Time to Learn Russian Declensions Posted by yelena on Dec 19, 2011 in language, Russian for beginners
Do you remember the Gender of Russian Nouns post that appeared a few weeks ago? It generated the record number of comments and all of them contributed to the subject. So if, after reading the post itself, you have more questions than answers, then do check out the comments.
Here’s the thing though… I originally set out to write a post on declensions, following a request from one of the readers, Aurea. I decided to start off with an overview of gender, but to do cover it вкратце (briefly). Yeah, right…
Still, now that we have had time to refresh our grammar on the subject of род имён существительных (gender of nouns), it’s finally time to move on to склонения (declensions).
Knowing declensions is helpful when you are trying to memorize all the ways a noun’s ending changes as you take it through падежи (cases). Let’s start with some good news:
- Russian language has only три склонения (three declensions) – первое (first), второе (second) and третье (third)
- You really only need to concentrate on singular endings because plural endings are quite similar
And now let’s look close at the three склонения. Keep in mind that in Russian grammar Roman numerals I, II and III are used to show declensions:
Declension group I
Almost all masculine nouns fall under the first declension. The exceptions are masculine nouns that end in –а and –я, such as папа (dad), дядя (uncle), дедушка (grandfather), etc. These nouns decline as declension II.
Another important exception is the masculine word путь (path) which declines as nouns in group III.
Neuter nouns are also, almost all, belong to this declension. The exceptions here are the ten -мя nouns and the word дитя (a child). They all decline as nouns in group III.
Declension group II
Nouns from all three genders – masculine, feminine, and neuter – can be in this group as long as they end in –а or –я (the ten –мя nouns and дитя are exceptions, don’t forget). Now, if you read through the comments on the genders post, you’ll see some questions about how to decline diminutives of men’s names, such as Саша (for Александр), Женя (for Евгений), Костя (for Константин), etc. These all decline as group II.
Some other masculine nouns that belong to this group are the ones ending in –а or –я that diminish or magnify the original group I masculine nouns they are formed from, such as
мальчонка is a diminutive of the group I masculine noun мальчик (boy)
братишка is a diminutive of the group I masculine noun брат (brother)
домина (large house) is based on the group I masculine noun дом (house)
парнишка is a diminutive of the group I masculine noun парень (young lad)
Declension group III
Feminine nouns that end in the combination of a consonant+ ь belong to this group along with the masculine путь, the ten –мя nouns and the neuter дитя.
And that’s almost all there is to the fundamentals of Russian declensions. I say “almost” because of the compound words that start with пол- (half), as in полчаса (half an hour), полгода (half a year), полжизни (half a life), полпути (midway), полбутылки (half a bottle), etc.
To figure out into which group these nouns will fall (or to determine their gender), you need to look at the gender and declension of the main part, or in the case of the above:
Полчаса – masculine, group I – same as for час (an hour)
Полгода – masculine, group I – same as for год (a year)
Полжизни – feminine, group III – same as for жизнь (a life)
Полпути – masculine, group III – same as for путь (a path, a way)
Полбутылки – feminine, group II – same as for бутылка (a bottle)
However, if the compound word is used to tell time and the main part of it is formed from an ordinal adjective, as in полпервого (twelve thirty), полпятого (half past four), etc, then you are in luck since case endings don’t change, although you will hear Russians change them for Dative case in informal conversations:
Мы приедем в полвторого or Мы приедем к полвторому (we will arrive at half past one)
Она уходит с работы в полпятого or Она уходит с работы к полпятому (she leaves work at half past four)
Once you figure out which word falls into which declension group, you’ll just have to memorize declension tables. I say “just”, but I do realize this can be a frustrating and confusing task for non-native speakers.
So I have a question to those of our readers who mastered the declensions – please, share your learning experience, any tips or tricks you might have – with those of us who are just approaching this intimidating grammar topic!
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.