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Grammar Notes Russian

Russian is a Slavic language spoken primarily in Russia (as the official language), Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics of the USSR. Russian is the 8th most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers and the 4th by total number of speakers.

Russian is written using a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet. The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters and some of them are pronounced differently than English:

а б в г д е (ё) ж з и (й) к л м н о п р с т у ф х (ц) ч ш (щ) (ъ)(ы)(ь) э ю я

а – is pronounced like in English word st(ar)
б – like in (b)all
в – like in (v)eil
г – like in (g)arden
д – like in (d)ay
е – like in (ye)llow and (ye)s
ё – is very close to g(ir)l
ж – like in gara(g)e
з – like in (z)ero
и – like in fr(ee) or f(ie)ld
й – like in da(y)
к – like in ca(k)e
л – like in (l)ake
м – like in (m)ummy and my
н – like in (n)ose
o – like in sp(o)t
п – like in (p)oem
р – like in (r)ole
с – like in (s)un
т – like in (t)en
у – like in tr(ue)
ф – like in (ph)one
x – like in (h)ome
ц – like in (ts)ar
ч – like in (ch)oice
ш – like in (sh)ow
щ – like in (sh)e
ъ – has no sound
ы – no equivalent
ь – make soft sounds (')
э – like in c(a)t
ю – like in c(u)te
я – like in (yu)mmy and (ya)cht

Take note
1. the letter ё [io] is always stressed in the word.
2. we never say letter o as [o] in unstressed position, it sounds like neutral [a]
3. we never say letter я as [ia] in unstressed position, it sounds like [i]
4. we never say ending – ого as [ogo] and –его as [ego], it sounds like [ova] and [eva]
5. in some words letter е in unstressed position sounds like [i] (e.g. четыре [chityri] / four)

Noun is a part of speech that can answer the questions кто? [kto]/ who? or что? [shto] /what? It also denotes any objects around.


кто? [kto] / who?
женщина [zhenshchina] / a woman
мужчина [mushchina] / a man
мальчик [mal'chik] / a boy

что? [shto] / what?
велосипед [velasiped] / a bike
корабль [karabl'] / a ship

Russian nouns do not have an article like in English and just like in English the noun in Russian has a gender. Nouns can be M (male), F (female) and N (neuter).

It is easy to find out the gender by the word ending:


1. endings -а, -я
мужчин(а) [mushchina] / a man
дяд(я) [diadia] / an uncle

2. consonant sound at the end
велосипе(д ) [velasiped] / a bike
мя(ч) [miach] / a ball

3. endings –й, -ь
корабл(ь) [karabl'] / a ship
музе(й) [muzei] /a museum


1. endings -а, -я
женщин(а) [zhenshchina] / a woman
машин(а)[mashina] / a car

2. ending -ь
кроват(ь) [kravat'] / a bed
лошад(ь) [loshad'] / a horse


1. endings – о, -е
письм(о) [pis'mo] /a letter
пол(е) [pole] /a field

Russian noun also has a declension. The three types of declensions are the following:

First declension includes female and male nouns ending with –а, -я
машин(а) [mashina] / a car
спальн(я) [spal'nia] / bedroom

Second declension includes male nouns with no ending and neuter nouns ending with –о, -е
гараж() [garazh]/ a garage
мяс(о) [miaso] / meat

Third declension includes female nouns ending with –ь and hushing sounds
лошадь [loshad'] / a horse
мышь [mysh] / a mouse

Verb is a part of speech that answers the question что делать? [shto delat'] / what to do?, it also denotes actions.

Что делать? [shto delat'] / what to do?
сид(еть) [sidet'] /to sit
сто(ять) [staiat'] / to stand

Take note, that all these verbs are used in the form of the infinitive. In English we add the particle (to) to the verb, while in Russian we have the endings –еть, -ать, -ять, -ить and others.

All verbs in Russian can refer either to conjunction I or conjunction II. Conjunction of the verb means its ability to change the form according to the person and number of the noun.

Мужчина сид(ит). [mushchina sidit] / The man is sitting.
Мальчик и девочка бег(ут). [mal'chik i devachka begut ] / The boy and the girl are running.

