I’ve gathered all the information about using years in Russian here, so you don’t need to waste time searching online forums. To find out how to use years and age in Russian, and why they seem so weird, read below!
In the Russian language we use 3 different nouns to talk about years: год, года and лет.
My students often ask: “Hey, couldn’t you just pick one word like we do in English?” “Weeeeeell,” I reply, “Unfortunately, the conventions for talking about years have historically developed this way, not with only one word like in English”
The majority of my students are satisfied with this answer, but some are not. If you are one of those persnickety dudes, I wrote an explanation here especially for you.
So, we use a few different nouns to express the word “year”: год, года and лет. The question is – which one to choose and when? If you’re a fan of charts and tables, this will come in handy:
Did you notice any patterns?
- 1 and numbers that end up with 1 come with the noun год
Example: – Я работаю здесь 21 год. (I’ve been working here for 21 years)
- 2, 3, 4 and numbers that end with 2, 3, 4 come with the noun года
Example: – Когда начался проект? – 34 года назад. (When did the project begin? – 34 years ago.)
- Numbers from 5 to 19, and numbers that end with 5-19 and 0 come with the noun лет
Example: – Сколько времени это займёт?- Это займет 140 или 146 лет. (How long will it take? – From 140 to 146 years.)
Difficult? Not at all.
How old are you in Russian?
Unfortunately, we can’t use the direct translation from English to Russian if you want to ask about someone’s age. The problem is that the English version of the question uses the word “old.” So, if someone were to ask me in Russian “how OLD are you?” I would think that it’s time for Botox! 🙂
To ask “how old are you?” use the following construction:
Сколько (how many) + тебе (you in Dative case) + лет (years)?
Here are two things to remember:
- The word лет in the question doesn’t change. This is the one and only that goes with the word сколько when we talk about years or age.
- Use the proper personal pronouns in Dative Check the table if you forgot the forms:
To reply the “How old are you?” question
To reply the “How old are you?” question use the following construction:
Мне (I in Dative case) + Number + год | года | лет
Two little notes:
Like when asking someone’s age, we use the personal pronoun in Dative
- In the answer we apply the number with the relevant noun: год, года or лет
- Мне 31 год (I’m 31 years old)
- Ей уже 60 лет (She’s already 60 years old)
- Им примерно 11 лет (They’re about 11 years old)
How to say about the year of birth in Russian
This is a question for true Russian language lions. It requires some background knowledge about numerals. So, if you remember the definition of cardinal and ordinal numbers and know how they are conjugated, go straight to section a below. If not, the information below will help refresh your memory.
So, imagine, that you have a long list of guests that you want to invite to your Birthday party.
To count the number of guests, you’ll use Cardinal numbers. For instance: Один(One), Два (Two).. And if your list is long enough, you’ll need Compound numbers to count everyone. For example: Двадцать два (Twenty-two), Сто пятьдесят три (one hundred fifty-three)
To say what’s the position of your friend Barry in the list you’ll use Ordinal numbers:
But, for example, if Barry is 153rd, you’ll only change the last number in the compound numeral into the ordinal number: сто пятьдесят третий
Both ordinal and compound numbers are conjugated and agree with nouns in gender and case. For the sake of our “years” question, I’ll remind you how to change ordinal numbers in the singular Genitive and Prepositional cases:
When you talk about the year of birth, forget about
лет and use the word год or it’s form all the time.
That’s the easy part. Now it gets more difficult.
How to say “I was born in (the year)”
Put the last number (the ordinal one) of the year in the Prepositional case
- Я родился в одна тысяча девятьсот семьдесят пятом году. (I was born in the year 1975)
How to say “I was born on (date)”
When you talk about a precise date that something occurred, you should use ordinal numbers and put the construction in the Genitive case. But remember, for the year we change only the last number.
- Я родился первого февраля одна тысяча девятьсот шестьдесят девятого года. (I was born on the 1st of February 1969)
By the way, when we talk about the year, we can omit the first two numbers because it is unlikely that anyone will confuse the centuries.
- Мой сын родился в девяносто первом году. (My son was born in 91)
Why does Russian have different words for years?
Why do we say 1 год, 4 года, but 5 лет? ask 99.99% of my beginning students.
The short answer is this: centuries ago there were no numerals. There were words that identified numbers, but they belonged to other parts of speech. So, these “number-words” agreed with other words of the language differently and created a huge mess. Imagine you put the x-form of a word after number 1 and the y-form after number 2.
Add to the fact that, earlier Slavic people counted years in summers which is “лето” in Russian. This artifact has remained in the Russian language to complicate the lives of learners to this day.
The following information is for those who really want to get to the bottom of the question. So, my meticulous reader, let’s have a look at the root of the problem.
Here we use the vocabulary form of year – “год”. How nice! No need to memorize anything.
All of these are… Adjectives! In this group, the number two is the king. Two provides leadership for the rest of the numbers. As an adjective, this numeral agreed with a special category of nouns: dual nouns (neither singular nor plural). A dual noun looked like a modern noun in the singular Genitive tense.
Time passed and everyone forgot about dual nouns, but the trend was so powerful that the other ex-adjectives 3-4 started to mimic the number 2 style. That is why nowadays with the numerals 2-4 we use the word “год” in Genitive singular – “года”.
What part of speech would you think the word пять or семь would refer to if you didn’t know that it was a numeral? Most students say it’s a feminine noun, and they’re right. So, as a typical feminine noun, it would follow the rules of a noun in Genitive case.
So, it would be logical to say “пять годов” and “восемь годов”, but the Slavic word “лето” got involved. We put “лето” in Genitive plural and get “лет”.
This word permanently stuck to numerals 5-19 & 0 numerals and who knows, maybe it will take over the rest with time.
From my own experience, I know it can be dull to memorize a series of linguistic facts. I know tedious research can be irritating and lessen a student’s desire to learn. So, I hope that I managed to answer your most burning “years” questions in one convenient place, and that you’re still full of enthusiasm.