в январе, первого апреля

When I was little, I thought that instead of «День космонавтики» (Cosmonautics Day) one should say «День космонавтиков».

Allow me to explain. I had no clue what космонавтика (cosmonautics) is but did know the word космонавт (cosmonaut) from which, naturally enough, I could form a diminutive космонавтик, i.e. a little cosmonaut. Therefore, «День космонавтиков» (Day of little cosmonauts) makes a lot of sense and is grammatically correct, since the word космонавтиков is in genitive, while «День космонавтики» does not because космонавтики stay in nominative. See what I mean?

Oh, here he goes again, I hear you saying, with those Russian cases. And you’ll be absolutely right. You may recall that we need a number of cases to express the time of day. Today you will see that to talk about time in general (day, date etc.) we need all six (or seven) of them.

Дело было в январе,
Первого апреля.
Было жарко во дворе,
Мы окоченели.


As mentioned before, Russian names for days of the week are more interesting (or, at least, less trivial) than names of the months. I trust you already know them. Now, let’s try to say what day it is today.

Сегодня пятница, двенадцатое апреля две тысячи девятнадцатого года.

(Today is Friday, the twelfth of April of the year two thousand nineteen.)

Note that both the noun пятница and the numeral двенадцатое are in nominative, while the month апреля and year две тысячи девятнадцатого года are in genitive. This can be conveniently translated to English with the help of the preposition “of”.

There is another, equally correct, way to say the same:

Сегодня пятница, двенадцатого апреля две тысячи девятнадцатого года.

Here the numeral двенадцатого is in genitive [1].

Let’s organise some event on that date.

Мы встречаемся в пятницу, двенадцатого апреля две тысячи девятнадцатого года.

(We meet on Friday, the twelfth of April of the year two thousand nineteen.)

Here the date has to be in genitive: двенадцатого апреля, not двенадцатое апреля. But what about Friday? We use the preposition в + accusative: в пятницу, just like we do with hours, e.g. в три часа. In general, days (of the week, holidays, birthdays) require accusative, whether we need the prepositions (в or на) or not: в День космонавтики, на мой день рождения, каждую пятницу, в следующие выходные etc.

В какой день недели, в котором часу
Ты выйдешь ко мне осторожно,
Когда я тебя на руках унесу
Туда, где найти невозможно.

Владимир Высоцкий, «Лирическая»

If we talk about events happening during the week, we need на followed by prepositional case: на прошлой неделе, на следующей неделе, на Страстной неделе and so on. The на + prepositional is also used for particular times of the day: на заре “at dawn” and на закате “at sunset”, in literal as well as in figurative sense: на заре цивилизации
“at the dawn of civilization”.

The preposition в takes prepositional case when we talk about events during the periods of time longer than a week: в апреле, в прошлом году [2], в первом квартале, в двадцатом веке, в каменном веке, в первом тысячелетии. However, if such periods have names that employ genitive, as in год Дракона “Year of the Dragon” or век пара “Age of Steam”, we have to apply the accusative again: в год Дракона, в годы войны, в век пара and so on.

В эпоху войн, в эпоху кризисов,
Когда действительность страшна,
У засекреченного физика
Была красивая жена.

Валерий Бурилов

Events on geologic time scale could be expressed in either accusative or prepositional: в юрский период or в юрском периоде, в мезозойскую эру or в мезозойской эре.

Accusative is needed when we talk about the entire time period, e.g. целый год, or when such period is mentioned in combination with an ordinal numeral, e.g. третий год.

Закричал он:
— Что за шутки!
Еду я вторые сутки,
А приехал я назад,
А приехал в Ленинград!

С. Я. Маршак, «Вот какой рассеянный»

We also can utilise the accusative construction на … год instead of more common в … году:

Сколько я лет с раздушкой знался,
На последний год расстался.

«Дарю платок» (народная)

When we need to indicate duration of time (from… to…), we use either с + genitive / до + genitive construction, e.g. с понедельника до пятницы, or с + genitive / по + accusative, e.g. с понедельника по пятницу.

The dative is used in combination with preposition к in the sense “by”, e.g. к следующей пятнице, к лету, к Новому году. For recurring events, we apply the dative plural: по пятницам, по чётным дням, по выходным.

По утрам, надев трусы,
Не забудьте про часы.

Finally, we resort to the instrumental case for events happening at particular time of day, e.g. ранним утром, or particular season, e.g. раннней весной, прошлой зимой.

Дело было вечером,
Делать было нечего.

Сергей Михалков, «А что у вас?»

Зелёною весной
Под старою сосной
С любимою Ванюша прощается.

Леонид Дербенёв, «Кап-кап-кап»

We need the instrumental to congratulate with any event:

Поздравляю с праздником!

This formula is so common that the word поздравлять is normally dropped, so the congratulation is reduced to just с + instrumental: с днём рождения, с Рождеством, с Новым годом, с днём космонавтики etc.

