four-multicolored-sticky-notes-with-the-first-declensions-of-the-russian-word-for-mom

Russian Declension: The Finer Points, Plus Grammar Rules and Resources for Language Learners

склонение (declension) is typical in many European languages, especially Russian. It’s a linguistic practice where nouns, pronouns, articles and adjectives are inflected or modified based on gender, number and/or case.

Declension is relatively easy and straightforward in modern English, where nouns are only inflected based on their number (singular or plural) and whether it’s in the plain or possessive form. For example, the only variations of the word cat would be cats, cat’s and cats.’

On the other hand, things are a bit more complicated in Russian.

At its most basic, Russian declension changes the way the endings of words are spelled. The ending will indicate grammatical case, gender and whether a given word is singular or plural.

There are many overlapping rules for how these changes work. Memorizing them is a difficult undertaking, but doing so is important to your Russian fluency.

Below, we’ll give you the basics of different Russian declension forms, along with a few (non-exhaustive) examples.

The resources that follow include comprehensive word change lists and charts you can use to correctly inflect any Russian noun.

Contents

When Is Russian Declension Used?

Declension for Grammatical Case

Grammatical case refers to a word’s function in a sentence. In Russian, case can be determined by whether a word is a direct or indirect object or whether something belongs to someone or something else, for example.

Below are the six grammatical cases in Russian, which determine the last one or two letters of a noun. Each case form clearly shows the function of the noun in a given sentence. We’ll discuss each one and its impact on declension below.

Nominative Case

The nominative case dictates that the noun is the main subject of the verb in the sentence. This noun answers the question of “who” or “what” did the action. The ending isn’t changed at all.

Examples of nominative cases of nouns are:

In the remaining five cases below, you’ll see how the above nouns will change endings.

Genitive Case

The genitive case indicates possession and implies that something belongs or refers to someone or something else.

For example:

лодкa мальчика (the boy’s boat)

Notice how we change the ending of the word “boy” from мальчик to мальчика . This indicates that the boat belongs to the boy. For sentences in this case, the owner of the object usually follows the object owned.

Dative Case

Nouns used in the dative case signal that they’re the indirect objects of the verb, signifying that something is given or addressed to the object.

Let’s take this sentence:

папа дал лодку мальчику. (The dad gave a boat to the boy.)

Here, we would change the ending of the word “boy” from к to ку.

Accusative Case

The accusative case indicates that the noun is the direct object of the action. This can easily be confused with the nominative case, but there’s a clear difference.

For example:

мальчик взял лодку. (The boy took the boat.)

In this case, the boy is the subject of the verb, while the boat is the object of the verb. Therefore, the ending of the word “boat” is changed from лодка to лодкy.

Although word order isn’t always an indicator of cases in Russian, the direct object is typically placed after the verb and focuses on the noun to which a certain action happens—in this case, the boat.

Instrumental Case

The instrumental case shows that an instrument was used as a means to carry out an action. Think of English sentences where we use “with,” like “cut the butter with a knife.”

However, in Russian, the instrumental case is typically used with the preposition с (with), and there may not be a physical instrument involved at all, like in:

мальчик играет с другом. (The boy is playing with a friend.)

Prepositional Case

The prepositional case designates an object, person or place that may be the subject of a speech or thought. The preposition о (about) is always used with the prepositional case. The prepositions в and на can be used in this case as well, but watch out: you may also see them in the accusative.

Here are some examples of the prepositional case with each of these three prepositions:

PrepositionExample SentenceEnglish Translation
о (about) она думает о коробке. She's thinking about a box.
в (in) она сидит в коробке. She's sitting in the box.
на (on) она сидит на коробке. She's sitting on the box.

Declension for Grammatical Gender

This is where things get especially tricky for native English speakers. Since Russian nouns are gendered, their inflection in different grammatical Russian cases will also depend on their gender, as you’ll see below.

First Declension

First declension nouns consist mostly of feminine nouns as well as masculine nouns that end in a or я . Examples of these words are:

Russian First Declension NounsEnglish Translation
мама mom
девочка girl
папа dad
дядя uncle

Here are examples of first declension changes for the noun мама (mom) and an я-ending word, буря (storm):

Grammatical Case мама
(mom)
буря
(storm)
Nominative мама буря
Genitive мамы бури
Dative маме буре
Accusative маму бурю
Instrumental мамой бурей
Prepositional маме буре

Second Declension

Second declension nouns include masculine words with zero endings and neuter words that end in e or o . Examples (with second declension changes) include:

Grammatical Case cтул
(chair)
зеркало
(mirror)
брат
(brother)
Nominative стул зеркало брат
Genitive стула зеркала брата
Dative стулу зеркалу брату
Accusative стул зеркало брата
Instrumental стулом зеркалом братом
Prepositional стуле зеркале брате

In the case of neuter words, the endings would be the same. However, if a masculine word is a living being, the accusative form becomes different, as with the word брат or “brother” (see above).

