The Nominative Case
In the hallway, Anna gave Igor's book to Ivan. В коридоре, Анна дала Ивану книгу Игоря.
Anna ("Анна") is the subject of the sentence; she is the one doing the action. Anna is in nominative case, which is in fact the dictionary form of the word.
In English, the subject is usually in the first position in a sentence, unless the first position (as in our example sentence) is in another case like the prepositional, or is maybe a verb.
In the singular, most feminine Russian nouns end with either "a" ("а") or "ia" ("я"). The endings depend on the hardness and softness of the preceding consonants (or a spelling rule: see the Russian alphabet page -- in progress -- for more information). Most masculine nouns end in a consonant (also called the "zero ending"). Most neuter nouns end in "o" or "e" ("о"/"е"), likewise depending on the hardness or softness of the preceding consonant (or a spelling rule).
Compare these two sentences:
Igor hits Ivan.
Ivan hits Igor.
In the sentence above, the subject is in the first position. The meaning only changes when not only the position of the words change, but the case they are in changes with them. In English, we express these changes by word order. In the Russian version of the sentences, look at the endings of the two men engaged in bellicose behavior. Depending on who is getting hit, the endings change from consonants to "a" or "ia" ("а"/"я"). They do not become feminine, rather there is a limited number of endings available to Russian words to reveal their function in the sentence, and it just so happens that the primary endings for singular animate masculine nouns in the accusative are the same as the primary endings for feminine nouns in the nominative.
Most Russian nouns can become plural. For most masculine and feminine nouns, the plural is formed by adding "y" ("ы") to a hard consonant stem (the part before the ending -- this includes the "zero-ending" of masculine nouns!) or "i" ("и") to soft consonant stems and certain spelling rule stems. The neuter plurals are formed similarly, except that "a" ("а") replaces "o" ("о") and "ia" ("я") replaces "e" ("е") and "ie"/"io" ("ё"). Giving our example sentence a plural subject would therefore give us the following:
The Igors hit Ivan.
The Ivans hit Igor.
ADJECTIVES IN THE NOMINATIVE
Russian has a system of complete agreement between adjectives and nouns -- the adjectives reflect perfectly the case, gender, and number of the nouns to which they are referring. If we added an adjective to our first example sentence, we might get:
In the hallway, young Anna gave Igor's blue book to Ivan. В коридоре, молодая Анна дала Ивану голубую книгу Игоря.
"Молодая" ("young") agrees with the word "Анна" ("Anna") -- it shows that the noun it is referring to is feminine, nominative, and singular -- just like the word "Анна" is in the sentence. The following chart provides the adjective endings in the nominative case. A discussion of some forms follows, along with a link to some exercises on the nominative as a whole.
Special commentary: all of the above endings, which are hard-stemmed endings, can vary with their soft-stemmed counterparts if needed, such as in the following adjective "последний" ("last"):
a masculine singular
adjective ends with the stress, then the ending is automatically
"oi" ("ой") as in "молодой"
("young"). Also, spelling rules may require that some
adjectives have the apparent "soft" variant ending:
Pronouns in the nominative reflect the gender and number of the nouns they replace. In the thrid-person, this is particularly clear. Whereas English uses "it" Russian uses whichever suits the gender of the original noun:
In each instance, the translation into English of the pronoun above could be it/he/she/they, depending on the context.
Test your knowledge with these exercises on the nominative case.