Gender of Russian nouns
The gender of nouns plays an important role in Russian grammar. It is very important to know the grammatical gender of Russian nouns because the forms of adjectives, pronouns, adjective-like words and past-tense forms of verbs depend on the gender of the noun they refer to. It is hard to build even a simple phrase in Russian without knowing the gender of nouns.
The division of Russian nouns into masculine, feminine and neuter have no substantial and well-grounded explanation. The grammatical gender is more or less (but not always regularly) related to the meaning of a word if a noun denotes a person or an animal: nouns naming males are usually grammatically masculine, nouns naming females are usually grammatically feminine.
Neuter nouns generally refer to nonliving objects and abstract notions. Only a small group of animate nouns are neuter. These are words дитя child, животное animal, существо creature, божество divinity, ничтожество nonentity (about a person), and words denoting zoological species, such as млекопитающее mammal, пресмыкающееся reptile etc.
At the same time, most inanimate nouns are masculine or feminine. The grammatical gender of these nouns is conditional and inexplicable as regards to their meanings. The division of inanimate nouns into masculine and feminine is determined only by their formal endings and syntactical factors.
The gender of most Russian nouns can be established according to the last letter of their citation form (usually nominative singular). There are few basic rules that allow to identify the gender for the majority of Russian nouns. These rules are sufficient for those who just begin learning Russian, but it is necessary to keep in mind that they do not work for all Russian nouns and, sooner or later, a large number of deviations from these rules becomes evident.
The basic rules to determine grammatical gender of Russian nouns are:
- Masculine nouns usually end in a consonant letter or -й
- Feminine nouns usually end in -a or –я
- Neuter nouns usually end in -о, -е, or -ё.
The above-mentioned rules provide a general idea how to determine the grammatical gender of nouns, but many Russian nouns may have other endings or their gender does not conform to these rules. Thus, there are several groups of words that complicate the situation with the grammatical gender of nouns in the Russian language:
- Nouns ending in –ь that may be either masculine or feminine. Their gender needs to be memorized since there are no exact criteria to determine it. At the same time, we will provide below some information about several groups of masculine and feminine nouns ending in -ь that hopefully helps to learn their grammatical gender.
- Nouns of common gender. It is a particular group of nouns that may exhibit two possible genders depending on the context. These are nouns ending in –a/–я that are used in a phrase either as masculine or as feminine depending on the biological gender of their referent.
- A group of masculine nouns ending in –a/-я. These are nouns denoting male persons, so the biological gender is more important here than formal endings.
- A group of nouns denoting professions and occupations that are most often grammatically masculine, but can refer to female persons, and, in some instances, behave as feminine nouns in phrases.
- A group of neuter nouns that end in -я. There a few of them and their gender should be memorized.
- Indeclinable nouns borrowed from other languages that may be masculine, feminine or neuter whichever their ending is. Their grammatical gender is frequently (but not always) related to their meaning, so they can be divided to several groups, which can help to memorize their gender.
We recommend you to visit the following pages where we examine all possible endings for masculine, feminine or neutral nouns: