ь) stays the same
* Genitive plural conversions can be tricky. Here are some general patterns:

​

[Genitive plural conversions — masculine, feminine and neutral](https://preview.redd.it/h7eiv439zd1a1.png?width=848&format=png&auto=webp&s=7a29560d6aa895b6dadfb8c0f6b71446b438ebb5)

Nominative singular → genitive plural:

* If the nominative singular ends in a vowel sound, chop the ending for plural.
* If it ends in a cluster of consonants, break them up with an о and keep the hard ending
* If it is one of the 5 letters (below), add an е
* If -я\^(180 R flip я and cut off arm) → -ь — (90 R flip and cut the arm) → eй
* If -ия — (90 L flip the loop on я) → -ий
* If -я stressed → -овей (let the hot я cool); я unstressed (final form for letter, cover it) →-eв
* If already hard consonant/stale -й (final form for letter, cover it) → -ов/-ев
* \-ж/ш/щ/ч/ь-eй |дядя/тётя — Shay stadium; дядей/тётей/матерей/дочерей)
* Exceptions: раз, глаз, солдат — same in genitive plural as nominative singular

​

* *5-letter rule:* after ш, щ, ч, ж, ц, write е instead of unstressed о (ж ш ь щ ч > ей)
* *7-letter rule:* after ш, щ, ч, ж + х, г, к write и instead of ы.
* *8-letter rule:* after ш, щ, ч, ж + х, г, к + ц write у instead of ю, а instead of я.
* я ы у → а, и, у — the sauce cleans your sinuses

# 2nd big game changer: Suffix Mnemonics

The following is a mnemonic with the adjective/noun of he/she/they in sequence. This usually parallels sentence syntax:

​

[Nonsense Mnemonics](https://preview.redd.it/v91wom6czd1a1.png?width=1132&format=png&auto=webp&s=99e40efbd3bed0ab93b8c391b4b3722b98d8fb73)

I read these endings from left to right as a cypher — when I see a genitive sentence, I immediately think «Where does this fit into гово/а-ой/и-их/ов?» (I literally pronounce this «ovoa oi-ee echov»). Or when I see a prepositional sentence I think, «Okay, this is ом/е-ой/е-их/ах.» Once I got used to it, the nonsense words were essentially foolproof — important for fools like me.

These two approaches helped when I knew the specific declension — ie. using an instrument to do something (instrumental), referring to a location (prepositional), or cardinal number/specific time (genitive). Other times the choice was not as clear; this led to the next big moment.

# 3rd big game changer: Time

Time in Russian is dealt with differently depending on length and whether it is specific clock time or non-specific general time.

Time at a specific point, but not a specific clock time — (mnemonic: vac, nap, vap):

* Remember «The Ring» — how long was Samara left in that well? How long did it take the Barenaked Ladies to work out their relationship issues?
* With specific non-punctual time in Russian, everything revolves around [7 days](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im03GUnw1qE).
* Expressions vary with length — в/на+acc / на+prep / в+prep
* <1 week (day, hour, minute, second): в / на + accusative; ie. day of week or hour of day
* =1 week: на + prepositional
* \>1 week (month, year, decade, century): в + prepositional
* If more than one period of time together, use genitive — for example if day, month, and year are combined.

Time interval:

* c (from) → до/во (to)

Accusative/Dative — mnemonic: WORF- Weight/cOst — Relation to point — Frequency

Relation to a time point:

* **before** verb/state: «will do after» — (через + accusative) — Я позвоню ему на работу через неделю / «will do by» — к + dative- indicate a future point by which an activity will have taken place
* **at** verb/state: «during»: Мы работали там целую неделю/пять часов/долгое время.
* **after** verb/state: «has been since»: на + accusative- Она поехала в деревню на месяц.

Frequency — каждый + acc / раз + acc / по + dative

* каждый + acc — Мы встречаемся каждую неделю/каждый день/каждый вечер.
* по + dative — Я гуляю по вечерам/по пятницам/по средам.
* раз + acc — for frequency within a time period — Я хожу в кино пять раз в год.