Conjunction I includes the verbs with the following endings in the infinitive:
еть, except the verbs видеть [videt'] / to see, сидеть [sidet'] / to sit
ать, except the verbs лежать [lezhat'] / to lay, слушать [slushat'] / to listen
оть, -уть, -ять, except the verb стоять [staiat'] / to stand
ыть, -ть

Conjunction II includes the verbs with the following endings in the infinitive:
ить , except the verb пить [pit'] /to drink

Verb tenses will be discussed in details in Chapter 6.

In Russian all adjectives are changed according to the gender, number and case of the noun, unlike in English.

Дом бел(ый). [dom belyi] / The house is white.
Машина зелён(ая). [mashina zelionaia] / The car is green.

Adjectives such as colors ending with –ый, - ой or –ий have the same endings for the male, female and neuter nouns in nominative case (all the adjectives in the examples above agree with nouns in nominative case, as they answer the question кто? что? [kto] [shto] / who? what?:

Male nouns have endings –ый, - ой or –ий
Мяч зелён(ый). [miach zelionyi] / The ball is green.

Female nouns have ending –ая
Машина зелён(ая). [mashina zelionaia] / The car is green.

Neuter nouns have ending –ое
Поле зелён(ое). [pole zelionoe] / The sun is green.

Nouns in plural have endings –ые, –ие
Брюки зелён(ые). [bruki zelionye] / The trousers are green.

Take note that these rules are only for adjectives that agree with singular nouns in nominative case.

There are only three grammar tenses in the Russian language: present, past and future. While in English there are more than ten of them.

Present Tense

Verbs in present tense in Russian answer the questions:

1. что делает? [shto delaet] / What is he/she doing?
2. что делают? [shto delaut] / What are they doing?
3. что делаем? [shto delaem] / What are we doing?

Take note that in English present tense is equal to Present Continuous Tense, while in Russian present tense denote all actions in present.

Лошадь прыгает. [loshad' prygaet] / The horse is jumping.
Три коровы стоят. [tri karovy staiat] / The three cows are standing.

In these examples the main verbs are:
прыга(ет) [prygaet] / is jumping
сто(ят) [staiat] / are standing

Take note that present tense in Russian is equal to Present Continuous Tense in English. It is important to remember that in Russian we change the verb not only according to the number of the noun (as we do it in English), but also according to its gender.

Future Tense

Кошка собирается пить. [koshka sabiraettsa pit'] / The cat is going to drink.
Лошадь собирается прыгать. [loshad' sabiraettsa prygat'] / The horse is going to jump.

In these examples the verb собирается [sabiraettsa] / is going to denotes the intention of somebody to do something and needs infinitive just like in English. The verb собирается [sabiraettsa] / is going to will change its form according to the gender and number of the noun before it:
1st person singular – cобираюсь [sabiraus'] / I am going to
2nd person singular – собираешься [sabiraeshsia] / you are going
3rd person singular – собирается [sabiraettsa] / he/she is going

1st person plural – собираемся [sabiraemsia] / we are going to
2nd person plural – собираетесь [sabiraetes'] / you are going to
3rd person plural – собираются [sabirauttsa] / they are going to

Past Tense
Unlike in English, the past tense in the Russian language denotes all actions in the past. All verbs in past tense have suffix –л and change their forms according to the gender and the number of the noun they refer to.

Собака ел(а). [sabaka ela] / The dog ate.
Мальчик плава(л). [mal'chik plaval] / The boy swam.

To put the verb in the past tense we have to:
1. define its infinitive
что делать? [shto delat'] / to do what?
есть [est']/to eat

что делать? [shto delat'] / to do what?
плавать [plavat'] / to swim

2. change the ending –ть of the infinitive into the suffix –л:
ес(ть) [est'] / to eat – е(л) [el] / ate
плава(ть) [plavat'] / to swim – плава(л) [plaval] / swam

Prepositions are words that indicate relationships between nouns, pronouns and other words in a sentence. Most often they come before a noun. They never change their form, regardless of the case, gender etc. of the word they are referring to.

Just like in English there are two main groups of prepositions in Russian: prepositions of place and time.

Prepositions в [v] / in, на [na] / on and под [pod] / under are always used before the noun and point at the direction of the action:

1. on the surface of the object
Поезд на железнодорожной станции.
[poezd na zheleznadarozhnoi stantsii]
The train is on the railway station.

2. inside the object
Малыш в машине.
[malysh v mashine]
The baby is in a car.

