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Recently I was heckled by a fellow student of mine for saying "Я вижу Лору" (I see Laura). Since Laura (presumably) is not a Russian name, she insisted on "Я вижу Лора".

So when to decline, when not to?

We learned not to decline coffee (e.g. "торт с кофе"), but obviously you should decline Gin (e.g. "Коктейли с джином").

Is there any general rule at play here, or does one just have to learn it on a word-by-word basis?

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And it's quite Russian name ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Can be deminutive from Flora, Larisa, Eleonora. Also consider translating Laura as Лаура ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . –  Anixx Aug 31 at 16:07
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Related: russian.stackexchange.com/q/2689/2060 –  jwalker Aug 31 at 19:44
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Лор is also a doctor (otolaryngologist). So, "я вижу лора" also means "я вижу врача-отоларинголога". –  Artemix Sep 1 at 14:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You are right that Лора declines in Russian, and here are the rules (source: http://www.nazovite.ru/sklonenie/)

The following personal names decline:

  • all names (masculine and feminine, Russian and non-Russian) which end in -а or -я. This is your case.

  • masculine names which end in any consonant (согласный), including -й.

  • Feminine names which end in (мягкий знак).

    • For this last rule, there may be exceptions for some non-Russian names. For instance, the elven name Galadriel (Галадриэль) may or may not decline in Russian. Google finds that both "с Галадриэлью" and "с Галадриэль" are popular.
  • all of these decline as other Russian nouns with the same gender and ending (окончание).

  • the source doesn't mention it, but masculine names which end in decline too. This can be checked with "Хорь и Калиныч" by Иван Тургенев or with French name Поль. See the wiktionary article about how these decline.

All other personal names don't decline. These are:

  • masculine names which end in a vowel other than -а, -я
  • feminine names which end in anything other than -а, -я, -ь

Simply:

  1. -а, -я, -ь? Decline! (With some exceptions for non-Russian feminine names which end in -ь; see below for another exception)
  2. Masculine and a consonant? Decline!
  3. Anything else? Don't decline!

PS: one more exception: French names like Николя (Nicholas), which in French end in a silent consonant, do not decline.

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Your list of rules contains a contradiction: you write at the start that all masculine or feminine names ending in a or я decline, but at the end you write that all masculine name ending in a vowel don't decline. As a concrete example, your rule at the end about masculine names ending in a vowel would imply that Обама should not decline when it refers to the US president (not his wife or daughters), but it does. –  KCd Aug 31 at 15:40
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Fixed. (But Obama is not a personal name, and family names have different set of rules. For example, the family name Обама declines, but the French family name Гра (Gras) does not.) –  user31264 Aug 31 at 15:51
    
Not sure I would decline Николя́. –  Andriy M Sep 1 at 11:06
    
@ Andriy M - you are right, will fix –  user31264 Sep 1 at 13:39
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@user31264 You wrote: “French names like Николя (Nicholas), which in French end in a silent consonant, do not decline”. No, that’s not because silent French ‘s’ or something, things are much simpler than you are trying to present. If the name may be declined under one of Russian declension paradigms, preserving the grammatical gender and number in accordance of actual gender of a person, it shall be declined – that’s all. There just no pattern, that Николя́ fit. (If you have thought about gen. Николе́й – that is 2c masculine or neuter plural, if about gen. Николи́ – that is 2d feminine). –  Dmitry Alexandrov Sep 1 at 15:33

To add to a more elaborate answer by user31264, in Russian almost all foreign nouns that happily fall under one of the usual declension patterns for masculine or feminine nouns do decline as if they were native Russian words. Namely:

  • soft or hard consonant-ending masculine nouns.
  • -а/-я, -ия-ending feminine nouns.

Works for names, too. Usually names and family names in -а/-я decline but there is an exception: when the final -a is stressed, foreign last names are indeclinable.

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