All Russian noun are attributed to one of the three genders (grammatical or syntactic genders):
feminine (f), and
Grammatical gender is the assignment of gender according to the noun's ending and has nothing to do with the natural (morphological) gender (male or female).
I guess you will be glad to know that the gender of the majority of the Russian nouns is usually obvious by their endings of the dictionary forms:
Nouns ending on consonants and the soft (semi-consonantal) glide -й are MASCULINE.
Nouns ending on -а, - я are FEMININE.
Nouns ending on -о, - е (-ё) are NEUTER.
Sadly, things are never that simple in languages (especially in Russian ;).
So, I suggest to discuss all issues regarding noun gender determination in this thread.
Nouns with a Stem Ending in the Soft Sign
Identifying the gender of these nouns is less straightforward, since the stem of both masculine and feminine nouns may end in -ь.
It is said you simply have to remember which noun ending on soft signs require masculine and which require feminine agreement. However, there are some generalizations that help determine the gender of certain groups of these nouns. Keep in mind the vast majority of such nouns are feminine ;)
1) All months of the year ending on the soft sign are masculine!
сентябрь September and so on.
2) Nouns ending in the suffix -тель (English suffix -er, -or) or –арь
учитель a teacher
аптекарь a pharmacist
3) Nouns denoting male persons ("naturally" masculine nouns)
Feminine nouns that end in a soft sign fall into two groups:
1) those that must be memorized
2) those whose gender is predictable.
The first group is unpredictable, and you must memorize them as you learn them. They will be marked as (f.) in the vocabulary lists, e.g.:
Predictable feminine nouns in -ь are those in which the letter preceding the soft sign is ж, ч, ш, or щ.
Abstract nouns formed with the suffix -ость or –есть
Nouns denoting females (nouns of natural female gender)
Hi there! You're probably wondering why gender is important, right?
Well, gender is important because it determines the ending of adjectives, pronouns, adjective-like words and past-tense forms of verbs. It is hard to build even a simple phrase in Russian without knowing the gender of nouns.
Following are examples of gender agreement:
An adjective must express the same gender as the noun it modifies.
Это большой дом (m). This is a big house.
Это большая собака (f). This is a big dog.
Это большое окно (n). This is a big towel.
The gender of the noun determines both the ending of the modifying possessive pronoun, as well as the form of the third-person pronoun that can replace it.
Это мой дом (m)? Да, это он. Is it my house? Yes, it is.
Это моя собака (f)? Да, это она. Is it my dog? Yes, it is.
Это моё полотенце (n)? Да, это оно. Is it my towel? Yes, it is.
Past Tense of Verbs
A predicate verb in the past tense must agree with the subject noun it refers to.
Дом (m) был там. The house was there.
Собака (f) была там. The dog was there.
Полотенце (n) было там. The towel was there.
Notice how the bold word changes based upon the gender of the noun. This is why it's important to know the gender of the noun.
All the best, and happy learning!
Masculine nouns in -a/-я
Sometimes the gender of the Russian nouns doesn't correlate with its ending. In these cases the reason for gender is usually clear, such as the fact that the noun relates to a human being of one or the other sex. So, there is a small group of masculine nouns that has a "feminine" ending -a/-я. These are all nouns that denote male persons.
I) Nouns which by definition denote males:
II) Some full first name of males (very few):
III) The diminutive forms of many male first names:
Саша Sasha (short for Alexander)
Алёша Alyosha (short for the Alexei)
Such nouns decline like feminine nouns ending on -a/-я, but they take a masculine agreement. For example:
Мой папа (nominative case) был там. My dad was there.
Я вижу своего папу (accusative case). I see my dad.
Моя мама (nominative case) была там. My mummy was there.
Я вижу свою маму (accusative case). I see my mummy.
danke Olga, das ist die beste Erklärung, die ich je bekommen habe.
It seems claer, but how to memorize?
Danke, Doris :)
I think it just takes some time. I am pretty sure you will be an expert at the gender determination of Russian nouns after a month of focusing on it. Just try to ask yourself "Is it masculine / feminine / neuter?" every time you come across a new Russian word. I must admit it is much simpler compared to German nouns. I plug away at memorization of the gender of every German noun :( You have to keep in mind only several endings for Russian nouns ;)
Gender of Plural-only Nouns
Until recently, I was sure that Russian plural-only nouns (nouns that appear only in the plural form; pluralia tantum) are not marked for gender. I thought it is impossible to determine the gender of a noun if it doesn't have a singular form. For example, even as a Russian native speaker, I cannot establish the gender of ножницы, штаны, очки and so on. But after thinking about the genitive plural of these words I found out that I was dreadfully mistaken ;)
Plural-only nouns do have the gender, moreover, it's quite important for the correct formation of the genitive case (gen: ножниц (f), очков (m), штанов (m), ворот (n)). Sadly, you can only find out the gender of plural-only nouns by looking them up in the dictionary (e.g., wiktionary provides the gender for pluralia tantum).
Very good lesson on Gender in language. Gender in language is a very difficult task for the students , particularly for students of foreign languages. I want to share one example, дверь door has feminine gender in Russian, It is also feminine in Sanskrit and the word is Dwar Дварь. And in my language it is Daar which, however has a neuter gender.