Case Usage Example
Nominative diary entries пятница, двенадцатое апреля, час дня
Genitive dates двенадцатого апреля две тысячи девятнадцатого года
M minutes to H hour без пяти
from… to… с понедельника до пятницы
Dative by… к девяти часам, к следующей пятнице
recurring events по пятницам, по ночам
Accusative events at particular time в два часа, в половину четвёртого
events on days в пятницу
until… по пятницу
events during the year на следующий год
events during periods that use genitive в годы войны
events on geologic time scale в юрский период
whole period прошлую неделю, всё лето, круглый год
ordinal numeral + period четвертые сутки, первую неделю
Instrumental events during the time of day ранним утром
events during the season поздней осенью
Prepositional sun-related events of the day на заре, на закате
events during the week на прошлой неделе
events during the longer periods of time в апреле, в XIX веке
events on geologic time scale в юрском периоде
Locative events during the hour во втором часу
events during the year в 2019-ом году; на 50-ом году жизни
events during the lifetime на моём веку́


  1. Only a century or so ago, say more or less until the October revolution, the dates were expressed somewhat differently. For example, 12.04.1919 would be «тысяча девятьсот девятнадцатого года апреля двенадцатого дня», literally “of the year one thousand nine hundred nineteen of April of the twelfth day”. Here everything is in genitive, which kind of makes sense — almost. The genitive case shows that something belongs to something else: the month belongs to the year and the day belongs to the month. It is like a Russian doll. Nevertheless, you’d expect the innermost doll, i.e. day, to be in nominative. But here we have дня, not день. Why? Could it be that the “day doll” actually has another doll inside, viz. that of the implied event?
  2. More precisely, we employ в + locative with год (“year”) → в году́.

который час?

There are two common ways of asking “What time is it?” in Russian: «Который час?» (literally, “Which hour?”) and «Сколько времени?» (“How much time?”). When I were a lad, they taught us in school that the correct way is the first one, even though it may sound a bit old-fashioned now.

But, as we know, it is not enough to ask: it also could be nice to know what the answer means. There are a few curious things about telling time in Russian. One is, both cardinal and ordinal numbers are used: cf. «десять часов» (ten o’clock) and «десятый час» (the tenth hour). Another is, the ordinal number H+1th is used to name the hour between H:00 and H:59. For example, «десятый час» (10th hour) means any time between 9 and 10 o’clock. We use exactly the same logic when we give the name 20th century to the 19xx years. Yet I found that both English and Spanish speakers get confused with “Russian” way of naming hours.

In her memoirs, the Russian writer Teffi describes the dialogue between entrepreneur Guskin (Гуськин) and herself:

— Ну конечно. Новое дело. Опоздали на вокзал!
— Быть не может! Который же час?
— Семь часов, десятый. Поезд в десять. Все кончено.

Тэффи, «Воспоминания»

Guskin is so worried that they would miss the ten o’clock train that he runs to Teffi’s place at seven o’clock in the morning. Him saying «Семь часов, десятый» (when for anyone else it is only восьмой) adds to the comic effect.

Nine o’clock is девять часов. If we want to be precise, we say «девять часов ровно», “nine o’clock sharp”. We can safely drop the word час when it is clear that we talk about time:

— Сейчас ровно девять.

There are also two ways of telling hours and minutes. One is completely straightforward: 9:10 is «девять часов десять минут» (nine hours ten minutes). This is the “official” way of telling time, such as you can hear on the radio. The cardinal numerals for both hours and minutes are in nominative; the nouns час and минута, when in plural, change to genitive or accusative, as discussed elsewhere.

Another one is shorter but potentially confusing: «десять минут десятого», literally “ten minutes of the tenth” [1]. Here the cardinal numeral (minutes) remains in nominative but the ordinal one (hour) is in genitive. Which is kind of logical as these minutes belong to that hour.

For any number of minutes M between H:00 and H:30 we can use the “short” formula «M минут H+1-го». For 15 minutes, there is a special name, четверть (quarter), and for 30 minutes, половина (half). So 9:15 is четверть десятого, “quarter of the tenth”, and 9:30 is половина десятого, or полдесятого, “half of the tenth”. The German speakers will have no difficulties dealing with it, as they use halb zehn, “half of ten” for 9:30. However, in Spanish the same time will be las nueve y media “the nine and a half”, while in English we use “half past nine” (Brits say just “half nine”).

After H:30, the “long” way remains the same but for the “short” way we have to count backward from our “target” hour, H+1. So, 9:40 will be “long” «девять часов сорок минут» (nine hours forty minutes), or “short” «без двадцати минут десять» (ten without twenty minutes). Between H:30 and H+1:00, mentioning минуты is optional, so most people will just say «без двадцати десять» (ten without twenty). This is very similar to Spanish las diez menos veinte and, indeed, English “twenty to ten”. Of course, 9:45 will be «без четверти десять» (ten without quarter). Curiously, now the target hour is in nominative but the minutes are in genitive (the preposition без invariably requires the genitive).

When the hour is already known from the context, one can dispose of naming the hour and only talk about minutes:

Я должен прийти к девяти <часам>
На работу свою.
Но сейчас уже без десяти <девять часов>,
А я только встаю.

