Gender of Russian nouns ending in a soft sign -ь – How to determine it?

by Elena Voronina,
Online Russian Tutor
MA Hons in Language Teaching,
MA Hons in Psychology

Wondering how to determine the gender of Russian nouns? Actually, in most cases you just have to look at their endings in nominative case singular.

gender of nouns is russian

Those ending in a consonant or a soft sign are masculine. Feminine nouns have -a, -я or -ь  at the end. And neuter gender nouns are spelled with final -е, -o or -мя. It means that when a non-native student of Russian comes across a noun ending in a soft sign (-ь), the only information he gets about its gender is that the given word is not a neuter one. So, if the last letter of the word is a soft sign -ь, then the noun could be either masculine or feminine. But it is very important to know the gender as it determines how the cases of the noun are formed.

Determining gender of Russian nouns ending in a soft sign – masculine or feminine?

At least 400 nouns ending in a soft sign are widely used in modern Russian language spoken nowadays. Among them approximately 78% are feminine and the remaining 22% are masculine. So how to know the gender of Russian nouns spelled with a final -ь? Here are the useful rules!

Masculine and feminine nouns ending in soft sign

Russian masculine nouns ending in a soft signRussian feminine nouns ending in a soft sign
Nouns denoting male persons and animals
Король [karOl’] – king
Парень [pAreen’] – fellow, guy
Зять [zyat’] – son-in-law
Тесть [tyest’] – father-in-law
Гость [gost’] – guest (fem. гостья)
Конь [kon’] – male horse
Nouns denoting female persons and animals
мать [mat’] – mother
дочь [doch] – daughter
свекровь [sveekrOf’] – mother-in-law
лошадь [lOshat’] – horse
Names of all months
Январь [yanvAr’] – January
Июль [eeYOOl’] – July
Октябрь [aktYAbr’] – October
Осень [Oseen’] – autumn
Names of most of the animals, birds, insects and fish
Зверь [zvyer’] – animal
Медведь [meedvYEt’] – bear
Олень [alYEn’] – deer
Лось [los’] – moose
Голубь [gOloop’] – dove
Гусь [goos’] – goose
Лебедь [lYEbyet’] – swan
Шмель [shmel’] – bumblebee
Карась [karAs’] – crucian carp
Лосось [losOs’] – salmon
Nouns ending in husher + ь (-жь, -чь, -шь, -щь)
Молодёжь [maladYOsh] – young people
Ложь [losh] – lie
Печь [pyech] – stove
Ночь [noch] – night
Мелочь [mYElach] – small change
Речь [ryech] – speech
Брошь [brosh] – brooch
Чушь [choosh] – nonsense
Мышь [mysh] – mouse
Вещь [vyesch] – thing
Мощь [mosch] – power
Помощь [pOmasch] – help

Nouns ending in the suffix тель (denoting a doer of the action)
Водитель [vadEEtyel’] – driver
Учитель [oochEEtyel’] – teacher
Покупатель [pakoopAtyel’] – shopper
Писатель [peesAtyel’] – writer
Читатель [cheetAtyel’] – reader
Зритель [zrEEtyel’] – spectator
Житель [zhEEtyel’] – inhabitant
Выключатель [vyklyoochAtyel’] – switch
 
Nouns ending in сть (except гость – a male person)
Молодость [mOladast’] – youth
Вежливость [vYEzhleevast’] – politeness
Новость [nOvast’] – news
Радость [rAdast’] – joy
Смелость [smYElast’] – courage
Скорость [skOrast’] – speed
Свежесть [svYEzheest’] – freshness
Тяжесть [tYAzheest’] – gravity
Ненависть [nYEnaveest’] – hatred
Грусть [groost’] – sadness
Часть [chast’] – part
Шерсть [shyerst’] – wool
Власть [vlast’] – power
Повесть [pOveest’] – short novel
Совесть [sOveest’] – conscience

