Taking ages – counting in Russian

Until earlier this year, I thought numbers in French were hard – you know, four times twenty, a ten and a seven for 97, for example*. Then when I explored Japanese before going to Tokyo, I discovered that their numbers change according to the type of object – whether long and round or thin and flat. So it wasn’t too much of a shock to discover Russian numbers change too, although it was somewhat of a disappointment …

So… what do I need to know?

  1.  один (1) and два (2) change according to gender. That’s OK; I can do genders, even three of them, having learned German and Latin.
  2. Nouns that follow any numbers ending in 1 take the nominative singular. OK..
  3. Nouns that follow numbers 2, 3 and 4 take the genitive singular. Hmmm…
  4. The rest take the genitive plural…

Snapshot from Take off in Russian:


We had a good practice in class yesterday, going around saying our ages and repeating the ages of the people before us. Now ages…

  1. If your age ends in 1, you say год : 21 год
  2. If your age ends in 2, 3 or 4, you say года: 34 года
  3. If your age ends in any other number, you say лет: 57 лет

год ? лет? What’s that all about? Turns out лет  is the irregular genitive plural form of год, which means year. Ok – as long as I know and understand these things, I can accept them! I don’t like to just have to learn something without knowing the reason – even though, as a language teacher, I know sometimes people might prefer simply to ‘go with the flow’.

And not to forget: the person whose age we’re talking about is in the dative case. “To him, five years” And why not? Who are we to presume everyone should express age the same way we do in English?

I found this video helpful for  ages, numbers and the dative case:

*Unless of course you’re Belgian (nonante)

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