The “short” way of telling time exists only between one and twelve (0 < H < 11), so in case of ambiguity we have to indicate the time of the day: утро (morning), день (noon or afternoon), вечер (evening) or ночь (night), once again, in genitive. For example, 09:00 is девять часов утра (nine in the morning), 12:00 — двенадцать часов дня (twelve noon), 15:00 — три часа дня (three in the afternoon), 21:00 — девять часов вечера (nine in the evening), 24:00 — двенадцать часов ночи (twelve o’clock at night), 03:00 — три часа ночи (three in the morning). 12:00 is also known as полдень (midday) and 24:00 as полночь (midnight); the time after midday and after midnight could be specified with (sounding a bit archaic) пополудни and пополуночи, respectively. In all “short” time expressions the words часа/часов are optional, so we can say четыре утра, двенадцать ночи and so on. For one o’clock, however, the word час is obligatory; on the contrary, the word один (one) is not used. Thus 01:00 is «час ночи» and 13:00 is «час дня».

Russian English Spanish
час one o’clock la una
два часа two o’clock las dos
(ровно) девять часов nine o’clock (sharp) las nueve (en punto)
девять часов утра nine in the morning las nueve de la mañana
двенадцать часов дня; полдень twelve noon; midday las doce de la mañana; mediodía
три часа дня; три часа пополудни three in the afternoon las tres de la tarde
девять часов вечера nine in the evening las nueve de la tarde
двенадцать часов ночи; полночь twelve in the night; midnight las doce de la noche; medianoche
три часа ночи; три часа пополуночи three in the morning las tres de la madrugada
четверть четвёртого quarter past three las tres y cuarto
половина четвёртого half (past) three las tres y media
без четверти четыре quarter to four las cuatro menos cuarto

Everybody who lived in Soviet Union should remember the standard message broadcast daily at 15:00 Moscow Time on the radio:

Передаём сигналы точного времени. Начало шестого сигнала соответствует пятнадцати часам московского времени. [Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, Beeeeeep!] Говорит Москва. В столице пятнадцать часов, в Ашхабаде — шестнадцать, в Ташкенте — семнадцать, в Караганде — восемнадцать, в Красноярске — девятнадцать, в Иркутске — двадцать, в Чите — двадцать один, во Владивостоке и Хабаровске — двадцать два, в Южно-Сахалинске — двадцать три, в Петропавловске-Камчатском — полночь [2].

In this famous message, the names of the cities of the former USSR where the times were listed are given in prepositional case (предложный падеж) and preceded by в (in), therefore Караганда → в Караганде, Владивосток → во Владивостоке, etc. while the numeral (or, in case of полночь, a noun) is in nominative.

To indicate at which time or when something is happening, we also use the preposition в (variously translated as “at”, “on” or “in”). This time, however, в requires accusative case. Luckily, for masculine inanimate noun such as час, that means no change of form from nominative, so there won’t be any change in the expressions of time discussed above, e.g. три часа дня → в три часа дня.

o’clock preposition numeral noun
1 в один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
2 в два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
3–4 в три, четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s
5–20 в пять — двадцать часов
Acc Gen / m / pl
21 в двадцать один час
Acc / m Acc / m / s
22 в двадцать два часа
Acc / m Gen / m / s
23–24 в двадцать три, двадцать четыре часа
Acc Gen / m / s

Let’s see what’s happening with feminine nouns such as минута, четверть and половина:

minutes preposition numeral noun
1, 21, 31, 41, 51 в (x) одну минуту
Acc / f Acc / f / s
2, 22, 32, 42, 52 в (x) две минуты
Acc / f Acc / f / pl
3, 4, 23, 24, 33, 34, 43, 44, 53, 54 в (x) три, (x) четыре минуты
Acc Acc / f / pl
the rest в пять, шесть, etc. минут
Acc Gen / f / pl
quarter в одну четверть
Acc / f Acc / f / s
half в одну половину
Acc / f Acc / f / s
1, 21 без (двадцати) одной минуты
Gen / f Gen / f / s
the rest без двух, трёх, четырёх, etc. минут
Gen Gen / f / pl
quarter без одной четверти
Gen / f Gen / f / s

Now we can combine the hours with minutes: в одну минуту первого; в два часа двадцать две минуты; в четверть четвёртого; в десять часов десять минут; в половину одиннадцатого (or пол-одиннадцатого); (в) без пяти пять; (в) без одной двенадцать and so on [3].

Can we use в together with expressions like «десятый час»? Yes we can, but here we have to use yet another case, and a rather unusual one: locative (местный падеж). By now the Russian locative has almost completely merged with prepositional case, however there is a group of nouns where one can see the differences in declension between prepositional proper and locative after the prepositions в and на. So, первый час → в первом часу, второй час → во втором часу etc.

Во втором часу,
Принцесса в лесу.

Генрих Сапгир, «Принцесса и Людоед»

To set the boundaries of a period of time, we use prepositions с or от (“from”, “since”) and до (“to”, “till”), all followed by genitive, for instance: «у меня классы с десяти до полвторого» (I have classes from ten to half past one).

«Игра на музыкальных инструментах от 5 часов дня до 7 часов утра воспрещается».

Вопросы любви и смерти не волновали Ипполита Матвеевича Воробьянинова, хотя этими вопросами по роду своей службы он ведал с девяти утра до пяти вечера ежедневно с получасовым перерывом для завтрака.


