In Russian, nouns are assigned a gender; they can be masculine, feminine or neutral. It is very important to know the gender of the noun as it determines how the cases of the noun are formed. The rules are the following:
- Words like ‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘uncle’ etc. relate to physical gender. Hence, ‘father’ (папа) and ‘uncle’ (дядя) are masculine whereas ‘mother’ (мама) is feminine.
- If the last letter of the word is a consonant, or ‘й’, the word is masculine.
- If the last letter of the word is ‘а’ or ‘я’, the word is feminine.
- If the last letter of the word is ‘о’ or ‘е’, the word is neuter.
- If the last letter of the word is a soft sign ‘ь’, then the word could be either masculine or feminine.
From the above rules, you can see that the only tricky words are the ones ending in a soft sign -ь. How can we easily remember the gender of those nouns?
What I have found extremely useful is to associate a word that ends in a soft sign with a meaningful adjective. For example, look at the following examples:
Красная площадь – Red Square (Moscow)
Прекрасная жизнь – Wonderful life
Летний дождь – Summer rain
Русский словарь – Russian dictionary
Темная ночь – Dark night (famous song)
In the above examples, maybe the noun doesn’t say anything about its gender but its adjective does! Adjectives ending in -ий describe only masculine nouns, whereas adjectives ending in -ая, feminine nouns. By pairing a noun ending in -ь with a relevant adjective, you will instantly recall its gender.