Did you take French classes in high school?
If so, you know that one of the most frustrating parts of that language is noun gender.
It’s so irregular.
Sure, there may be some rules that say what words are masculine and which ones are feminine (or neuter if you took German).
But try speaking correctly and naturally after you hear yet one more time from your teacher, “Well, you just have to learn that [insert word] is masculine.”
Not to mention the articles and adjectives that need to match a word’s gender.
Luckily, Russian is different.
Russian noun gender is surprisingly… regular.
Instead of learning the gender of a specific word by heart, all you have to do is learn the specific characteristics of each gender.
And if you do that, you’ll have no problem telling the correct noun gender 98% of the time. Which is by far enough to speak Russian well.
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.
You’ll also read about the (few) gender exceptions that Russian does have.
Excited for another easy part of the Russian language? Let’s go!
Russian Noun Gender for Noobs: Here’s the Whole Deal
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. To start understanding Russian noun gender as it’s naturally used in authentic contexts, try FluentU.
It’s a great way to practice Russian noun genders in context and learn about Russian culture at the same time.
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Russian with real-world videos.