I want to express that I had a short night.

Night is a feminine noun, so I would decline the adjective accordingly:

Моя ночь была короткая.

I know that short forms exist and can be applied, when used predicatively:

Моя ночь была коротка.

This is what Google Translate suggests as well and - it is usually right.

However, on-line I also found this version quite often:

Моя ночь была короткой.

From a grammatical perspective, I would use either короткая or коротка. But since короткой is also used a lot of times, I wonder which version is correct or more common.

To make things even worse:

When I translate "The weather was cold.", Google Translate suggests this:

Погода была холодной.

Though погода is also a feminine noun, in this case the ending -ой is suggested. I know that Google is by far not a perfect translator, but still, this confuses me.

  • There is no difference at all (in style, emphasis or anything else).
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 15:11
  • 5
    All 3 proposals are grammatically correct, but as pointed out by @shabunc they don't sound natural. Something like "Я мало спал" IMHO is a better fit. One more aspect that you may want to consider is the use of possessives in Russian, which is summarized here: russian.stackexchange.com/a/15496/4903
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:45
  • @Vitaly: Does У меня была короткая ночь. sound more natural for native speakers? Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:32
  • 1
    Maybe that's just me, but I feel like Я мало спал. suggests that it was my choice to have a short night, whereas Моя ночь была короткая. indicates that my night was short due to external factors (which is what I want to emphasize). Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:34
  • @user1438038 Using "у меня..." makes it better. But Google finds only 110 examples of this phrase, mostly in translations from English. Some of the other examples that use "короткая ночь" are about summer solstice, or from sci-fi books about cosmos and another planet. "Мало спал" = "didn't get much sleep" without any hint to what caused it.
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:45

6 Answers 6


Literal translation are not applicable in plenty of cases. One can help you to decline ночь and conjugate быть properly but the real answer is that it's better to be translated like: "Я [cегодня] плохо спал" or "мне плохо / мало спалось".

  • 2
    It's interesting that in Russian we use "сегодня", where English requires "last night".
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:51

Foregoing the issue of your choice of words (as I don’t know what you are trying to convey), the difference between endings here is purely stylistic, as they are both perfectly correct.

These two scream ‘literary’:

Погода была холодна

Ночь была коротка

While these two will be by far more common in everyday speech:

Погода была холодной

Ночь была короткой

  • 1
    While Ночь была короткой is the most typical version, I disagree about погода: Погода была холодная is much more typical than ... холодной (25:1 by search results at ruscorpora.ru). Examples by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky can be found among google results.
    – Alex_ander
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:50
  • Oh, absolutely. холодная is just as valid as холодной, and likely more prevalent. Both will be far more common in speech, just as холодна will gravitate toward highbrow literature, which was the point I was making.
    – CBlew
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 10:04

Well, it's great that you recognise the as a Fem. Sg. Instrumental. In my opinion, the difference between Instrumental Vs Nominative predicate in Russian is a difference between perfected (non-present tempus) and imperfected aspects of the phrase.

The former is similar to essive predicate in Estonian and Finnish languages. Cf:

У меня была длинная ночь (the statement is related to the moment of the utterance).

У меня ночь была длинной (the nocturnal longitude is irrelevant for the moment);

У меня длинная ночь (present tense, since no possibility to use it instrumental - but it's possible in Polish);

У меня будет длинная ночь (non-evidentiality, irrelevance for the moment);

Ночь у меня будет длинной (the focus of the utterance is concentraded on the nocturnal longitude again).

Like in Polish, the Russian instrumental predicate can be used with a personal form of copula быть, but because this verb is used only in past and future tenses, the genitive рredicate is never used in Russian in its present tense.

Because of regularity of this pattern, I think it goes back to common Slavic roots, just like a shortened form of the adjectives. It also expresses temporal modality, together with definatenes/indefinatenes:

  • Ночь (у меня) была длинна (indefinite, non-evidential quality, hence the lofty supramundane overtones);

Моя ночь длинна (indefinite, hence, non-evidential).

  • Ночь у меня будет длинна. (indefinite future, hence it sounds improbable and a bit dramatic).

Shortened forms are never used in instrumental.

  • So basically you agree with @Alex_ander that temporal aspects are relevant, when choosing either of both forms. If the process is not completed yet, use -ая or . If the action is completed, rather use -ой. Is that what you were saying? Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 17:09
  • @user 1438038 It's more about perfectiveness VS inperfectiveness than about tempus. --ой goes well with single-time or momental qualities -- which could be completed or not-- so in a very simplified manner I would say yes, basically we agree on this point, but because -ой is an instrumental singular for both -ая and , I wouldn't say that agreeing on this small issue helps much with the rest of the grammatical rules applicable.
    – Manjusri
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 15:04

This answer is not about declension of adjectives, but about idiomatic translations of "I had a short night"

Here are some options to consider:

  • Я мало спал [сегодня/прошлой ночью] - I didn't get much sleep [last night].
  • Я не выспался [сегодня] - I didn't get enough sleep [last night].
  • Мне не дали выспаться - My sleep was interrupted (either by waking up early, or bothering intermittently through the night).
  • Я поздно лёг/уснул [прошлой ночью] - I went to bed late [last night].

I wonder which version is correct or more common.

With the past and future forms of быть, both nominative and instrumental can be used, with the present form nominative only, with the infinitive instrumental only.

This feature of Russian is regarded a Polonism by some authors (Polish does use instrumental even in present with быть).

Old Russian used dative in this position, which is fossilized in some set phrases (не до жиру, быть бы живу), however, this had later changed to instrumental, either by analogy with становиться, делаться, казаться etc., or through Polish influence (or both).


Looks like ночь and погода cases are apples and oranges. The most common versions:

ночь была короткой (they woke me up in the middle of the night and took me to my workplace)

ночь была коротка (it seemed short to both of us)

погода была хорошая (that day; 25:1 vs хорошей, by the results from ruscorpora.ru)

A possible reason of that difference. The versions короткой/хорошей express qualities of things that don't exist anymore (or at least no more keep that quality), while the versions короткая/хорошая express qualities of things that might still exist and even keep their quality. The particular night is definitely gone, so much more likely it's короткой, while some weather still exists and it might be as good as it was at the time of interest.

In case of weather (which always somehow exists) much comes from the nature of weather. But things can also depend on context, so here's an example about people (cases of noun vary here):

Её отец был лётчик (who left the family long ago but most likely still serves as a pilot).

Её отец был лётчиком (who died as a hero or changed his profession).

Bottom line: much depends on the current existence / non-existence of things (or state of things).

  • I appreciate your effort, but is that an official grammar rule or merely your interpretation? Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 16:49

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