by Don  

The Russian word for first is первый. From the ending it's obvious that the word is an adjective. It is also a number, in a certain sense, and since it tells what order things occur in, we call it an ordinal number. Here are its endings:

Masc Neut Fem Pl
Nom первый первое первая первые
Acc * первую *
Gen первого первой первых
Pre первом
Dat первому первым
Ins первым первыми

Russians use ordinal numbers much more than Americans do. For instance, instead of saying “Here comes bus number one,” Russians say “Here comes the first bus.” Instead of saying “I live in apartment number one,” Russians say “I live in the first apartment.” For instance:

Идёт первый автобус. Here comes bus number one.
Я живу в первой квартире. I live in apartment number one.

I don't mean to say that Russian always use ordinal numbers. It's also possible to say the same thing using the word номер, just less common:

Идёт автобус номер один. Here comes bus number one.
Я живу в квартире номер один. I live in apartment number one.

Of course, other uses of первый are also possible:

Я получил первое письмо от Володи в январе шестьдесят третьего года. Он был в гулаге около Магадана. I received the first letter from Vladimir in January of sixty-three. He was in a gulag near Magadan.
Я стал радиоастрономом, потому что хотел обнаружить первое межзвёздное сообщение от инопланетян. I became a radio-astronomer because I wanted to detect the first interstellar communication from extraterrestrials.


Comment from: Arseny [Visitor]

Fem Ins of первый is первою e.g. первою женщиною-космонавтом была Валентина Терешкова

Don responds: the alternative feminine instrumental forms in -ою are encountered much less frequently than the forms in -ой. Since this blog is mostly aimed at first- and second-year students of Russian, I usually leave them out.

09/18/10 @ 16:28
Comment from: Yegor [Visitor]

In conversations one can notice that the word “номер” is sometime omitted without any changes to the rest of the sentence. Don’t be surprized by “квартира двадцать два”. And don’t use it because… well, because I don’t like it :) It’s just an another inconsistency in our every-day language.

09/13/10 @ 09:36

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