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Russian Gender for Newbies: Here’s the Whole Deal

If you’re a native speaker of a language like English (where grammatical genders are virtually nonexistent), then you know how much of a pain it can be to study Russian, which has three noun genders.

Luckily, Russian gender is easier than you’d think!

In this post, we’ll go over the three Russian noun genders and how to distinguish between them, which words change according to the gender of the noun, how Russian genders work in practice and the few gender exceptions Russian does have.

пойдём! (Let’s go!)

Contents

What Are the Russian Noun Genders?

There are three noun genders in Russian: masculine, feminine and neuter. Generally, masculine nouns end in consonants (б, в, г, д, ж, з, й, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш or щ), feminine nouns end in а or я and neuter nouns end in o or e.

(By the way, if you need a refresher on the Russian alphabet, here’s a guide to the Cyrillic letters.)

There are exceptions to the general rules above, of course, but we’ll get into those later. For now, take a look at these examples illustrating what Russian gender looks like in action.

MasculineFeminineNeuter
кот (cat) дорога (road)ухо (ear)
цветок (flower) машина (car)чувство (feeling)
город (city) неделя (week) солнце (sun)
палец (finger) собака (dog)море (sea)
телефон (telephone) армия (army)тело (body)

See, it’s that easy! If a word is in the nominative case, then the ending of the word reveals everything.

Which Types of Words Change Genders in Russian?

You might be wondering what’s the point of learning Russian noun genders in the first place.

Well, that’s because the following words change according to the gender of the noun they’re associated with:

As an example, I’m a guy, and I might say:

Я сказал тебе вчера. (I told you yesterday.)

But someone who identifies as female 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.)

In other words, to speak Russian correctly, you must know which gender a word is to modify other words.

How Russian Nouns Change Their Gender

Now that you know which words change according to their corresponding noun gender, how exactly do these changes happen?

Let’s take большой (big) as an example:

GenderExample Phrase Using большой (big)
masculine большой город (big city)
feminine большая машина (big car)
neuter большое солнце (big sun)

So, to change the gender of a Russian noun, all you have to do is:

  • Take the adjective in its regular form.
  • Remove the masculine ending (as shown in your trusty Russian dictionary)
  • Add “ая” for feminine nouns and “ое” for neuter.

A few more things to keep in mind:

  • Some adjectives end in ий instead of ой for masculine nouns. Let’s take маленький (small), for example. You still change the endings as usual— маленькая is feminine and маленькое is neuter.
  • Some adjectives also have “ее” for neuter nouns, and some masculine ones have “ый.” Don’t worry about this for now, though. The sounds are pretty similar and Russian pronunciation often swallows the endings, so this isn’t too high of a priority.
  • The genders change their endings according to the case they’re in. Russian cases are literally an entire topic all on their own, so let me direct you to this post if you want to learn more about them.

Exceptions to the General Russian Gender Rules

As I’ve mentioned earlier, there are exceptions to the general Russian gender patterns I’ve described above. Luckily, they fall into only two major categories.

Words ending with a soft sign (ь)

This is probably the trickiest exception, because words that end in ь can be either masculine or feminine.

Some common examples of words ending in a soft sign are:

Of the above, only the words with asterisks (день and путь) are masculine. All of the others are feminine nouns. In fact, it’s safe to say that four times out of five, a noun ending in a soft sign is feminine.

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. Just press “Ctrl + F” and search for “ь.”

Words you just have to remember

Unfortunately, some words are just a little different—i.e., they don’t follow any specific gender patterns at all. You’ll just have to get to know them like the back of your hand.

Here are some of the more common ones:

Russian words that don't follow regular gender patternsGender
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.

You can also check out FluentU for authentic examples of how Russian noun gender works.

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 those of other languages which make me smile.

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