Russian grammar: tips for beginners

Although part of the same Indo-European family of languages as Western European ones, the structure of Russian differs in several ways. Clearly, one is its use of the Cyrillic alphabet. Another is its grammar. Unlike many languages, a new learner can make good strides in acquiring basic Russian without worrying about grammatical rules. However, at some point, tackling Russian grammar rules becomes essential.

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Russian grammar basics

A newcomer to the language can learn simple vocabulary and even put together short phrases and sentences without focussing directly on Russian adjectives, nouns, verbs or other speech parts. This is thanks to the fact that the language has no articles and does not use "to be" in the present tense.

What are the basic rules of Russian grammar?

  • They use personal and possessive pronouns

  • There are no articles in Russian

  • Nouns can be plural or singular

  • Nouns are gendered

  • Russian has six cases: nomative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, prepositional

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Understanding Russian pronouns

Getting to grips with Russian personal pronouns is particularly important for conversation. Helpfully, the basic principle is the same as for English, with a pronoun replacing a noun. The language has several categories of pronouns. However, rather than try to distinguish Russian reflexive pronouns from, for example, Russian relative pronouns, a new learner could choose a more organic learning process through practising dialogue and listening skills. The time for tackling Russian pronouns and cases and the gender system that accompanies them will come later in the learning journey.

Important tips of Russian grammar

  • The language uses three genders: masculine, feminine and neutral. It is this gender that dictates a word's ending.

  • Russian uses six different cases: accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental, nominative and prepositional. Almost all parts of speech change according to the case, with Russian adverbs being the major exception.

  • Most verbs are regular, and the past tense does not involve any conjugating. As an added bonus, the language contains very few irregular verbs.

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Learning Russian grammar with an app

  • Although the intricacies of Russian grammar might seem best suited to the classroom, an app is a very flexible way of learning. It enables you to progress at your own pace and to revise materials as often as needed.

  • The Babbel app uses native speakers to give you as authentic an experience as possible.

  • Babbel's personalised review dashboard and dialogue trainer allows you to review your past learning and practice it in real-world situations even if your paid subscription has ended.

Russian grammar for poetry, romance and literature

The language of Tolstoy, Pushkin and Akhmatova might seem far beyond anyone grappling with the basics of the Russian language. Despite this, it's well worth having the language's literature as one of your goals. Unlike English, Russian is not a language of verbs. Rather, it is one of descriptive phrases, deep emotion and some of the world's most rewarding and absorbing novels, plays and poems. Nothing can replace reading a work of literature in its original language, and this is where mastery of Russian can ultimately take you.

Design your own Russian language learning experience

Whatever your reasons for learning Russian, Babbel has the course for you. However, understanding your own motivations will help you choose the right way of learning. For instance, you might want to choose a course aimed at business users or, if a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express is more your thing, you'll perhaps prefer one focusing on holidays. Once you've identified your motivation, it's time to decide how much time you can devote to learning. Babbel's unique structure allows you to study as little or as much as you want, and always at times that suit you. You're welcome to try your first lesson for free and you'll then have the option of upgrading to a paid subscription giving you access to all the courses in your preferred language. As well as lessons, the Babbel app also delivers a series of podcasts to help cement your learning.