  1. They never say «десять минут десятого часа», “ten minutes of the tenth hour”.
  2. By some reason, time for the last city on the list was given as «полночь» rather than more formal «ноль часов» (zero hours). As most Soviet citizens were reminded that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky even exists only at this particular time, the city acquired a joking reputation of a place of eternal midnight.
  3. The combination of prepositions в без sounds rather awkward; here в can be omitted without any change of meaning.

See also: ¿Qué hora es?

жил один рыжий человек

Жил один рыжий человек, у которого не было глаз и ушей.
У него не было и волос, так что рыжим его называли условно.

There was a red-haired man who had no eyes or ears.
Neither did he have any hair, so he was called red-haired theoretically.

In Russian, adjectives agree with the noun in case, gender, and number. For instance, «рыжий кот» (ginger cat) in nominative [Example 1m]:

adjective noun
singular рыжий кот
Nom / m / s Nom / m / s
plural рыжие коты
Nom / pl Nom / m / pl

If we change the noun to genitive, the adjective follows suit [Ex. 2m]:

adjective noun
singular рыжего кота
Gen / m / s Gen / m / s
plural рыжих котов
Gen / pl Gen / m / pl

Replacing кот (tomcat) with кошка (female cat), we have [Ex. 1f]:

adjective noun
singular рыжая кошка
Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
plural рыжие кошки
Nom / pl Nom / f / pl

And in genitive [Ex. 2f]:

adjective noun
singular рыжей кошки
Gen / f / s Gen / f / s
plural рыжих кошек
Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

Luckily for learners of Russian, the plural forms of adjectives are the same irrespectively of gender. (It was not always the case.)

Now let’s add some cardinal numerals to our ginger tomcat [Ex. 3m]:

numeral adjective noun
1 один рыжий кот
Nom / m Nom / m / s Nom / m / s
2 два рыжих кота
Nom / m Gen / pl Gen / m / s
3 три рыжих кота
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / s
4 четыре рыжих кота
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / s
5 пять рыжих котов
Nom Gen / pl Gen / m / pl

What just happened? As you can see, the numerals other than один cause the nouns and adjectives to change the case to genitive. But if with пять (and above) both nouns and adjectives become, logically enough, plural, with the numerals два, три and четыре the noun stays in singular. We already mentioned that these three numerals behave as if not quite plural. The reason is, Proto-Indo-European and its descendants, in addition to singular and plural, had a grammatical number called dual (in Russian, двойственное число), which was used for pairs only. In modern Russian only a few traces of dual remain. However, some properties of dual were somehow extended to groups of three or four. I recently learned a (not widely known, but useful) term маломножественное число (literally, “few-plural number”), but I’d like to have something shorter. On Tamara’s suggestion, we can call this number “fewral” (pronounced /ˈfjuːrəl/; never mind that there is an identically spelled Turkmen word for February) or, for Spanish-speaking learners,“pocal” (from poco; please ignore the Romanian word meaning “goblet”).

Now, once again, let’s change the cat’s gender [Ex. 3f]:

numeral adjective noun
1 одна рыжая кошка
Nom / f Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
2 две рыжих кошки
Nom / f Gen / pl Gen / f / s
3–4 три-четыре рыжих кошки
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / s
5–20 пять рыжих кошек
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

Comparing the masculine and feminine examples, you might have noticed that the pattern for 2 is not exactly the same as for 3 and 4. This is because the feminine form две is different from masculine (and neuter) form два, just like одна is different from masculine/neuter form один. Otherwise, we see the now-familiar story: “fewral” nouns are in genitive singular, adjectives in genitive plural.

And this could be “it”… if it not were for the fact that another way is possible [Ex. 4f]:

numeral adjective noun
1 одна рыжая кошка
Nom / f Nom / f / s Nom / f / s
2 две рыжие кошки
Nom / f Nom / pl Nom / f / pl
3–4 три-четыре рыжие кошки
Nom Nom / pl Nom / f / pl
5–20 пять рыжих кошек
Nom Gen / pl Gen / f / pl

That’s right, both «две рыжих кошки» and «две рыжие кошки» are correct. But why? Going back to Examples [1f] and [2f]: did you notice that the genitive singular form, кошки, is identical to the nominative plural? Well this is how Russian feminine nouns behave, as a rule. So in “fewral” we can have either «рыжих кошки» (both genitive) or «рыжие кошки» (both nominative, both plural). Makes sense? Kind of. I think it is a matter of personal preference. I, for example, prefer «две шуточные песни» to «две шуточных песни». Perhaps my internal grammarian just likes to maximise the number of nominatives. Shame I can’t do the same with masculine and neuter.

You may ask, why did I write “5–20” rather than “5 and more”? Because when we reach 21, we say «двадцать одна рыжая кошка» (back to singular), then 22 «двадцать две рыжих кошки» or «двадцать две рыжие кошки» (back to fewral), and so on. Every time we hit a numeral ending with один/одна, два/две, три or четыре, we repeat the singular and fewral spiel again and again.

Last but not least: all these strange things happen only when our cardinal numerals are in nominative. As soon as we put them in any other case, the whole construction declines in a totally regular fashion, e.g. «одному рыжему коту» (dative) or «двумя рыжими кошками» (instrumental).