3. lower than the object
Мальчик и девочка под самолетом.
[mal'chik i devachka pod samaletom]
The boy and the girl are under the plain.

All these prepositions refer to the prepositional case. Unlike in English, there are 6 cases in the Russian language: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental and prepositional.


Personal and Possessive Pronouns in Russian, just like in English, are divided into the 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person and can be plural or singular:

Singular pronouns:
1st person – я [ia]/I
2nd person – ты [ty]/you
3rd person – он [on]/he
Она [ana]/she
Оно [ano]/it

Plural pronouns:
1st person – мы [my]/we
2nd person – вы [vy]/you
3rd person – они [ani]/they

Take note that in English the preposition YOU is used both in 2nd person singular and in 2nd person plural, while in Russian we have two different forms:
1. ты [ty]/you is informal
2. вы [vy]/you is formal

Possessive Pronouns refer to a specific person/people or thing/things belonging to a person/people (and sometimes belonging to an animal/animals or thing/things). Possessive pronouns is a part of speech that answers the question WHOSE? In the Russian language they are changed according to the person, number and gender of the noun they refer to. We also decline possessive pronouns by changing their endings in different cases, except such possessive pronouns of the 3rd person as его [evo] / his, ее[ee] / her and их [ih] / their.

Like in English, the Russian language also uses the negative particle не [ne] / not to make negation. We put it right before the verb or the adjective we negate.

не сидит [ne sidit] / is not sitting
не красный [ne krasnii] / is not red

Мужчина не сидит, он стоит перед заводом.
[muzhchina ne sidit on stait pered zavodom]
The man is not sitting, he is standing in front of the factory.

Телефон не красный, он чёрный.
[telefon ne krasnii on chiornii]
The telephone is not red, it's black.

Take note that Russian don't have auxiliary verbs, that's why to make negations in the Russian language is much easier than in English.

As mentioned previously, there are no auxiliary verbs in Russian which means that making questions in Russian is much easier compared to English. To make general questions (when you expect YES or NO answers) you just need to put a question mark at the end of the sentence or add a 'question tone' if you are speaking.

Вы хо(т)ите колу к гамбургеру?
[vy hatite kolu k gamburgeru]
Would you like a cola with your burger?

Да, я хо(ч)у еще и колу.
[da ia hachu ishche I kolu]
Yes, I'd like a cola too.

Take note that the forms of the verb хотеть [hatet'] / would like are different, due to the grammar rules in Russian we have to change the endings of the verbs. You should also take note that the root consonant Т changes into Ч with pronouns in singular:

Я хочу [ia hachu] / I would like
Ты хочешь [ty hochesh] / You would like
Он/она хочет [on/ana hochet] / He/she would like

To make an alternative question we have to use the principle of the general question and put the alternative conjunction или [ili] / or between the compliments.

Вы хотите пирог или сыр? [vy hatite pirog ili syr] / Would you like cake or cheese?



Что делает женщина?
[shto delaet zhenshchina]
What is the woman doing?

In this sentence we will ask a question to the verb сидит [sidit]/is sitting, as it is the main verb in the sentence. We should put Что делает? [shto delaet] / what at the very beginning of the question and then we put the object of the action женщина [zhenshchina] / the woman. Take note that the question что делает? [shto delaet] / what denotes the present action, that's why we have Present Continuous Tense (is + doing) in English. Pay attention also to the singular form of the verb делает [delaet] / is doing in the question, as it refers to the noun in singular женщина [zhenshchina] / the woman. The same will be true for all the nouns and pronouns in singular.


To make a question to the adverbial modifier of place we have to put the question word Где? [gde] / where at the very beginning of the sentence.

Где мужчина? [gde mushchina] / Where is the man?
Где мальчик и девочка? [gde mal'chik i devachka] / Where are the boy and the girl?

Take note that the question word где [gde] / where is used with the noun regardless of its number and never changes.


Кто учитель? [kto uchitel'] / Who is the teacher?
Кто врач? [kto vrach] / Who is the doctor?

These are the examples of the special questions with the verb TO BE (which is not used in Russian translation). To make special question in Russian we have to put a question word that is followed by a verb or a noun.

In these examples we have the question word кто? [kto] / who, that is followed only by the nouns in nominative case учитель [uchitel'] / the teacher and врач [vrach] / the doctor. Take note that no verbs are used in the questions and they are absolutely grammatically correct. It happens because of the free word order in Russian, while in English the word order is fixed.

