by Don  

There are many, many Russian last names that end in -ский and its variations. Good students will note that it looks like an adjectival ending, and in fact such names decline exactly like the adjective русский. The first name, of course, still declines just like an ordinary noun. Examples:

Masculine Feminine Plural
Nom Фёдор Достоевский Мария Достоевская Достоевские
Acc Фёдора Достоевского Марию Достоевскую Достоевских
Gen Фёдора Достоевского Марии Достоевской Достоевских
Pre Фёдоре Достоевском Марии Достоевской Достоевских
Dat Фёдору Достоевскому Марии Достоевской Достоевским
Ins Фёдором Достоевским Марией Достоевской Достоевскими

Although the last names in -ский are the most common adjectival last names, there are other last names that also decline like adjectives: Толстой declines like молодой; the last name Гладкий declines just like the uncapitalized adjective гладкий; and the last name Поперечный declines just like the uncapitalized adjective поперечный. There aren't very many of these adjectival names that don't end in -ский.

The fun really sets in, though, when you encounter last names that end in -ых or -их in the nominative case, which descended from old genitive plural forms. In these cases the last name itself does not decline, although the first name (and patronymic, if present) does. Examples:

Masculine Feminine Plural
Nom Константин Седых Наталья Седых Седых
Acc Константина Седых Наталью Седых Седых
Gen Константина Седых Натальи Седых Седых
Pre Константине Седых Наталье Седых Седых
Dat Константину Седых Наталье Седых Седых
Ins Константином Седых Натальей Седых Седых

Because such last names can be interpreted as masculine, feminine, or plural, not to mention they can be used in any case without a change of ending, interpreting the name in context can tricky. Thus «Я послал телеграмму Седых» could theoretically be interpreted to mean:

  • I sent a telegram to [Mr.] Sedykh; or
  • I sent a telegram to [Ms.] Sedykh; or
  • I sent a telegram to the Sedykhs; or
  • I sent [Mr.] Sedykh's telegram; or
  • I sent [Ms.] Sedykh's telegram; or
  • I sent the Sedykhs' telegram.

In such cases it is wisest to add either a first name and patronymic or some other more specific noun before the last name to clarify the situation: «Я послал телеграмму Константину Седых» or «Я послал телеграмму Наталье Седых» or «Я послал телеграмму семье Седых».

1 comment

Comment from: anonymous [Visitor]

According to gramota.ru, there is a tendency to decline masculine names in -ых and -их in informal conversation:

http://www.gramota.ru/spravka/buro/29_413963 (Вопрос № 263647)

The rule that -ых and -их don’t decline applies only to Russian names derived from genitive plurals, so it would not apply to a male foreigner named Dietrich (Дитрих). In the case of a truly obscure surname, you have the slightly absurd situation of not knowing whether to decline the name until you have ascertained the ethnicity of the person.

12/31/10 @ 20:41

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