Find Russian Noun Gender Confusing? It Doesn’t Have to Be!
As you glanced at the title of this article, frustrating past language learning experiences may have painfully flashed in front of your eyes.
Good news: Russian gender is very different.
In today’s post, you’ll learn all about Russian noun gender.
We’ll discuss which words change according to the gender of the noun, and exactly how to distinguish between genders, as well as the (few) gender exceptions Russian does have.
- Why Do You Need to Learn Russian Noun Genders?
- The 3 Russian Noun Genders
- How to Easily Distinguish Between the Genders
- Watch Out! 2 Common Exceptions
Why Do You Need to Learn Russian Noun Genders?
You need to learn genders in Russian because they have an effect on other words in a sentence. There are three different genders, and each of them behaves a little differently than the others.
In short, there are two types of words that revolve around the gender of any specific noun:
- Verbs (in the past tense)
As an example, I’m a guy, and I might say:
Я сказал тебе вчера. (I told you yesterday.)
But a female person would say (or write):
Я сказала тебе вчера. (I told you yesterday.)
See the difference? The same thing works for nouns. So if you want to say that your car broke down, you need to know the gender of your car:
Моя машина сломалась. (My car broke down.)
Which means that in order to speak Russian correctly, you simply must know which gender a word is. So that you can modify other words.
Also, the way nouns change their ending according to the role they play in a sentence is dependent on gender.
So, to put it all together: There are enough reasons to get to know your Russian noun genders. Sound confusing? Don’t worry. It’s a lot easier than it looks.
It’s worth mentioning that just because this is easy doesn’t mean you won’t need to practice.
Consuming authentic content is another important part of learning how to use noun gender correctly. Movies and TV shows are a great way to get started, but I’d recommend Russian songs above all else when it comes to learning gender.
“My Faraway Star,” for example, uses gendered adjective endings in a brilliant way to create a catchy pop melody. Videos like this one are also available on FluentU, which has bilingual interactive subtitles on authentic videos for when you want to double-check the gender of a word, or get an instant definition.
The 3 Russian Noun Genders
There are three noun genders. Let’s play a game with them to illustrate the regularity of Russian noun genders. I’ll list each gender together with five examples. And it’s up to you to see if you can find the hidden rules (hint: look at the endings).
- кот — cat
- цветок — flower
- город — city
- палец — finger
- телефон — telephone
- дорога — road
- машина — car
- неделя — week
- собака — dog
- армия — army
- ухо — ear
- чувство — feeling
- солнце — sun
- море — sea
- тело — body
Did you get it? If not, try pronouncing the words out loud and see if you find a connection!
How to Easily Distinguish Between the Genders
Basically, by looking at the last letter of each word, you can almost instantly see which gender it is. There are some exceptions, but there aren’t a lot—we’ll discuss them at the end. Here are the rules that define to which gender a word belongs:
- Masculine words end in a consonant (б, в, г, д, ж, з, й, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш or щ).
- Feminine words end in а or я.
- Neuter words end in o or e.
See, it’s that easy. If a word is in the nominative case, then the ending of the word reveals everything.
Now you can use the above rules to help form adjectives or past tense verbs. Luckily, they also follow an intuitive approach. Let’s take the example of большой (big):
- (masculine) большой город — big city
- (feminine) большая машина — big car
- (neuter) большое солнце — big sun
So all you have to do is take the adjective in its regular form, and then remove the masculine ending (that’s how they’re usually depicted in the dictionary). Then you add “ая” for feminine nouns and “ое” for neuter.
Some adjectives end in ий instead of ой for masculine. For example, маленький (small). You still change the endings as usual (маленькая is feminine and маленькое neuter).
Some adjectives also have “ее” for neuter nouns, and some masculine have “ый.” Don’t worry about this at the start, though. The sounds are pretty similar and many Russians swallow their endings, so learning this isn’t too high of a priority.
Need a review? Check out this video from Amazing Russian.
Also, the genders change their endings differently according to the case they’re in. This is a big topic, and too much to describe in this post. If you want to learn more about Russian cases, and how the different genders relate to them, check out this post, where we discuss Russian cases in more detail.
Watch Out! 2 Common Exceptions
So Russian noun gender is a lot more regular than gender in most other languages in the world. But that doesn’t mean that there are no exceptions. Luckily, the exceptions are also pretty regular. Basically, there are a few words you need to remember, but I’ve found that this comes easy after you’ve been practicing Russian for a while. You may need to check this section several times, but eventually you’ll remember them.
Here are the exceptions to the Russian noun genders.
Words ending with a soft sign (ь)
This is the most difficult exception. Words that end in a soft sign can be either masculine or feminine. This is confusing. You’ll have to learn these words by heart. But there’s one little statistic that’s good to know: Approximately 75% of words that end in a soft sign are feminine. So when in doubt, go for that gender.
Some common examples of words ending in a soft sign are:
- жизнь — life
- день* — day
- дверь — door
- ночь — night
- мать — mother
- часть — part
- путь* — road
Of the above, only день and путь are masculine. All the others are feminine nouns. If you want to learn exactly which of the words ending in a soft sign are masculine and feminine, I recommend you check out this list of the 500 most common nouns in Russian. Then press “ctrl + f” and search for “ь.”
Apart from learning noun genders, this list is also a great resource in general to learn new words. If you manage to learn these top 500 words, I’m sure you’ll be able to have some good conversations!
Some words you just have to remember
Lastly, some words are just a little different. And you’ll have to remember their gender (which is very easy for the obviously male nouns).
Here are some of the more common ones:
- имя — name (neuter)
- время — time (neuter)
- папа — papa (masculine)
- дядя — uncle (masculine)
- дедушка — grandfather (masculine)
- мужчина — man (masculine)
- кофе — coffee (masculine/neuter)
This Cafe Russian video can help you brush up on gender exceptions.
That’s it for Russian noun gender!
Russian might be a tough language to learn, but it’s these little parts that are easier than other languages that always make me smile.
Especially when I hear a person trying to speak French (or Dutch, my native language), and messing up all the articles and adjectives.