Два/две (часть первая)

by Don  

Every student of the Russian language knows that Russian nouns have a singular form and a plural form. Many don't know that a thousand years ago those nouns had a “dual form” as well. The dual meant “two of an item”, whereas the plural meant “more than two of an item”. Thus града meant “two cities” and сътѣ meant "two hundreds" and сестрѣ meant “two sisters”. At that time the number дъва was an adjective that agreed with masculine dual nouns and emphasized twoness, and дъвѣ was an adjective that agreed with neuter/feminine nouns and emphasized twoness as well. So back then we had дъва града “two cities”, дъвѣ сътѣ “two hundreds”, and дъвѣ сестрѣ “two sisters”.

Over the centuries time/entropy/life disrupted all that beautiful grammatical symmetry. The "-a" form of masculine nouns often resembled the genitive singular, so nowadays the numbers два/две are followed by nouns in a form that generally coincides with the genitive singular form. The gender association of the numbers shifted as well: nowadays два is used with masculine and neuter nouns, and две is only used with feminine nouns. Here are some sample sentences:

Дважды два — четыре. Two times two is four.
У меня два брата, которые постоянно издеваются надо мной. I have two brothers who constantly make fun of me.
Когда я был ребёнком, на меня наехали две машины, я пролежал в больнице три месяца. When I was a child, I was run over by two cars, and I lay in the hospital for three months.
— Как зовут твою девушку?
— Какую? У меня две девушки.
— Какой ты бабник!
"What's your girlfriend's name?"
"Which one? I have two girlfriends."
"You are such a player!"


Comment from: gamelton [Visitor]

Shady_arc, and what does “контрпример” means? I have never heard it in spoken language.

09/01/10 @ 04:56
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

“контрстратегия” is one of them.

There is a number of words with 5 consonants in a row, such as “ангстрем", “усердствовать", “постскриптум” or “контрпример”

08/31/10 @ 03:35
Comment from: Albert R. [Visitor]

Cool post. Is that the “yer” I hear about now and then?
And now I know how to saw “player” in Russian! Вот это да!

Don responds: Yes, indeed. Ъ was the back yer (perhaps pronounced like the ‘u’ in ‘put’, and Ь was the front yer (perhaps pronounced like the ‘i’ in ‘pit’). The fall of the yers vastly complicated Slavic morphology. Nowadays the Slavic languages have the most astonishing consonant clusters. It is sometimes said that there is one word in the Russian language that has six consonants in a row with now intervening vowels. I leave it to you to sleuth it out. (Actually, I remember spotting one with seven once, but I was too lazy to note the source. I’ve regretted that lapse ever since.)

08/30/10 @ 17:11
Comment from: Becca [Visitor]

I just found this blog- it’s really interesting and gives me a chance to keep up my Russian. Thanks for posting!

08/30/10 @ 06:14

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