So my question is whether I should use a soft sign at the end of врач when I am referring to a woman doctor? It seems like in this case врач becomes feminine and the same rule as for ночь has to be used.

  1. As it was noted, врач by definition is of 2nd declension, and has nothing to do with feminine words of 3rd declension, such as ночь. More generally, the fem. forms of words are not constructed by fixing “ь” to the end of the m. form (likewise, there is no masculine ноч). In modern Russian the letter “ь” has signal function of pronunciation, although it had some morphological function before, as some scientists think.
  2. The form врачь already exists, and has been used extensively throughout history:

    enter image description here

    I don’t know if there were any morphological differences historically between врачь, врачъ and врач (although I am in the process of obtaining some print sources on their origins), sometimes they had been used interchangeably. I even saw in compendium of the laws of Russian Empire for 1838 how both врачь and врачъ had been used in adjacent paragraphs.


See examples below, at the tail of Russian version. Note the 1790 classic, where the female character uses the word, but declines it according to 2nd declension, as masculine: “врачь присланный къ тебѣ” (“healer that was sent to you”); then 1886 specific clarification “женщина врачь” (“woman doctor”), and 1916 entry in the British-published dictionary where “ъ” on the end was the pre-reform standard.

  1. Как уже было отмечено, врач — по определению слово второго склонения и не имеет никакого отношения к словам ж. р. третьего склонения, таким как ночь. Вообще, формы ж. р. не образовываются добавкой мягкого знака к концу форм м. р (также, нет формы м. р. ноч). В современном русском языке буква «Ь» имеет сигнальную функцию в произношении, хотя она имела некую морфологическую функцию ранее, как думают некоторые учёные.
  2. Форма врачь уже была используема ранее (см. график выше). Я не знаю была ли исторически какая-то морфологическая разница между словами врачь, врачъ и врач (хотя я в настоящее время нахожусь в процессе получения печатных источников), но иногда они были взаимозаменяемы. Я даже видел в сборнике законов Российской Империи от 1838 года, как врачь и врачъ были использованы в соседних параграфах.


У Радищева («Путешествiе изъ Петербурга въ Москву», издание 1905 г. «сохраняя правописанiе перваго его изданiя 1790 года»):

enter image description here

Обратите внимание, как женщина, называя себя врачом, использует его как м. р., II склонения.

Л. Ф. Змеев в своём сборнике «Русскiе врачи писатели» (1886) даже отметил «женщина врачь»:

enter image description here

В 1916 году в словаре Джона Генри Фриза твёрдый знак был дореформенным стандартом:

enter image description here

  • There must have been quite a mess around 1920, one half of people wrote it this way the other half wrote that way :) – Trident D'Gao Aug 27 '13 at 20:09
  • Apparently, as I mentioned in the post, it was such a mess when in the same codex two versions were used on the same page. – theUg Aug 27 '13 at 21:28

In this case врач is an occupation, so it doesn't change it's gender and still remains masculine (see водитель (driver), повар (cook)).

There are some (rare) cases of special feminine form of occupation (like поэтесса (female) vs. поэт ), but that's not it.

So, there's no need in soft sign.

  • Not sure if повар is a good example, because повариха seems to be rather common. So is водительница. – theUg Jan 29 '13 at 2:29
  • 1
    I cannot think of any case where adding a soft sign could be used to make a masculine noun to be feminine. In my opinion, it is altogether irrelevant if the word denotes an occupation, or a relative, or anything else. – Olga Jan 29 '13 at 10:08

The word "врач" belongs to the second declension. Nouns of the first and second declension ending in sibilant are written without a soft sign.