Cardinal numbers

* Numbers ending with «1» (in any gender: оди́н, одна́, одно́) are nominative singular — два́дцать одна́ маши́на (21 cars), сто пятьдеся́т оди́н челове́к (151 people).
* Numbers ending with «2», «3», «4» (два/две, три, четы́ре) are genitive singular — три соба́ки (3 dogs), со́рок два окна́ (42 windows).
* All other numbers (including 0 + those ending with it) are genitive plural — пять я́блок (5 apples), де́сять рубле́й (10 rubles).
* Numeric time («clock time»)
* Approximate clock time can be expressed by putting the number at the end of the sentence — Надо кончить эту работу в часов пять (\*that work needs to be finished by \~the hour of 5)\*

Dative (к, по, age)

* Age — этому автомобилю 5 лет / этой машине 5 лет
* see frequency and time point above

Instrumental

* Seasons, time of day (evening, morning) — ie. «with» the winter, «with» the morning (expressed without preposition; meaning incorporated into the declension itself — летом, земой, утром, etc.)

Prepositional — ‘1 week’ discussion above

# 4th big game changer: 6 English Multideclensionals — Four Fors & Two Abouts

Similar to how there can be different declensions signified by a single Russian word, there can also be different Russian declension translations signified by a single English word. Here we will focus on English prepositions with divergent Russian translations (the 4 Fors and 2 abouts) & then we will discuss Russian prepositional overlaps. Focusing not just on when the prepositional words overlap in Russian, but when their English context *seems* to overlap provides a powerful opportunity to understand nuance.

# The 4 Fors

A heavy case overlap with Russian is usage of the word «for». There are four ways that we use «for» in English with distinct declinations in Russian: ac-за, instr-за, ac/ac-на, для-genitive/dative (mnemonic: zzandd: za-za, ac-nac, dat-dluh)

**За + accusative → exchange** ***or*** **for/against idea**

* If there’s an exchange/replacement (плати за билеты)
* за + accusative
* If it’s «for/against» something (я за всеобшее разоружение or я не противе него)
* за + accusative *or* против + genitive (negation)

З**а + inst → «to bring/get» something or below**

* «to get» something (она вышла за газетой) → за + instrumental
* за + inst is also positional — under

**Аccusative alone → if temporal «for» referring to a duration** ***of*** **an action**

* Она читала три часа.

**На + accusative → if temporal «for» referring to «for a duration** ***after*** **an action» (он поехал в Москву на неделю) or «for a deadline» (задание на завтра)**

* задание на завтра
* Он поехал в Москву на неделю.

**Д** \- **Benefit/recipient — для + gen or dative (Д/D) — (benefit/recipient = target)**

* Targeted benefit (она сделала это для меня) → для + genitive («for a part of me»)
* Targeted recipient (купить себе новую шляпу) → dative alone

Think of it this way — it’s not that there are 4 different versions of «for» in Russian, we just use one word for 4 different things in English.

# The 2 Abouts

* There are two ways to say «about» — Про + аccusative / О + prepositional.

# 5th big game changer: 5 RAMS — Russian Accusative Multideclensionals

Prepositions (blue text on left in the second Rosetta stone chart above) tend to be declined in certain patterns. Some of prepositions overlap in declension usage; when they do, the overlap is always accusative + something else. This occurs with: в, о, на, с, за, по, под

(mnemonic: cza and popo’s at vona)

**5 general groups of overlap:**

1. **c** can be accusative, genitive or instrumental \^(c agi — age/generate/c with)
2. **за** can be accusative or instrumental \^(exchange vs «to bring/get something»/location — «EB» of 4 fors — ai tail)
3. **по** can be accusative, dative or prepositional \^(up to, along, and immediately after)
4. **под** can be accusative or instrumental \^(eve of/moving under vs located under — ai tail)
5. **в, о, на** can be accusative or prepositional \^(a-p view; into/against/onto-«D»eadline) \^(vs in/about/on; usually prepositional — exception) \^(идет)

**Triple overlap:** accusative, genitive and instrumental — c-agi — for, from, with

* c + instrumental — «with» (со мной); a property something has — \*almost always this but exceptions are key\*
* c + genitive — «because of» (с испу́га) or «from» (с по́чты); for time interval w/ по (проводи́ться с два́дцать пя́того января́ по седьмо́е февраля́)
* c + accusative — for/about an indefinite time (see ‘Time’ above)

**Double overlap:** both accusative and instrumental use за

* Exchange/replacement (плати за билеты)
* за + accusative («against»)
* For/against an idea (я за всеобшее разоружение or я не противе него)
* за + accusative or против + genitive (two choices)
* Instrumental: «to get» something (она вышла за газетой) or positioned under/behind
* за + instrumental

**Triple overlap:** accusative, dative and prepositional use по — up to, along, and immediately after (mnemonic: ADP security)

* accusative = up to (remember, accusative is a «confrontational» case) — Она стояла *по пояс* в воде / Я *по шею* в работе.
* Also can be used to express «apiece» — Папа дал детям *по два яблока/по пятьсот рублей*
* dative = along — Ребята бежали по улице /Самолёт летит по небу/Корабль плывёт по морю.
* prepositional = immediately after (по прие́зде), for (носить траур по нём), to someone’s liking (по нём)

**Double overlap:** both accusative and instrumental use Под

* accusative as «moving under» or «about/on the eve of» with time (time is «moving under»)
* instrumental as «located under» or nearby

**Double overlap:** accusative and prepositional use в for location — «going to/into» vs «at»

* в + accusative when you’re *going to/into* something — он идёт в театр / Завтра она едет в родной город на поезде.
* в + accusative when you discuss a date less than 1 week (discussed below) — в три часа
* в + prepositional when you’re *at* something — он в театре

**Double overlap:** both accusative and prepositional use о for location — «against» vs «about»

* опираться о стену — lean *against* the wall (lean «accuses» the wall)
* о + prep = «about» (same as про + acc)
* я читал о нём — I’ve read *about* him

**Double overlap:** both accusative and prepositional use на for location — «on to» vs «in»

* на + accusative for being on/by a location or going towards it (на стол, на почту) or something’s purpose (на что?) or for something (На за́втра тебе тако́е зада́ние)
* accusative = «on to» — I step «on to» gum (я наступил на жвачку), put «on to» the table (на стол)
* prepositional = «on» — «on» the table (на столе), he is «on» heroin (он сидит но героине)
* на + prepositional for being *in* a location (на почте, но автобусе) or *in* an emotional state (на нервах)

The overlaps are an axis to see not just which words are used with specific declensions, but how they are used.

# 6th big game changer: Minor cases

There are [exceptions](https://www.reddit.com/r/russian/comments/nzpk4o/the_case_of_cases/) to the main case groups above:

* Vocative — old Russian; remains only in religious/classic literature and certain expressions.
* Бо́же or Го́споди, О́тче
* Locative — used after some prepositions that tell us information about location of something
* в лесу́ (not to be confused with the form «ле́су», which is dative) — «in the forest»
* Partitive — case telling us that something was used only as a part. It usually looks like genitive case and is often interchangeable with accusative case.
* нали́ть воды́/ча́ю — «to pour water/tea» (as opposed to the accusative form «во́ду/чай»)
* съе́сть ка́ши — «to eat porridge» (as opposed to the accusative form «ка́шу»)
* Ablative — case denoting movement away from something and looks like dative case.
* и́з лесу — «from a forest» (as opposed to the genitive form «из ле́са»)
* и́з дому — «from the house» (as opposed to the genitive form «из до́ма»)
* Waiting — case that is used with the word «ждать» («to wait for»). It looks like genitive and is used only with some words, with the regular accusative form being used predominantly.
* ждать письма́ — «to wait for a letter» (as opposed to the accusative form «письмо́»)
* Adjectival/substantive nouns — adjectives that serve function of nouns in sentences are still declined as adjectives.
* Этот врач лечит бездомных животных

If your head is spinning, don’t feel lost — the easiest way to remember these is repetitive exposure and usage. Come back to these rules when you come across a declension that doesn’t make sense and see if it’s one of these quirky exceptions.

# 7th big game changer: Soft Gender

Gender is fairly straightforward in Russian, the major exception being the ambiguity of soft signs.

Gender rules:

1. Look at the last letter of the word.
2. If it is a consonant, or “й”, the word is masculine.
3. If it is “а” or “я” it is feminine.
4. If it is “о” or “е” it is neuter.
5. If it is a soft sign “ь” see below.

