by Don  

The most common word for three in Russian is три. If три occurs in the nominative case, then it is followed by the genitive singular form of the noun:

три сына three sons
три дочери three daughters
три письма three letters

However, if you put an adjective between the number and the noun, you don't use the genitive singular. So what form do you use? Well, that depends...

If you are dealing with masculine or neuter nouns, then you have to use an adjectival form that copies the genitive plural:

три красивых сына three handsome sons
три длинных письма three long letters

If you are dealing with feminine nouns, it is usually best to use an adjectival form that copies the nominative plural:

три красивые дочери three pretty daughters

Here are some sample sentences:

На крыше загорали три иностранных туриста. There were three foreign tourists sunbathing on the roof.
У инопланетянина были три жёлтые головы и два красных хвоста. The alien had three yellow heads and two red tails.
Три старых профессора играли в шахматы в парке. Three old professors were playing chess in the park.
У меня три японских телевизора. I have three Japanese televisions.

¹ You will sometimes also encounter три красивых дочери, аlthough красивые is better style these days.


Comment from: Bruce Dumes [Visitor]

Don – Thanks so much for this. I think that numbers are one of the most confusing things for beginners in Russian. Then again, how many “one of the most confusing things” are there in Russian? :-)

Please do more examples of numbery things in future. It is much appreciated!

10/15/10 @ 07:40
Comment from: Andrey [Visitor]

If you talk about одушевленные things, you can use трое + genitive plural, for example трое сыновей, трое иностранных нудистов, but not трое телевизоров, because those things are not одушевленные. You can also use that form on animals, but not on plants (три морковки, три дерева, not трое)

The same goes for other numbers: двое сыновей, пятеро друзей, шестеро профессоров, семеро студентов, восьмеро детей, девятеро мужчин, десятеро американцев. You can also go beyond and use одиннадцатеро, двенадцатеро, but it sounds a bit artificial after десятеро.

Don responds: The rules for what words can combine with collective numerals are complex. Hopefully after I’ve addressed a few more of the ordinary numbers I’ll be able to get to the collectives as well.

10/15/10 @ 02:13

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