Today we will speak about Gender in Russian language. Basically all nouns depend largely on gender, number, and case. We will talk about the latter two in our next lessons. In order to grasp Russian grammar it is recommended to take one step at a time only.
All nouns can be masculine, feminine, or neuter. Why is it important? Mostly, because when you build up phrases in Russian, all endings of adjectives and nouns change according to the gender and case (not to forget the number!).
The thing about Russian nouns’ gender is that you will not have to memorize the words and their gender. You will have to memorize the rules instead.
First of all, all human beings’ gender is defined by their sex.
Мужчина – man is obviously masculine
Женщина ‑ woman – feminine
Дочь – daughter – feminine
Сын – son – masculine
Now, let’s start with the rules that are not so obvious.
- Most of masculine nouns in the Russian language do not have an ending, or more specifically, they end with a consonant.
Компьютер – computer
Карандаш – pencil
Стол – table
- Masculine nouns may also end with a “й” or a soft sign.
Учитель – teacher
Король – king
Музей – museum
- Sometimes masculine nouns might have an ending –а or –я. While it is usually a sign of a feminine noun (we will talk about it later in this lesson), if the noun refers to a male human being, then it obviously is masculine.
Папа – dad
Слуга – servant
Дедушка – grandfather
Some of such words can be either masculine or feminine based on the person it refers to.
Убийца – murderer
It is masculine if the murderer is a man, and it is feminine if the murderer is a woman.
More words that fall into this category:
Пьяница – drunkard, плакса – crybaby, сирота – orphan.
This group is not really large and the correct use of such words only requires some common sense, not more than that.
- There is a group of masculine nouns that you will have to memorize.
Here are a few of them:
Фламинго – flamingo, маэстро – maestro, кенгуру – kangaroo.
- Words that end with –тель
Строитель – builder
Предатель – traitor
Житель – citizen
- Nouns that have an ending –a or –я (except those discussed in previous section)
Линия ‑ line
Тётя – aunt
Тьма – darkness
- Nouns that end with a soft sign.
Here you should pay some special attention. If a soft sign is preceded by one of the following consonants ‑ ж, ч, ш, щ – then the noun is definitely a feminine.
Вещь – thing
Мышь – mouse
Помощь – help
However, there is a group of words that ends with a soft sign which you have to memorize as feminine.
These are among others: любовь – love, смерть – death, мебель – furniture, площадь – square, очередь – queue, etc.
- Words that end with –тельница (feminine equivalent of masculine words that ends with –тель)
Учительница – teacher (a woman)
Предательница – traitor (a woman)
Some nouns can be considered feminine despite all the endings because they refer to a particular category.
Миссисипи ‑ Mississippi is feminine when the noun refers to the river (река). The words река is feminine. However, if it refers to the state (штат, masculine) then the same word is masculine.
Кармен – Carmen is feminine when it refers to the opera (опера, feminine)
Таймс – Times referring to the newspapers (газета, feminine) is feminine, too.
Neuter nouns is the smallest category of nouns. They are recognizable by the ending –о, -ё or –е. Sometimes also the ending –мя.
Небо – sky
Колено – knee
Богатство – wealth
Мученье – suffering
Бельё ‑ linen
Время – time
Имя – name
Your task is to define the gender of the following nouns based on the rules explained above. Sometimes you do not really need to know the meaning of the world to know the word’s gender. More often than not you will be able to find out the meaning just by reading the word.
- Нью-Йорк Таймс
You will find the correct answers in the comments section to this lesson.
In our next lesson we will learn some basic Russian phrases other than those that you already know, and will get an idea about personal pronouns.