&#x200B;

Soft signs seem less predictable than hard endings but they almost always obey the following rules — pardon the wacky mnemonics:

&#x200B;

[Dave -Атель is an тень актерь and Joel -Остьeen with the crashing river gives a zen lesn to veuve ads](https://preview.redd.it/vr8jw3ofzd1a1.png?width=1140&format=png&auto=webp&s=138f72b712cba2c12dc89a97aaa21bc339a28849)

Masculine soft sign: -итель/-атель, independent, -рь -нь, months

* \-итель/-атель — учи́тель, созда́тель, бомбомета́тель There are no exceptions to this rule that are worth remembering.
* Any name for an actor / occupation / instrument ending in -рь (cognate to English -er in words like maker, doer etc.) is masculine:
* царь, ларь, фонарь, пономарь, пахарь
* Months are masculine: январь, февраль, апрель, etc.
* Any noun ending in -нь and meaning a physical entity that is not a part of a larger whole/not dependent on the other object is most likely a masculine (whence тень, сень and голень are exceptions — just like дребедень and the like, including swearing register):
* Examples: камень, огонь, конь, кремень, кистень, пельмень

Feminine soft sign: (cOST of LeNT river, shhh) (-ость/-есть,) (collective) (-ль, -нь, -ть, rivers/regions)

* Words ending in -чь, -шь, -жь, -щь are feminine:
* дочь, ночь, мышь, ложь, по́мощь — no exceptions; orthographic rule.
* All derived names ending in -знь, -снь, -овь, -вь, -явь, -евь, -ель, -адь also are feminine (Joel -Остьeen with the crashing ocean gives a zen lesn to veuve ads):
* казнь, мудрость, гордость, горесть, свирель, любовь, морковь, кровь etc.
* If it is part of a collective or depicting abstract qualities, states or actions, then it is feminine:
* чернь, знать, Русь, дрянь, дичь, высь, даль, брань, дурь, блажь, скорбь
* This includes all verbal names ending in ъ and names converted from real and passive participles ending in -ль, -нь, -ть:
* честь, власть, весть, речь, помощь, память, быль, прибыль, ткань, бить
* Words ending in -ость/-есть are adjectives and are feminine:
* ра́дость, бо́дрость, со́весть, сверхтеку́честь. I found only two exceptions to this rule: гость and тесть.
* This also comprises words derived from these adjective but having non -сть endings -зелень, синь, глубь, зыбь, блажь, дурь etc.
* If noun ending in ь describes a female, then it is feminine: мать, дочь, свекровь, лань
* Regions and rivers are feminine: Сибирь, Казань, Астрахань, Волынь, Шелонь, Припять

# 8th big game changer: ВИЗ НАС КОТ (business cat) direction

* If you в into something you have to из out of it.
* If you на onto something you have to с off of it.
* If you к towards something, you have to от away from it.

# 9th big game changer: the T-K paradox

* The T-К construction paradox exists because case cannot be assigned to a clause but sometimes it needs to be — the ‘work around’ is a prepositional/accusative split.
* For example, in English we can say: «We were thinking about what you said» because «what» may be in two places at one time: simultaneously serving as the objects of both \*about\* and \*said\*.
* In Russian, however, the preposition о(б) requires the prepositional while сказать requires its object in the accusative.
* You split «what» into two words — том & что: Мы думали **о том, что** ты сказал — «We were thinking about that, which you said.»
* 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)

# 10th big game changer: Me, Myself & I

[Mandatory to memorize — nonsense mnemonics above help](https://preview.redd.it/h2qa8imjzd1a1.png?width=1526&format=png&auto=webp&s=27964b8b36f72047df788a4dbe2cf71ce65a62d7)

# 11th big game changer: который

A participle is a verb masquerading as an adjective — a «talking» dog or a girl «drawing» a picture. These revolve around the word который and are formed by adding an ending to the present or past form of the verb:

https://preview.redd.it/3lzzzpsozd1a1.png?width=446&format=png&auto=webp&s=09d07f2496004b7052492c194b44facc986f17b5

[аюший\/шая\/ авший — \\»is\/was \[verb\]ing.\\» for active present\/past.](https://preview.redd.it/yczh8futzd1a1.png?width=1526&format=png&auto=webp&s=c5fcf72b2d816c0713b335064c735188053d83f9)

[emmie-amaya — annie\/anaya — \\»is\/was \[verb\]ed.\\» for passive present\/past.](https://preview.redd.it/6h9a6xzvzd1a1.png?width=1524&format=png&auto=webp&s=f5c4af22f80a2d6af8bc7c9cb0dc02076d80014e)