Third Declension

Third declension words include feminine words with a zero ending—such as ночь (night), which changes in the following ways:

Grammatical Case ночь
(night)
Nominative ночь
Genitive ночи
Dative ночи
Accusative ночь
Instrumental ночью
Prepositional ночи

Declension for Numbers

As mentioned, Russian declension also changes word endings based on whether the word is singular or plural.

There are different endings depending on whether there’s just one, two to four or five (and above) of what you’re talking about.

To make things even more interesting (or maddening, as it were), the numbers “one” and “two” also inflect based on gender. You’ll see different spellings for these words in the examples below. 

Once again, it’s important to remember that these are non-exhaustive examples. Spelling changes for any specific word will depend on its gender and how it’s being used in the sentence. You may also need to brush up on your Russian numbers.

To translate each phrase below, check the row and corresponding column. For example, since один мужчина is in the row “one” and under the column “man,” the phrase therefore means “one man.” два мужчины would be “two men,” три мужчины would be “three men” and so on and so forth.

Russian Numbers мужчина
(man)
женщина
(woman)
один (one) один мужчина одна женщина
два (two) два мужчины две женщины
три (three) три мужчины три женщины
четыре (four) четыре мужчины четыре женщины
пять (five) пять мужчин пять женщин
шесть (six) шесть мужчин шесть женщин
семь (seven) семь мужчин семь женщин
восемь (eight) восемь мужчин восемь женщин
девять (nine) девять мужчин девять женщин
десять (ten) десять мужчин десять женщин

Here’s a full rundown on the declension of cardinal numbers for gender and case from Arizona State University.

How to Learn Russian Declension

Now that you’ve learned the parameters for Russian declension, it’s time to memorize those nitty-gritty word changes. Fortunately, there are resources available to Russian learners that make it a (mostly) painless experience.

Here are some of our favorites:

Multitran Online Inflection Identifier

multitran

Got a specific word you need to inflect? Just enter it into the search bar of this super easy-to-use tool, and it’ll show you the word changes depending on case and plurality.

You can even enter search words in English, and get a Russian translation and declension guide. And if you happen to use other languages like Hungarian, Polish, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Latvian and Dutch, this site has you covered, too.

Cooljugator

cooljugator

Want to instantly declinate Russian nouns—complete with singular and plural forms in each of the grammatical cases plus example sentences with English translations?

If that all sounds too good to be true, you’re going to be surprised at what Cooljugator can do. Currently, the site claims it can declinate around 80,000 nouns in Russian. That may not cover every noun in the language, but it’s still a lot whether you’re a learner or even a native speaker.

Authentic Russian Videos on FluentU

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the number of word changes to remember, you can try to learn Russian grammar naturally through an immersive environment like the one provided by the language learning platform FluentU.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Plus, the videos are all naturally entertaining since they come from the shows, movies and channels that native Russian-speakers enjoy on the regular. You can watch documentary footage, television show clips, funny commericals and more all while learning the Russian language!

Take a quick look at what FluentU has on offer for yourself:

learn-russian-with-videos

Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? FluentU makes native Russian videos approachable through interactive captions. Tap or click on any word to see a definition, in-context usage examples, audio pronunciation, helpful images and more.

learn-russian-with-video-clips

Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab. Easily review words and phrases with audio under Vocab.

learn-russian-with-interactive-dialogue

Don’t stop there, though! Use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in any video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're on.

practice-russian-with-adaptive-quizzes

And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It uses that information to give you a 100% personalized experience by recommending videos and examples.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

“The Case Book for Russian”

The Case Book for Russian (Russian Edition)

This book organizes the six Russian cases into specific chapters.

There are handy tables that provide references to word endings for cases, as well as examples to see how the words are used in actual sentences. Better yet, these example sentences are pulled from authentic Russian prose found in fiction, newspapers and other sources.

The book also features exercises and a CD that allows listeners to hear a native Russian speaker pronounce the words.

“Russian Cases: Made simple”

Russian Cases: Made simple (Russian Language lessons)

This book may simplify the Russian cases like its title suggests, but it gives you a rock-solid foundation to navigate the fiddlier bits of the language.

Aside from discussing the theories behind each case, it also provides loads of examples, instructions and exercises to help you strengthen your grasp on this tricky but essential grammatical concept.

The book even discusses cases that you may not have heard of, so this book goes far beyond its promise to make cases simple by giving you something solid to chew on in your journey to fluency.  

In case the exercises from this book aren’t enough, you can always buy other Russian textbooks for added practice.

 

Russian declension isn’t easy, but it’s certainly not impossible to learn. Utilize the rules in this article plus the additional resources to start this process.

If you stumble, don’t give up! You’re not only learning a new language, but you’re also learning new Russian grammar rules that aren’t found in your native tongue, which is challenging. Just think of how gratifying it’ll be once you’ve perfected the Russian cases.

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close