For homework, please take Kharms’ «один рыжий человек», and see what could happen with two, three, eleven and fifty-one theoretical red-haired men using Example [3m].

some peculiarities of Russian

This post is based on a presentation prepared by Tamara for her Spanish class.

Many people believe that Russian is a difficult language to learn. While it isn’t difficult for me, and shouldn’t be that difficult for speakers of any Indo-European language anyway, there are several important differences the Spanish (as well as English) speakers should be aware of. She also used some examples from Finnish, just to put things into perspective.

а. Alphabet

Modern Russian uses a variant of Cyrillic alphabet with thirty-three letters. These include ten vowels, twenty one consonants, hard sign ъ and soft sign ь. It looks like this:

Even though it may appear a bit frightening, I recommend to learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as you start learning Russian. Reading Russian in transliteration will only confuse you. For example, the character y is often used instead of two rather different letters (and sounds): the vowel ы and the consonant й. It is also used to indicate the “softening” of consonants (see below). As a result, the words you pronounce won’t sound anything like Russian.

б. Sounds

Some sounds in Russian present a difficulty for Spanish and/or English speakers.


  • Е: after a consonant, pronounced as /e/ or /ɛ/; in all other cases (at the beginning of a word, after a vowel, after the hard and soft signs) pronounced as /je/ or // in Spanish yerba /ˈjeɾ.βa/ or English yes /jɛs/.
  • Ё: after a consonant, pronounced as /ö/, like in German mögen; in all other cases pronounced as /jo/, as in Spanish cuyo /ˈkujo/ or English yolk /joʊk/.
  • Ы /ɨ/. There’s nothing like this sound in either Spanish or English. Just listen: 🔊. A commonly suggested trick to reproduce the sound of ы is to bite a (clean) pencil or pen so to spread the corners of your mouth while saying //, as in cheese /tʃiːz/.
  • Э: /ɛ/ like in English pen /pɛn/.
  • Ю: after a consonant, pronounced /ü/; in all other cases pronounced /ju/ as in Spanish yuca /ˈju.ka/ or in English yoo-hoo /ˈjuːˌhuː/.
  • Я: after a consonant, pronounced /æ/; in all other cases pronounced /ja/, as in Spanish cuya /ˈku.ja/ or English yard /jɑːd/.
  • Spanish has only five vowels, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, which always sound the same, stressed or not. There are more vowels in Finnish but they also always pronounced the same way, irrespectively of stress. As for English, they do not even know how many vowels there are, let alone which ones to use. The only thing everybody seems to agree is that most unstressed vowels in English are reduced to schwa /ə/. Vowel-wise, Russian is somewhere in between these two extremes. The stressed vowels always sound as expected. Unstressed а and о are usually pronounced as something between /a/ and /o/; unstressed е, и, э and я, between /e/ and /i/; unstressed у and ю, between /o/ and /u/. The good news is that even if you pronounce all vowels Spanish (or Finnish) way, you still will be understood.


  • Б and В: /b/ and /v/, respectively. Unlike Spanish, there is always a clear distinction between these two sounds.
  • Г: normal /ɡ/ as in Spanish guerra /ˈɡera/ or in English get /ɡɛt/; in Southern Russian dialects, often pronounced /ɣ/ as in Spanish lago /ˈla.ɣo/.
  • Ж /ʐ/, similar to /ʒ/ in Portuguese janeiro /ʒaˈnejru/, French jour /ʒuʀ/ or English measure /ˈmɛʒə(r)/.
  • З /z/, same as /z/ in English zoo /zuː/ but not Spanish zurdo.
  • Р /r/ (rolled r), same as /r/ in Spanish perro /ˈpero/.
  • Х /x/, same as /x/ in Spanish ojo /ˈoxo/ or in Scottish loch /lɔx/.
  • Ц /t͡s/, as /ts/ in English nuts /nʌts/ or in Italian pizza /ˈpit.tsa /. This sound is not normally found in Spanish.
  • Ш /ʂ/, similar to /ʃ/ in Portuguese caixa /ˈkajʃa/, French chic /ʃik/ or English sheep /ʃiːp/.
  • Щ /ɕɕ/, which is not a combination of ш and ч in spite of being often transliterated as shch. It is similar to /ʃʃ/ in Italian uscita /uʃˈʃita/.

з shouldn’t be a problem for English speakers, ditto р and х for Spanish speakers.

  • Most Russian consonants come in two variants, “hard” and “soft”. The “softening” of Russian consonants before vowels е, ё, ю, я is often transliterated in English with letters y or i, which makes learners to pronounce, say, a phrase “Юля, я тебя люблю” (“Julia, I love you”) as /ˈjulja ja tiˈbja ljubˈlju/ instead of /ˈjulæ ja tiˈbæ lübˈlü/. The “softening” achieved with the soft sign ь alone is practically impossible to transliterate. You just have to listen and speak!
  • The consonants ж, ц and ш are always hard (even if followed by soft sign), й, ч and щ are always soft.

On the other hand, Russian does not have /ð/ and /θ/ sounds so common in English and in Peninsular Spanish, as in Madrid /maˈðɾi(θ)/. And there is no /w/ sound, so when transliterating English names, one has to decide whether to use в or у. For example, “Watson” could be transliterated as either Ва́тсон or Уо́тсон.