Just like in English there are three degrees of comparison in Russian: positive, comparative and superlative.

красивый [krasivyi] / beautiful (positive)
красивее[krasivee] / more beautiful (comparative)
самый красивый [samyi krasivyi] / the most beautiful (superlative)

To make the comparative degree the following ways are used:

1. with the help of the suffixes
ее [ee] (-ей [ei]):
уродливый [urodlivyi] / ugly – уродлив(ее) [urodlivee] / uglier
худой [hudoi] / slim – худ(ее) [hudee] / slimmer

е[e] (with or without the interchange of the last consonant of the stem):
толстый [tolstyi] / fat – толщ(е) [tolshche] / fatter
низкий [nizkii] / short – ниж(е) [nizhe] / shorter
высокий [vysokii] / tall – выш(е) [vyshe] / taller

ше [she]:большой [bal'shoi] / big – боль(ше) [bol'she] / bigger
cтарый [staryi] / old – стар(ше) [starshe] / older

2. with the help of the other roots

хороший [haroshii] / good – лучше [luchshe] / better
плохой [plohoi] / bad – хуже [huzhe] / worse

3. with the help of the words более [bolee] / more or менее [menee] / less

красивый [krasivyi] / beautiful – более красивый [bolee krasivyi] / more beautiful
уродливый [urodlivyi] / ugly – менее уродливый [menee urodlivyi] / less ugly

Take note that we don't change the adjective with these words.

Superl;ative Comparison

To make the superlative degree use:

1. the suffixes –ейш, - айш

красивый [krasivyi] / beautiful – красив(ейш)ий [krasiveishii] / the most beautiful
добрый [dobryi] / kind – добр(ейш)ий [dabreishii] / the kindest

2. other roots

хороший [haroshii] / good – лучший [luchshii] / the best
плохой [plahoi] / bad – худший [hudshii] / the worst

3. the words

самый [samyi] / the most, наиболее [naibolee] / the most and наименее [naimenee] / the least
красивый [krasivyi] / beautiful – самый красивый [samyi krasivyi] / the most beautiful
уродливый [urodlivyi] / ugly – наименее уродливый [naimenee urodlivyi] / the least ugly

Unlike in English there are no strict rules of using this or that way of making the comparison form in Russian.

Just like in English we put numerals before nouns. But in Russian we may change numerals and we also have to change the form of the noun that follows the numeral according to the case and number. Take note that the numerals один [adin] / one and два [dva] / two have different forms in Russian. The form of these numerals depends on the gender of the noun they are used with:

Male nouns – один [adin] / one
один человек [adin chelavek] / one man

Female nouns – одна [adna] / one
одна машина [adna mashina] / one car

Neuter nouns – одно [adno] / one
одно место [adno mesto] / one place

Male nouns – два [dva] / two
два человека [dva chelaveka] / two men

Female nouns – две [dve] / two
две машины [dve mashyny] / two cars

Neuter nouns – два [dva] / two
два слова [dva slova] / two words

три [tri] / three
четыре [chityri] / four
пять [piat'] / five
шесть [shest'] / six

In English all numerals from 13 to 19 have suffix – teen, e.g. thirteen, fourteen … eighteen and nineteen. In Russian we use two roots and the prefix: the root (e.g. три [tri]/three), prefix на – [na] and the root – дцать [tsat'].

(три)надцать [trinatsat'] / thirteen
(четыр)надцать [chetyrnatsat'] / fourteen
(пят)надцать [piatnatsat'] / fifteen
(шест)надцать [shesnadtsat'] / sixteen
(сем)надцать [semnatsat'] / seventeen
(восем)надцать [vasemnatsat'] / eighteen
(девят)надцать [deviatnatsat'] / nineteen

Take note that the numerals with the soft sign at the end of the root (пять [piat'] / five, шесть [shest'] / six, семь [sem'] / seven, восемь [vosem'] / eight, девять [deviat'] / nine) is dropped. The vowel letter Е in the numeral четыре [chetyri] / four is also dropped.

To make the numerals 20 an 30 the same principle is used in Russian but without prefix на [na]:

(два)дцать [dvatsat'] / twenty
(три)дцать [tritsat'] / thirty