These are just a few words that come to mind when we think of Russian grammar.
No matter what level of learner you are, Russian grammar just looks terrifying.
Ask any intermediate or advanced learner of Russian as a second language, and they’ll probably tell you that they still struggle to understand a lot of elements surrounding grammar.
There are cases, a bunch of declensions… oh, and Russian grammar rules can change depending on the dialect.
In short, it’s a tough language to master. But it certainly isn’t an impossible feat if you have the right resources.
There are a handful of sources that will teach you how to learn Russian grammar in fun, easy steps.
Soon enough, grammar won’t seem so scary anymore!
Do I Have to Study Russian Grammar?
As a Russian language student, you may be wondering if learning grammar is even necessary. Can’t you just read or listen to the language and pick things up?
Well, grammar is actually a vital part of learning Russian. Here are just a few reasons:
- Because of the nature of the Russian language, it’s vital to understand grammar in order to gain comprehension skills. If you don’t understand the “how” and “why” of Russian sentence structure, you won’t be able to use context clues in conversation to understand or produce Russian sentences. With knowledge of grammar, you’ll be able to figure out word order in sentences to express various concepts.
- In all languages, one must master grammar to become truly fluent. Anybody can pick up a phrase book and memorize “Доброе утро” (“Good morning) and “Рад познакомиться с вами” (“I’m pleased to meet you”). However, if you want to actually be able to carry on a conversation, you’ll need to study all the elements of Russian. That includes vocabulary, pronunciation, comprehension and ultimately, grammar.
- If you plan to travel to a Russian-speaking country, grammar context will help you in conversational situations. As we mentioned above, context is a big part of speaking Russian. With good grammar skills, you’ll be able to figure out how to express what you want to say quickly, rather than after fumbling in your head for a long time.
What Are Some Difficult Aspects of Russian Grammar to Master?
Strap in, kids, because there are a lot of rough patches that native English speakers will scratch their heads over when it comes to Russian grammar.
There are six cases.
In Russian, nouns can change their forms and take on different endings. These new forms are known as cases. A noun’s case will show what specific role a noun takes in a sentence.
There are six cases in Russian: prepositional, instrumental, accusative, dative, nominative and genitive.
Prepositional case is typically used to designate an area or person that’s the object of the sentence.
Instrumental case is used to note an instrument or tool used to do something.
Accusative case represents the object of an action.
Dative case will designate when an object is given or addressed to a person.
Nominative case is a response to “who” or “what.”
Genitive case shows that something belongs to or refers to something else.
There are three genders for every noun.
Russian is a gendered language, meaning that most nouns have one of three genders.
In English, those would be she or her, he or him and they or them. In Russian, gendered nouns can be literal objects rather than just people.
It’s not too difficult to figure out the gender of a noun in Russian. A good rule of thumb is as follows:
- If the last letter of the word is a consonant or й, then the word is a masculine noun.
- If the last letter of the word is а or я, then the word is a feminine noun.
- If the last letter of the word is о or е, then the word is a neutral noun.
- If the last letter of the word is ь, then the word can be either feminine or masculine.
There are some exceptions to these rules, but a vast majority of Russian follows these guidelines.
Declension is the inflection of nouns by different cases or numbers. Depending on the case endings for a noun, all nouns fall into three declension categories. They are as follows:
- First declension. These nouns are usually feminine but sometimes masculine.
- Second declension. These are masculine nouns with no endings in their initial forms, as well as neutral nouns that end in o or e.
- Third declension. These are usually feminine nouns without an ending in their initial form. They typically end in и.
Declensions are extremely complex to understand, so it would be wise to learn them right away as a beginner.
Verbs are conjugated.
Conjugation is the creation of verb forms based on the word’s principal parts.
Russian has hundreds of verb conjugations for various words, all of which are conjugated in past, present and future tense. They can also have imperfective and perfective aspects.
