Those Sexxxy Russian Nouns!

Nouns and the Gender Gap

Russian nouns are not sexy simply because they have accents. The reason adjectives and verbs find nouns so agreeable is that they also have gender and declension class, and it is these adjectives and verbs must agree with. All adjectives and verbs in the past tense must agree with nouns as to masculine, feminine, neuter, or plural. Well, let's begin at the beginning.

OOO Predicate Agreement OOO

To prevent the simplicity of the Russian language from getting out of control, Russians do not maintain a one-to-one match between gender, the four declension classes, and the four agreement endings. Rather, as we have seen, agreement is based upon a rather sophisticated algorithm. There are four agreement categories with the nominally sexy names just mentioned: masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. Each predicate adjective and past tense verb must have an ending that reflects one of these categories which it finds in the subject noun. The agreement endings are given just below in Table 1. Remember, the agreement categories do not correspond one-one with natural gender or the declension classes—Declension I nouns may be either masculine (стол) or neuter (окно) and both Declension II (книга) and Declension III nouns (дверь) are feminine (gender relations are never simple). Of course, if the noun refers to a male or female animal, that takes precedence over declensional agreement. (Review the agreement algorithm for details.)

Table 1: Adjectival Agreement Endings
Class Ending Example Gloss
Masculine (nothing) Стол—велик. The table is big.
Feminine -a/я Книга—велика.
The book is big.
The door is big
Neuter -o/e Окно—велико. The window is big.
Plural -ы/и Очки—велики. The glasses are big.

Aside from the agreement algorithm, he following consistencies should also help you learn the agreement patterns:

The same system of agreement applies to verbs in the past tense, as Table 2 illustrates.

Table 2: Verbal Agreement Endings
Class Ending Example Gloss
Masculine (nothing) Учитель спал. The teacher slept.
Feminine -a/я Собака лаяла.
Дверь скрипнула.
The dog was barking.
The door creaked.
Neuter -o/e Письмо прибыло. The letter arrived.
Plural -ы/и Очки упали. The glasses fell.

The only difference between the adjectival and verbal agreement system is that, in the plural, the agreement ending is always и despite the fact that the past tense ending is otherwise always a hard consonant.

There are only two places where the Russians have kept their agreement system interesting (so you won't get bored picking up the language). First, words which end on soft consonants are in the main feminine and take the agreement ending a; however, there are quite a few words ending on soft consonants which are masculine and take no ending for agreement. For example,

Table 3: Soft Signs
Noun Agreement
дверь велика
кость велика
учитель велик
портфель велик

Except for nouns ending on the suffix -тель (учитель "teacher") and -арь (словарь "dictionary") all of which are masculine and require null agreement, and those which end on the suffix -ость (мягкость "softness") and are feminine (agreement on -a), you simply have to remember which noun ending on soft signs require masculine and which require feminine agreement.

There are also about a dozen nouns which end on мя which are not feminine but neuter. They decline in Declension III rather than Declension II, by which the feminine nouns on я decline.

Table 4: Stems on МЯ
Noun Agreement Gloss
Имя интересно. The name is interesting.
Время интересно. The time is interesting.
Знамя интересно. The flag is interesting.
Племя интересно. The tribe is interesting.

OOO Predicate Agreement Exercises OOO

Now you try a few. Complete the following sentences by typing the correct form of the adjective or verb on the far right into the predicate position of the sentence. Next push the button to the right of the sentence and see if your form is correct. Font information here.

Learner's Keyboard Standard  keyboard Standard KeyboardLearner's keyboard

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Gloss Noun Agreement Push Correct? Base Form
Мой брат — . стар-
Моя сестра — . стар-
Это окно — . стар-
Её мать — . стар-
Это имя — . стар-
Портфель — . стар-
Моя подруга . работал-
Мой отец . работал-
Это племя . работал-
Все матери . работал-
Наше радио . работал-
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© 1996 Robert Beard