Nouns ending in the suffix арь
Секретарь [seekreetAr’] – secretary
Фонарь [fanAr’] – lamp
Аптекарь [aptEYkar’] – pharmacist
Вратарь [vratAr’] – goalkeeper
Календарь [kaleendAr’] – calendar Библиотекарь [beebleeatYEkar’] – librarian
Пекарь [pYEkar’] – baker
Nouns ending in -бь, -вь, -дь, -зь, -сь, -ть (if not the names of animals or exceptions)
Скорбь [skorp’] – sorrow
Кровь [krof’] – blood
Обувь [Oboof’] – footwear
Любовь [lyoobOf’] – love
Морковь [markOf’] – carrot
Церковь [tsYErkaf’] – church
Бровь [brof’] – eyebrow
Грудь [groot’] – breast
Очередь [Ocheereet’] – queue
Площадь [plOschat’] – square
Тетрадь [teetrAt’] – notebook
Связь [svyas’] – connection
Грязь [gryas’] – dirt
Запись [zApees’] – note
Кровать [kravAt’] – bed
Память [pAmyat’] – memory
Смерть [smyert’] – death
 
Exceptions (masculine gender nouns):
Гвоздь [gvost’] – nail
Дождь [dosht’] – rain
Ноготь [nOgat’] – finger nail
Путь [poot’] – way
gender of russian nouns ending in soft sign

As we can see from the table above nouns ending in -ль, -нь, -рь can be both of masculine and feminine gender. So what to do with such words? In fact, there are not too many of them and the only way to determine their gender is to memorize it. These nouns are listed in the table below. In case you need a professional help if a native Russian tutor by video-conferencing, book a free trial lesson!


Russian Nouns Ending in Soft Sign That You Have to Memorize

MasculineFeminine
Картофель [kartOfeel’] – potato
Портфель [partfYEl’] – briefcase
Автомобиль [avtamabEEl’] – car
Ноль [nol’] – zero
Кашель [kAsheel’] – cough
Контроль [kantrOl’] – control
Корабль [karAbl’] – ship
Рояль [raYAl’] – piano
Рубль [roobl’] – ruble
Руль [rool’] – steering wheel
Спектакль [speektAkl’] – play
Стиль [steel’] – style
Уголь [OOgal’] – coal
Фестиваль [feesteevAl’] – festival
Метель [meetYEl’] – snowstorm
Постель [pastYEl’] – bedding
(ending in -тель, but is not an action doer)
Даль [dal’] – distance
Боль [bol’] – pain
Мебель [mYEbeel’] – furniture
Медаль [meedAl’] – medal
Мысль [mysl’] – thought
Деталь [deetAl’] – detail
Роль [rol’] – role
Соль [sol’] – salt
Цель [tsyel’] – aim
Фасоль [fasOl’] – beаn
Огонь [agOn’] – fire
День [dyen’] – day
Полдень [pOldyen’] – midday
Уровень [OOraveen’] – level
Корень [kOreen’] – root
Камень [kAmeen’] – stone
Ремень [reemEEn’] – belt
Лень [leyn’] – laziness
Ткань [tkan’] – fabric
Болезнь [balYEzn’] – illness
Жизнь [zheezn’] – life
Тень [ten’] – shadow
Лагерь [lAgeer’] – camp Дверь [dvyer’] – door

How to remember the gender of Russian nouns ending in soft sign?

It is useful to associate such noun with a meaningful adjective or a possessive pronoun. For example, look at the following word combinations:

Твой новый автомобиль –
your new car
Моя счастливая жизнь –
my happy life
Ваш осенний дождь –
your autumn rain
Наша синяя ткань –
our blue fabric
Adjective endings for feminine and masculine gender

In the above examples, the endings of the nouns don’t say anything about their gender but their adjectives and pronouns do! Adjectives ending in -ий / -ый or -ой describe only masculine nouns, whereas adjectives ending in -ая or -яя refer to feminine ones. As for the pronouns, those ending in -а/ -я are used with feminine nouns. Those spelled with -й at the end or having zero endings are of masculine gender. So, by pairing a noun ending in -ь with an adjective or a possessive pronoun, you will instantly recall its gender.

Indeed, gender of nouns in Russian can be easily determined by their ending. Of course, those spelled with a soft sign at the end are the tricky ones. Both masculine and feminine nouns can end in – ь. Hopefully, today I answered your question how to know the gender of Russian nouns ending in soft sign.

However, if you need more information about Russian language from expert native-speaking tutors, book online lessons with us. The first trial lesson is free. Book it now!

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