For example, the masculine past tense of Идти (to go) is шёл (he went).
Russian has several dialects, and these can vary grammatically.
There are different dialects within Russian.
What we know as Standard Russian is technically known as the Moscow dialect of Russian. The other dialects are grouped into North Russian and South Russian linguistic groups. Among these three dialects, there are differences in grammar and pronunciation.
For example, most North Russian dialects have postpositive definite articles. In some South Russian dialects, unstressed vowels are pronounced æ rather than Standard Russian’s ɪ.
Negative concord is confusing.
Ah, negative concord. The bane of any Russian language learner’s existence.
Negative concord refers to cases in which negative indefinite pronouns occur along with a separate expression of sentential negation.
Glottopedia’s example of negative concord illustrates how strange this linguistic phenomenon is. To express “nobody said anything,” one would say Никто ничего не сказал — nobody nothing not said.
When directly translated into English, it’s completely nonsensical, which is why English speakers struggle to use negative concord. Multiple negative elements in a sentence are typically considered grammatically incorrect in English, while negative concord is grammatically correct in Russian.
Now that we know what makes Russian grammar so difficult, let’s take a look at 13 resources that can teach you how to learn Russian grammar without tearing your hair out.
How to Learn Russian Grammar: 13 Trusty Resources to Master the Impossible
To ensure that all types of learners can find the right resources for their learning style, we’ve included a variety of types of resources, from guides to games to videos.
Sometimes a simple, direct online guide is the best way to learn elements of a language. This written guide from Cornell University covers a multitude of grammar subject in Russian. Here are the sections you can choose from:
- The Alphabet
- Grammatical Terminology
- Vowels and Consonants
- Spelling Rules
- People’s Names
- Numerals and Related Constructions
- Deverbal Forms
- Time Expressions
- Sentence Types
- Conditional Sentences
- Expressing Wishes
- Yes or No Questions
- Time Clauses
- Correlative Constructions
- Word Study
This guide is great for beginners who want to dive right in and be challenged, but it’s also useful for intermediate and advanced students who need a point of reference through their language-learning journey.
When you think of learning Russian with videos, you may think about improving your listening or speaking skills. But if you choose the right program, videos can actually help you learn grammar, too.
Videos come with annotated subtitles. Just hover over a word to see its definition, part of speech, example sentences and an associated image. Identifying the part of speech and seeing/hearing the word in sentences helps you understand how to use grammar correctly in real-world situations.
When you’re done watching a video, jump on over to Quiz Mode. FluentU’s personalized quizzes test you over vocabulary and grammar from the videos.
You can even create your own digital flashcard sets. Create a set just for grammar or for terms from a specific series of videos. It’s up to you!
Online games are fantastic tools for learning Russian grammar, especially for children or adult learners who struggle to learn with traditional methods. This list of online games from Russian For Everyone features games that teach gender, plural nouns, clothes/colors and present tense verbs.
If you like competition or being challenged, these games are perfect for you. They’re also good for tangibly measuring your Russian grammar skills.
Sometimes the most traditional way to learn something can be the best way. That’s where textbooks come in.
If you appreciate detailed, lesson-based textbooks for learning a language, then consider “A Comprehensive Russian Grammar.”
This book covers multiple subjects for beginning and intermediate learners, including grammar references, grammar lessons, example sentences, illustrations and access to additional materials.
Check the availability of this book on Amazon in both physical and Kindle versions.
A language chart is a useful resource to have on hand so you can effectively categorize different elements and words in a language.
This handy set of grammar charts from Learn Russian Step by Step is free, well-organized and ideal for all levels of Russian learners. It’s the perfect go-to resource for grammar concepts.
The charts from this resource organize and categorize declension of nouns, declension of pronouns, declension of adjectives, verb conjugations, adverbs, nouns, numerals, prepositions, pronoun grammar concepts and verb grammar concepts.