  • That's true for words of 1st and 2nd declensions and the soft sign but I do not see how it is relevant :-). The word of profession for woman can jump to a different declension. F.e кассир -> кассирша jumps from the 2nd to the 1st declension. – farfareast Nov 8 '12 at 2:03
  • @farfareast The rule applies to both first and second declension. Moreover, the question is specifically about the word "врач", not "врачиха" (which no longer ends in sibilant). – Sergey Kalinichenko Nov 8 '12 at 3:43
  • In my understanding the question is about creation from the word врач a new word that would denote "woman-врач". OP hypothetically suggests for this new word the word врачь which would belong to the 3rd declension like ночь. – farfareast Nov 8 '12 at 4:20
  • @farfareast But the word does not change - it remains the same word. According to XXXVI/§146 of Розенталь "Многие имена существительные мужского рода, обозначающие лицо по профессии [...] сохраняют свою форму и в тех случаях, когда относятся к лицам женского пола". – Sergey Kalinichenko Nov 8 '12 at 4:35
  • Example of what OP possible meant: мыш - he, 2nd declension; мышь - she, 3rd declension. (According to shabunc word мыш exists in some dialects.) We know that the word врачь does not exist. The OP asks why not. – farfareast Dec 7 '12 at 1:38

No, you shouldn't. Moreover, it by all means incorrect. There exist only colloquial врачиха and докторша, but "врачь" is wrong and, as far as I know, never've been valid in Russian.

It's like you've asked whether the feminine form of мяч is мячь - the thing is not all nouns exist in feminine form.

  • The form врачь had indeed been valid, and used extensively in the years past. – theUg Jan 30 '13 at 0:30
  • @theUg, your answer is amazing. I've seen on rare occasion врачь but was sure that this was mistypen ъ. – shabunc Jan 30 '13 at 7:33

Она врач. Она генерал. Она сапёр. Some words in Russian do not have masculine / feminine form.

Actually, you can say врачиха, генеральша, саперша. Though it literally means жена врача, жена генерала, жена сапера (wife of ....), you will be understood correctly in most situations because many people use these words as female forms, not as a "wife of ...".

  • 4
    1896: «Для обозначенiя докторской профессiи женщины, въ свою очередь, нѣтъ подходящаго выраженiя, и принято обозначать ее двумя словами „женщина-врачъ”, такъ какъ подъ „докторшей” разумѣется жена доктора, а „врачиха” звучитъ уничижительно. Всѣ эти недохватки языка обрисовываютъ уже ходъ развитiя такъ называемаго „женскаго вопроса” и показываютъ, съ какимъ трудомъ женщина завоевываетъ себѣ самостоятельное мѣсто въ обществѣ и во всѣхъ сферахъ дѣятельности.» – theUg Jan 30 '13 at 0:49

It's true that the words that end with ь are usually feminine grammatical gender in Russian but it does not mean that adding ь at the end is a good way of creating woman profession name from the masculine gender profession name. For this there are other standard endings.

I only remember one such usage with ь in a children's story tale. In this story the author used мыш instead of мышь for the name of a male mouse personage. It was mimicking children's language.

For feminine of врач - врачиха can be used but only in an informal conversation. In more formal speech (more respectful) you do not have any other choice except using врач and show that it is she by using feminine ending of a verb (if it is the past tense), adjective, or use она nearby. For example: Врач Иваненко пришл*а* сегодня очень рано. Врач Иваненко очень компетентн*а* в этом вопросе. Врач сегодня не принимает, она будет принимать завтра.

EDIT: OP is definitely not the first who thinks about such experimentation with Russian. Example: Ночи без мягких знаков, глухие мужские ночи (Зимовье зверей). But it is more natural to remove ь (for fun) to make masculine from feminine than vice versa. When we make (for fun) feminine from masculine we usually add -а or -я ending (or some other ending that ends with a). Like мыша (stress on second syllable).

One example I could remember of going from masculine to feminine via -ь is лёд -> наледь. But it is quite rare case not mentioning that it involves also adding prefix на- and changing ё to е. More often when you add -ь you get completely different word: вон - вонь, мол - моль. I guess the difference in sound is too small to be distinguishable enough, so the language did not accept such way of word creation.

  • In some dialects мыш/мыша used to be masculine. – shabunc Oct 29 '12 at 20:42

Врачиха, только стилистически изображая способ выражения низшего класса или ругательски.

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