Grammar

Gender in Russian

There are three genders in Russian: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Gender is an important aspect of grammar because adjectives, pronouns, and past tense forms take different endings that must agree with the gender of their subject.

Let’s take a look at some instances in which gender is used.

хоро́ший ма́льчик  a good boy
хоро́шая де́вочка  a good girl
хоро́шее де́ло  a good cause

Did you notice that the adjective хоро́ший “good” changed its endings to match the gender of the noun it modified (masculine, feminine, neuter)?

Где стол? Вот он.  Where is the table? There it is.
Где кни́га? Вот она́.  Where is the book? There it is.
Где окно́? Вот оно́.  Where is the window? There it is.

Notice how the pronouns agree with the gender of the noun they refer to? This doesn’t matter if they are animate (living) or inanimate (not living). So when Russians are referring to a book (книга) they call it a “she” (она), just like they would when referring to a woman (же́нщина).

Дом стоя́л в це́нтре го́рода.  The house stood in the center of the city.
Ёлка стоя́ла в це́нтре го́рода.  The Christmas tree stood in the center of the city.
Зда́ние стоя́ло в це́нтре го́рода.  The building stood in the center of the city.

Notice how past thense verbs also add endings to reflect the gender of their subject? Except for the masculine singular form, which uses no ending.

Grammatical v.s. natural gender

Before you start thinking that all male nouns are automatically masculine and all female nouns are automatically feminine — you must realize that there is a big difference between grammatical gender and natural gender.

Grammatical gender is what we have been talking about in this article. It is simple. Nouns have a certain gender assigned to them, and their modifiers reflect their gender by adding different endings.

Natural gender is the real-world difference between a man and a woman.

There are some nouns in Russian that refer to males that are declined like feminine nouns. However, these nouns still take masculine adjective agreement, pronouns, and past tense forms. A great example of this is мужчи́на “man.” This noun ends in -а, and takes feminine declension.

ру́сский мужчи́на  Russian man
Где мужчи́на? Вот он.  Where’s the man? There he is.
Мужчи́на стоя́л в це́нтре го́рода.  The man stood in the center of the city.

Notice how although мужчина ends in -a, it still takes masculine adjectives, pronouns, and past tense forms?

There are some nouns which may be both masculine and feminine. сирота́ “orphan” may be masculine if you are referring to an orphan male, or feminine if you are referring to an orphan female.

Identifying masculine nouns

The following nouns are masculine:

1. All nouns ending in a hard consonant, or soft unpaired consonant (ч щ й)

дом “home”
ма́льчик “boy”

врач “doctor”
борщ “borsch”

музе́й “museum”
чай “tea”

2. “Natural” masculine nouns ending -а/-я

дя́дя “uncle”
мужчи́на “man”
Ники́та “Nikita” (name)

3. Diminutives and augmentatives based on masculine nouns

доми́шко “little house”
доми́на “enormous house”

4. Many nouns ending in -ь.*

день “day”
князь “prince”
коро́ль “king”
царь “tsar”

* Many feminine nouns also end in the soft sign (-ь)!

Identifying feminine nouns

The following nouns are feminine:

1. Nearly all nouns ending in -а/-я

де́вочка “girl”
же́нщина “woman”
земля́ “earth”
кни́га “book”

2. Many nouns ending in -ь.*

дверь “door”
дочь “daughter”
мать “mother”
моль “moth”

* Many masculine nouns also end in the soft sign (-ь)!

Identifying neuter nouns

The following nouns are neuter:

1. Nearly all nouns ending in -о

сло́во “word”
окно́ “window”
письмо́ “letter”

2. All nouns ending in -е/-ё

зда́ние “building”
мо́ре “sea”
ружьё “gun”

3. Nouns ending in -мя

вре́мя “time”
и́мя “name”
пла́мя “flame”

Grammatical gender is something that we English speakers don’t have, so it takes some “getting used to.” However, it is a fairly easy concept to grasp…You’ll get the hang of it 😉

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