Like several other foreign languages, Russian is a gendered language. What does that mean? If this is your first time learning a gendered language, this means that every single noun (people, places, and things) has a preassigned gender. Nouns in Russian are either masculine, feminine, or neuter, and, for the most part, do not correspond to the meaning of the noun. Rather, the gender of Russian nouns is determined by the noun’s ending in the nominative case. Luckily, in Russian, there are only a few exceptions to this rule, so it is a relatively clear-cut process to determine a noun’s gender. So, let’s dive into nouns and gender in Russian!
Want to learn more about the basics of Russian? Check out the rest of my Russian Basics articles!
Why is it important to learn about Russian gendered nouns? It is necessary to know the gender of a noun for 2 main reasons:
Ex. Adjectives – Adjectives do not have an intrinsic gender, rather they are changed to match the gender of the nouns they are modifying/describing.
Let’s say you want to describe your home. The word for home in Russian is “дом.” Because the word ends in a consonant (see below for a chart of all endings), the word “дом” is masculine. Therefore, if we want to describe the house using an adjective — let’s say we want to say “yellow house” — the adjective, “yellow,” must also be masculine. Therefore, “yellow house” is “жёлтый дом”.
Now, let’s say we have a noun that is feminine, for example “кошка,” which means “cat.” If we want to say “yellow cat,” we use the same adjective meaning “yellow,” however, we change the ending of the adjective, not the noun. So, we change the masculine adj. жёлтый → feminine adj. жёлтая. They have the same meaning, but one is used with masculine nouns and the other with feminine nouns.
If you are unaware of the case system in Russian, check out my study guide on the Russian Case System. The case system and its functions dictate spelling changes that are based upon the gender of nouns.
Before you get too overwhelmed (I definitely was at first, so don’t sweat it), it’s not totally a guessing game when it comes to the relationship between a word and its gender. As mentioned above, a noun’s gender correlates to its ending, so let’s start there!
If there is one thing I appreciate in a language, it is consistency in its rules. The majority of Russian is very consistent in this regard, however, like every language, even Russian has its exceptions. Below are 3 exceptions to the rule that gender is determined by a noun’s ending.
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