# 12th big game changer: Outside Resources

* [Beginning declension work](https://app.memrise.com/course/109200/declension-mania/) on Memrise is good to make adjective-subject pairings more intuitive. Try for 150 in a row on Speed Review mode consistently.
* [Intermediate declension work](https://www.russianforfree.com/exercises.php): The key improvement from Memrise in this second link is that you must generate the declension yourself.
* [Vocabulary](https://en.openrussian.org/list/nouns): Can use this link or Anki to create customized lists and generate answers from scratch instead of multiple choice.
* [Language reactor](https://www.languagereactor.com/) and [Filmot](https://filmot.com/) are amazing for finding resources with subjects that hold your interest and uncovering blind spots.
* Small things like changing language settings on your computer and on websites to Russian as often as possible also help. This is even possible for things like video games and \*ahem\* porn. If you are a beginner, be careful with computer settings as it can be tricky to switch back.
* Start with articles in your subject of comfort with Google translate to quickly highlight and save words. Then graduate to less familiar areas. The sweet spot is be be interested but slightly uncomfortable. Maintain tension between your carrot and stick.
* Wikipedia — here’s a [list of articles](https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Category:Articles_needing_translation_from_Russian_Wikipedia) needing translation to English from Russian:
* As you progress, also try translating from English Wikipedia *into* Russian as well. Wikipedia editors are generally blunt, intelligent and fussy — three essential traits for any good teacher.

# The biggest game changer of all: Letting Go

Letting go of what didn’t work was crucial.

* Multiple choice vocabulary quizzes are good to start with, but you need to transition to flashcard or input based quizzes (not selecting from choices) — this means progressing from Memrise to Anki to reading to writing.
* Pimsleur and Russian shows with subtitles are fun but can be time wasters that give the illusion of progress if not done carefully. Make sure to actively generate the sentences — engage Broca’s area not just Wernicke’s.
* It is crucial to distinguish garnishes from the main course while studying and being honest with yourself about what works as opposed to what is entertaining. At the same time, returning to the entertaining helps avoid feeling overwhelmed. Honest self- and outside appraisal are crucial here.
* Because of state-dependent recall, learning in different states will allow you to remember in different states. It is key to match study rigor to your energy level and stay with your sweet spot; the longer you stay, the more depth and breadth this spot will develop over time.
* Generative approaches are best when energy levels are highest (beginning of study session, full sleep) while passive techniques can be used when focus is lower (end of day, engaged in another task, etc). This allows more flexibility to use Russian in different situations, from sloppy to neat.
* Supervised generative learning is more effective and difficult than unsupervised passive learning. Here are some examples of learning methods with differing degrees of generativity:
* Most generative: 1) trying to write a Wikipedia article or complicated message in Russian, 2) reading a Russian text or watching/listening to something in Russian without translation, 3) a tutoring session. Best when energy levels are at \~80-100%.
* 2nd most generative: reading/watching/listening to something in Russian with foreign subtitles in a more familiar language (for me, Portuguese). Generative quizzes for grammar or vocabulary (not picking from choices). Best when energy levels are at \~40-80%.
* 3rd most generative: reading/watching/listening to something and having its English translation at the same time. Multiple choice quizzes. Used towards the end of study session when energy levels are at \~20-40%.
* 4th most generative: English audio with Russian subtitles or multiple choice based vocabulary. For energy levels at \~5-20%.
* Least generative: Memrise and Duolingo’s general courses can be used for very low-level effort and are good for early encouragement, but must be left behind early to progress. If this isn’t done, you won’t get discouraged by course difficulty, but you will lose motivation from lack of meaningful progress.
* Learning is a muscle. Simple habits like exercise and meditation help build this muscle while making sure you’re not hungry, angry, lonely or tired helps avoid ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’. Trying to learn without awareness of your physical state is like trying to fill a bucket of sand with a hole in the bottom.
* Learning apps are usually a waste of time. Easy, time consuming, filled with inflated score boards, bright colors & flashy sounds, encouraging stickiness/user retention via dopamine reward cycles — marketing centered around the illusion of progress to generate purchases and subscriptions, not fluency. They generate interest for casual learners, but over time parasitize learning progress. Only use apps to augment; do not let them use you.
* Find indulgence being sloppy with the language, then find quiet satisfaction in being precise. Grace and mastery are realized in becoming patient and comfortable with this revolving door.
* Money should not be a limiting factor; the majority of resources in this post are free.

Most importantly remember:

* There is joy in embracing the big picture but the devil is in the details.
* You have to look stupid for a little while before you can look smart for a long while.
* Do not be discouraged if you feel overwhelmed — this just means you’re normal.

Большое спасибо всем вам.






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2 комментария к «12 big game changers to learn Russian declensions without declenching yourself»
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