Similar to one of my previous posts, I am wondering what case is used for nouns preceded by numbers of different nature (when there is some discrepancy over which number, or an approximation).

This is because numbers like 1 or 21 are different from numbers like 2, 3, and 4, which are, in turn, different from the rest in which case is used (any, s. gen., and pl. gen., respectively).

Ex. 1: один или два (год?)(года?)

Ex. 2: три или пять (года?)(лет?)

Which way is correct? Is there more than one correct way?

  • I think два или три года would mean: either two years or three years (definitely one choice or the other), whereas if you want to say "approximately two or three years" it would be два-три года (or 2—3 года). So "discrepancy over which number" and "approximation" would be expressed differently. Maybe a native speaker can confirm? May 10, 2016 at 7:35

2 Answers 2


In short, the last one takes precedence:

один или два года
три или пять лет

UPD. Well, as Russian language has free word order, I'd better put it another way: the closest number decides. For example,

Три года или пять
Три или лет пять
Лет пять или три

  • 10
    "Три или лет пять" - так нельзя говорить. Зато можно вот так: "Года три или лет пять" May 8, 2016 at 22:27
  • 1
    @Matt Потому что из "три или лет пять" совершенно непонятно чего три. "Три года" совсем не единственный вариант. Да и само по себе звучит коряво.
    – Abakan
    May 9, 2016 at 12:56
  • 2
    @Matt Если фраза звучит нормально только в контексте, то и приводить ее нужно вместе с контекстом, иначе для изучающего язык никакой пользы. А то в контексте можно что угодно сказать. "Три или вода закипела", например. Только никто не станет приводить эту фразу в качестве понятной.
    – Abakan
    May 9, 2016 at 13:40
  • 2
    От трех до пяти.
    – bipll
    May 23, 2016 at 19:08
  • 2
    "Три или пять лет". I wouldn't say neither "три или лет пять", nor "года три или лет пять". If it really sounds weird it's better to include both numerals, both nouns.
    – Mr Zak
    Oct 1, 2016 at 16:47

i disagree with the chosen response, its example phrases although understandable diverge from the standard usage and good style

in my opinion the rule is as follows:

A. when two numerals call for the same noun but in different numbers (sing. & pl.), only the first one is spelled out whereas the second is implied

Ex. 1: один или два (год?)(года?)

(один) год или два

B. when two numerals call for different nouns, both nouns are spelled out

Ex. 2: три или пять (года?)(лет?)

три года или пять лет

and also it's important to remember that a Russian noun for the word year varies depending on the declension of a numeral

N - *1 год, *2 - *4 гОда, *5 - *9 and round numbers лет
G - *1 гОда, *2 and onwards лет
D - *1 гОду, *2 and onwards годАм
А = N
I - *1 гОдом, *2 and onwards годАми
P - *1 гОде, *2 and onwards годАх
L(ocative) *1 годУ, *2 and onwards годАх

  • Would you say the difference between "один год или два" and "один или два года" is like the difference between "a year or two" and "one or two years"?
    – casey
    Oct 1, 2016 at 16:07
  • yes, that's a pretty apposite parallel, the difference is stylistic, where one of the phrases sounds awkward or less neat Oct 1, 2016 at 17:11

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