Visual learners, this one’s for you! “Learn Russian – Introduction to Russian Grammar” is a five-minute video from RussianPod101 that explores the basics of Russian grammar quickly and efficiently.
For the most part, this video tackles the grammar concept of Subject Verb Object, also known as SVO. In SVO sentences, the subject comes first, the verb second and the object third. This simple type of sentence structure is common in English as well as Chinese, French, Italian and Spanish.
Mondly is a popular program for learning a new language. This is likely because the program is set up like a tabletop game. You’ll be given challenges and goals that take you further toward the end of the game.
Mondly boasts tons of Russian grammar exercises, lessons, conversational situations and much more. We would recommend this program for beginning learners, as the grammar concepts explored are fairly simple.
Did you ever take a language course in your early days of school? If you did, you may find this physical chart to be familiar. It’s a common language-learning tool used by linguistic teachers and tutors.
This Quickstudy Academic Outline for Russian Grammar serves a simple but very useful purpose. It details all the basics about various Russian grammar elements, including Russian letters, ordinal numbers, cardinal numbers, days of the week or month, capitalization, gender, verbs and more.
This laminated, fold-out chart is great to have at your desk when you’re studying or taking online lessons.
Like charts, tables can be useful when learning about Russian grammar concepts. This list of free tables from Learn Russian is extremely in-depth. Here are a few of the concepts you can cover:
- Countries and nationalities
- Direct objects
- Purpose and reason
- Differences between similar or confusing words
- Short forms
Most of these tables feature illustrations, as well, which could be handy for young students or visual learners.
As we just mentioned, illustrations can be helpful for teaching Russian grammar concepts to young learners. But even if you haven’t considered yourself a child in a few decades, illustrations can still be very beneficial!
“Illustrated Russian Grammar” is a handy paperback book that covers all of the key points of Russian grammar. This book also includes the following:
- Infographics and illustrations
- Visually engaging explanations
- Practice exercises
- A comprehensive table of regular and irregular Russian verbs
This book can be used for studying Russian by itself or as a supplement to another textbook or course.
Let’s be real. Who doesn’t love video games? They’re an addictive form of entertainment.
However, video games can also be used as educational tools without being totally lame and boring.
Influent is a popular language-learning video game available for purchase through Steam and can be played on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
Influent is great for learning Russian grammar because it uses real-world examples and situations to effectively teach you about linguistic concepts. It’s highly visual, and you can select native languages other than English to learn properly. It’s also challenge-based, so learners who need a stimulating objective will certainly enjoy this game.
We would recommend Influent to beginning learners because it mainly covers the basics of Russian grammar. However, intermediate and advanced Russian learners may find the game to be an entertaining way to review basics during your study sessions.
“How to learn Russian cases (and grammar)” is yet another great online video for learning about Russian grammar. This 15-minute video is pretty in-depth and covers the basics of Russian cases and additional grammar concepts.
Learn Russian with Denis Fedorov is a very underrated YouTube channel hosted by a native Russian speaker. We would recommend all of his videos, not just this one, for beginning or intermediate learners who learn best by listening to lectures or watching videos.
If you appreciate having a good teacher that dips into the details, Denis Fedorov is one to watch.
We’ve covered a handful of grammar tables and charts in this guide, but this list of Russian grammar tables from Russian for Free is definitely worth keeping on hand!
This free digital guide covers nouns, cases, adjectives, pronouns and numbers with a visually appealing and clean website.
The tables are color-coded, so you’ll be able to use it very easily. They have a list of relevant notes about the subjects so you can learn the “why” and “how” of each Russian grammar concept. The tables also feature an exceptions section to help learners avoid confusion when they inevitably run into Russian’s many grammar exceptions.
What do you think about our list of killer Russian grammar resources?
With so many resources to choose from, we bet you’ll find two or three that will teach you how to learn Russian grammar in a way that fits your needs. Good luck and усердно учиться — study hard!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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