в. Declension

  • Modern Russian has six grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional. This sounds like a lot, as neither Spanish nor English have cases. But this is only two more cases compared with German (with which Russian shares four cases) and same number as Latin. Compare that with Finnish (15 cases), Hungarian (18) or Tsez (64) and stop complaining. Here’s how the word дом (house) will change in all six cases:

    case singular plural
    Nominative дом дома́
    Genitive до́ма домо́в
    Dative до́му дома́м
    Accusative дом дома́
    Instrumental до́мом дома́ми
    Prepositional до́ме дома́х

    And here’s what Finnish can do with their house (I didn’t bother with the case names):

    talo house
    talon of (a) house
    talona as a house
    taloa house (as an object)
    taloksi to a house
    talossa in (a) house
    talosta from (a) house
    taloon into (a) house
    talolla at (a) house
    talolta from (a) house
    talolle to (a) house
    talotta without (a) house
    taloineni with my house(s)
    taloin with (a) house
  • Russian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Cf. Spanish (masculine and feminine), and English (traces of).
  • Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, present and past participles, and numerals are subject to declension: they change their endings to indicate number, gender and case.
  • In Russian, there are three noun declensions conveniently named “first”, “second” and “third”.
  • Adjectives, present and past participles, and ordinal numerals have to agree (in number, gender and case) with nouns and pronouns.
  • Russian cardinal numerals два (two), три (three) and четыре (four) make the count noun to change differently compared to plural, as if they were “not quite” plural:

    singular один дом one house
    “few” два до́ма two houses
    “few” три до́ма three houses
    “few” четы́ре до́ма four houses
    plural пять домо́в five houses

г. Verbs

  • In Russian, there are only three tenses: past, present and future. (Some linguists go even further and say that Russian has only two grammatical tenses: present-future and past).
  • In the present and future tenses (or present-future), there are two conjugations; like in Spanish, each has six different forms: 1st singular, 2nd singular, 3rd singular, 1st plural, 2nd plural, 3rd plural.
  • In the past tense, there is no difference between 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but the verbs are number- and gender-specific.
  • There are no such things as perfect, imperfect or pluperfect tense. Instead, most verbs come in two flavours, imperfective (несовершенный вид) and perfective (совершенный вид).
  • There is only one type of verb “to be”: быть (unlike Spanish ser and estar). This verb is hardly ever used in present tense, so some apparently complete sentences do not contain a verb, for example «Я — русский», “I (am) Russian”.

д. Articles

  • That’s easy: Russian does not use articles. (Nor does Finnish.)

järjestysluvut ja päiväys

Now that we know how to count in Finnish and Finnish days and months, how do we say the date (päiväys)? Fist, we need the ordinal numbers (järjestysluvut).

Like in many other languages, Finnish words for “first” (ensimmäinen) and “second” (toinen) are completely unlike their cardinal counterparts (yksi and kaksi). So no surprises here. After that, even less surprisingly, the ordinal numbers are very like their corresponding cardinals.

Dealing with larger numbers is not very difficult either. For instance, kuusi (6) becomes kuudes, kaksikymmentä (20) becomes kahdeskymmenes; the word for 26th is kahdeskymmeneskuudes, i.e. one simply joins the two ordinals together. Easy? Very easy. In the same fashion, the word for 1984th will be tuhannesyhdeksässadaskahdeksaskymmenesneljäs. For English (or Russian) speakers this may appear a bit odd: after all, we do not say “twentieth-first” (or “двадцатый шестой”). On the other hand, the Finnish way is much more logical. One may start wondering if English (Russians, etc.) are just plain lazy, at least with their ordinal numbers.

Now let’s have a good look at cardinal/ordinal pairs from 11 to 19. We have yksitoista / yhdestoista, kaksitoista / kahdestoista, kolmetoista / kolmastoista… Wait a minute. Why the first half of the word changes but nothing happens to toista? It is a bit like if in English we were saying “thirdteen” instead of “thirteenth”.

The reason is, toista is the partitive form of toinen, i.e. it is already changed (inflected) once and it would be too much bother to change it further. I don’t know it it is a good enough reason, but here it is.

To form the dates, we need both ordinal numbers and inflected month names. Once again, the partitive case is used. According to Wikipedia, this case is only used in Finnish, Estonian and Sami languages, so if you don’t speak any of these, good luck with understanding what it’s all about. Luckily, for our purposes we just need to know that the month names get suffix -ta: tammikuutammikuuta, helmikuuhelmikuuta and so on. Thus, November 30 is kolmaskymmenes marraskuuta.

Number English Finnish Russian
0 zeroth nollas нулевой
1 first ensimmäinen первый
2 second toinen второй
3 third kolmas третий
4 fourth neljäs четвёртый
5 fifth viides пятый
6 sixth kuudes шестой
7 seventh seitsemäs седьмой
8 eighth kahdeksas восьмой
9 ninth yhdeksäs девятый
10 tenth kymmenes десятый
11 eleventh yhdestoista одиннадцатый
12 twelfth kahdestoista двенадцатый
13 thirteenth kolmastoista тринадцатый
14 fourteenth neljästoista четырнадцатый
15 fifteenth viidestoista пятнадцатый
16 sixteenth kuudestoista шестнадцатый
17 seventeenth seitsemästoista семнадцатый
18 eighteenth kahdeksastoista восемнадцатый
19 nineteenth yhdeksästoista девятнадцатый
20 twentieth kahdeskymmenes двадцатый
21 twenty-first kahdeskymmenesensimmäinen двадцать первый
22 twenty-second kahdeskymmenestoinen двадцать второй
23 twenty-third kahdeskymmeneskolmas двадцать третий
30 thirtieth kolmaskymmenes тридцатый
31 thirty-first kolmaskymmenesensimmäinen тридцать первый
40 fortieth neljäskymmenes сороковой
50 fiftieth viideskymmenes пятидесятый
60 sixtieth kuudeskymmenes шестидесятый
70 seventieth seitsemäskymmenes семидесятый
80 eightieth kahdeksaskymmenes восьмидесятый
90 ninetieth yhdeksäskymmenes девяностый
100 hundredth sadas сотый
101 hundred and first sadasensimmäinen сто первый
125 hundred and twenty-fifth sadaskahdeskymmenesviides сто двадцать пятый
200 two hundredth kahdessadas двухсотый
300 three hundredth kolmassadas трехсотый
400 four hundredth neljässadas четырехсотый
500 five hundredth viidessadas пятисотый
600 six hundredth kuudessadas шестисотый
700 seven hundredth seitsemässadas семисотый
800 eight hundredth kahdeksassadas восьмисотый
900 nine hundredth yhdeksässadas девятисотый
1000 thousandth tuhannes тысячный
1001 thousand and first tuhannesensimmäinen тысяча первый
2000 two thousandth kahdestuhannes двухтысячный
2013 two thousand and thirteenth kahdestuhanneskolmastoista две тысячи тринадцатый

See also: free Russian ordinal numbers printable

yksi, kaksi, kolme

Counting is Finnish is not a rocket science, even if the words appear alien. In fact, they are alien. Apart from nolla, which is derived from Latin nullus, and seitsemän (which sounds to me like a hybrid of seven and семь), the numbers are, well, unlike anything. And how on earth one is supposed to count, say, “one, two, three, five, six, seven” in salsa class? Yksi, kaksi, kolme, viisi, kuusi, seitsemän? This just does not make any sense. (Apparently, in spoken Finnish they just shorten the numerals like this: yks, kaks, kol, nel, viis, kuus, seits… So one can do that salsa count after all.)

But wait. I think I can spy something interesting about Finnish numbers 8 and 9. Wiktionary says that kahdeksan is “a compound of kahde- (genitive of kaksi-) and -ksan”, and yhdeksän is “a compound of yhde- (genitive of yksi-) and -ksän”. Except it is not at all clear what is ksan/ksän. And why only one of them got umlaut?

According to Wikipedia,

The words kahdeksan “eight” and yhdeksän “nine” have no confirmed etymology. The old theory is that they are compounds: *kaks-teksa “10–2”, or “eight” and *yks-teksa “10–1”, or “nine”, where the reconstructed word *teksa is similar to the Indo-European words for “ten” (*dek´m), but this is phonologically not plausible.

Hey, I already came out with exactly the same theory, on my own. Why it’s not plausible? I don’t know. Maybe because kymmenen sounds nothing like deksan. So what? “Kilo” does not sound like “one thousand”, and yet we are using it all the time.

Finnish numerals from 11 to 19 are uniformly created by adding suffix -toista. In contrast to English -teen, German -zehn, Russian -надцать etc., toista does not mean “ten” but is a form of ordinal number toinen, “the second” (decade, that is).

The rest is helppo tehtävä (easy-peasy): kymmenen is ten, kymmentä is tens; sata is one hundred, sataa is hundreds; tuhat is one thousand, tuhatta is thousands. The resulting glued-together words look frightening but are actually easy to understand… provided that you still remember how to count to ten.

# English Finnish Russian
0 zero, nil nolla ноль
1 one yksi один
2 two kaksi два
3 three kolme три
4 four neljä четыре
5 five viisi пять
6 six kuusi шесть
7 seven seitsemän семь
8 eight kahdeksan восемь
9 nine yhdeksän девять
10 ten kymmenen десять
11 eleven yksitoista одиннадцать
12 twelve kaksitoista двенадцать
13 thirteen kolmetoista тринадцать
14 fourteen neljätoista четырнадцать
15 fifteen viisitoista пятнадцать
16 sixteen kuusitoista шестнадцать
17 seventeen seitsemäntoista семнадцать
18 eighteen kahdeksantoista восемнадцать
19 nineteen yhdeksäntoista девятнадцать
20 twenty kaksikymmentä двадцать
21 twenty-one kaksikymmentäyksi двадцать один
30 thirty kolmekymmentä тридцать
40 forty neljäkymmentä сорок
50 fifty viisikymmentä пятьдесят
60 sixty kuusikymmentä шестьдесят
70 seventy seitsemänkymmentä семьдесят
80 eighty kahdeksankymmentä восемьдесят
90 ninety yhdeksänkymmentä девяносто
100 one hundred sata сто
101 one hundred and one satayksi сто один
125 one hundred and twenty-five satakaksikymmentäviisi сто двадцать пять
200 two hundred kaksisataa двести
300 three hundred kolmesataa триста
400 four hundred neljäsataa четыреста
500 five hundred viisisataa пятьсот
600 six hundred kuusisataa шестьсот
700 seven hundred seitsemänsataa семьсот
800 eight hundred kahdeksansataa восемьсот
900 nine hundred yhdeksänsataa девятьсот
1000 one thousand tuhat тысяча
2000 two thousand kaksituhatta две тысячи
2013 two thousand and thirteen kaksituhattakolmetoista две тысячи тринадцать

Counting in Finnish

cardinales y ordinales

Last Friday, on the way back from school, Timur and I talked about difference between números cardinales (cardinal numbers) and números ordinales (ordinal numbers). I used to confuse which are which until I mentally connected ordinal with Spanish masculine noun orden (order). So, that’s it: ordinal numbers are those that refer to positions within some ordered list, and cardinal numbers are… the other ones (those which represent quantities). Unlike English, where the ordinal numerals beyond 1st, 2nd and 3rd are typically formed by simply adding -th suffix to the corresponding cardinal numerals, Spanish has rather different terminology for ordinals.

OK, to an English speaker primero, segundo, tercero etc. should not sound exactly alien. Apart from first, second, third, fourth and so on, English has another set of ordinal numbers derived from Latin: primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary… well, that’s about as far as it gets. I’ve never encountered quinary, senary and higher in either literature or conversation. Also, if you ever learned basics of music theory in a language other than English, the names of intervals are all very similar to Spanish ordinal numbers. But this is probably a topic for next post.

It is said that ordinal numbers above ten are seldom used in Spanish. Indeed, go googling for “mil novecientos sesenta y siete” and you’ll get thousands of hits. Now try to do the same with “milésimo noningentésimo sexagésimo séptimo”. The obvious explanation is that ordinals are significantly longer than cardinals. Still, it’s good to know one when you see one, so I think the table below may come handy *.

Cardinales Ordinales
0 cero
1 uno primero
un 1er primer
una primera
2 dos segundo
3 tres tercero
3er tercer
4 cuatro cuarto
5 cinco quinto
6 seis sexto
7 siete séptimo
8 ocho octavo
9 nueve noveno
10 diez 10º décimo
11 once 11º undécimo
12 doce 12º duodécimo
13 trece 13º decimotercero
14 catorce 14º decimocuarto
15 quince 15º decimoquinto
16 dieciséis 16º decimosexto
17 diecisiete 17º decimoséptimo
18 dieciocho 18º decimoctavo
19 diecinueve 19º decimonoveno
20 veinte 20º vigésimo
21 veintiuno 21º vigésimo primero
22 veintidós 22º vigésimo segundo
23 veintitrés 23º vigésimo tercero
24 veinticuatro 24º vigésimo cuarto
25 veinticinco 25º vigésimo quinto
26 veintiséis 26º vigésimo sexto
27 veintisiete 27º vigésimo séptimo
28 veintiocho 28º vigésimo octavo
29 veintinueve 29º vigésimo nono
30 treinta 30º trigésimo
31 treinta y uno 31º trigésimo primero
32 treinta y dos 32º trigésimo segundo
33 treinta y tres 33º trigésimo tercero
40 cuarenta 40º cuadragésimo
50 cincuenta 50º quincuagésimo
60 sesenta 60º sexagésimo
70 setenta 70º septuagésimo
80 ochenta 80º octogésimo
90 noventa 90º nonagésimo
100 cien 100º centésimo
101 ciento uno 101º centésimo primero
200 doscientos 200º ducentésimo
300 trescientos 300º tricentésimo
400 cuatrocientos 400º cuadringentésimo
500 quinientos 500º quingentésimo
600 seiscientos 600º sexcentésimo
700 setecientos 700º septingentésimo
800 ochocientos 800º octingentésimo
900 novecientos 900º noningentésimo
1000 mil 1000º milésimo
1001 mil uno 1001º milésimo primero
1002 mil dos 1002º milésimo segundo
2000 dos mil 2000º dosmilésimo
2011 dos mil once 2011º dosmilésimo undécimo
3000 tres mil 3000º tresmilésimo
4000 cuatro mil 4000º cuatromilésimo
5000 cinco mil 5000º cincomilésimo
10.000 diez mil 10.000º diezmilésimo
100.000 cien mil 100.000º cienmilésimo
500.000 quinientos mil 500.000º quinientosmilésimo
1.000.000 un millón 1.000.000º millonésimo

* In Diccionario panhispánico de dudas and Spanish Wikipedia, the symbols for ordinal numerals contain a full stop (1.º, 3.er, 5.ª), while Collins dictionaries do not (1º, 3er, 5ª). I used this latter style in the table. Also, starting with 4, I listed only masculine ordinals. I hope you don’t think this sexist. To get feminine forms, simply replace the terminal -o’s with -a’s and º’s with ª’s). Maybe one day Real Academia Española will admit uses like 1@ and segund@, why not.