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I know that the soft and hard signs are not consonants or vowels, but do they fall into as masculine, feminine, or neuter?

Коктейль ? , do we put один одна or одно

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    I'd say there is no single rule, соль, моль, корь, but: толь (a loanword) vs стол, a softer ль, for example, is in most cases feminine, but not always. Feb 16, 2019 at 0:59
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    So would you consider it pure memorization?
    – Almonds812
    Feb 16, 2019 at 1:02
  • "Gut feeling", rather. But I am a native speaker, so probably a wrong person to ask. Feb 16, 2019 at 1:06
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    There is an old joke about a Georgian-descent Russian teacher, in a fake Georgian accent that mixes soft and hard pronunciations. (I am writing the correct spelling in parenthesis in order not to confuse the innocent.). "Children, remember, сол (соль) and бол (боль) are written with ь, but вилька (вилка), тарелька (тарелка) spell without it. Memorise it well, because it's impossible to comprehend!" Feb 16, 2019 at 1:10
  • we put один коктейль Feb 16, 2019 at 17:38

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The hard sign and the soft sign (Ъ and Ь) are neither consonants nor vowels; they are categorized as 'signs' (знаки).

There are no words in modern Russian that end in a hard sign.

There are rules that one can use to assign the correct gender to 75% of all words ending in the soft sign and they are described in this answer. However, коктейль belongs to the 25% that you will have to memorize (or develop a hunch for).

Коктейль is masculine:

  • Один коктейль, пожалуйста!

А лучше два коктейля! :)

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Words ending with a soft sign can be either masculine (коктейль, пень, лось, тюлень, etc.) or feminine (тень, дверь, мышь, боль, лень, печаль etc.). They can't be neuter. There are some rules from what I understand, but there are too many exceptions, so really, you just memorize it. I'm not even sure it was explained in school.

It seems that concepts and various phenomena are most likely to be feminine (боль, лень, печаль, etc). Animated objects, for example animals can go either way (лось and тюлень are masculine, but мышь and рысь are feminine).

Бордель and отель are masculine, I assume it's because they are masculine in original French.

I think that animate objects ending with 'тель' are masculine (приятель, учитель, доверитель, поджигатель, etc.), but other words with 'тель' can go either way (двигатель, отражатель - masculine, but метель is feminine).

In Kamchatka there's a river called Парень, with stress on 'е'. That name is feminine, but the word парень is obviously masculine.

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    as for -тель "метель" might be "метелица" (definitely feminine) earlier and later evolved keeping gender. It also might be that only relatively modern words -тель as "smth doer" are masculine. Older words like метель, постель, капель are feminine. And they are process or result of a process, rather than a doer.
    – kirilloid
    Feb 16, 2019 at 15:25
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The main thing I say to my students is namely the allusion to the joke mentioned above. Memorize it, because it is impossible to understand.

The masculine words ending in -ь belong to the 2nd type of declension, and the feminine words ending in -ь make up the 3rd type of declension. They make different case forms. So, Russian children know just how the word is changed throughout the cases, and it is easier for them to learn that the formal sign of the feminine gender ending in [ж], [ш], [ч], [щ] is the soft sign, and it's the main thing about it they have to study.

Печь - она, but меч - он.

Ночь - она, but мяч - он.

Рожь, ложь, тишь, дрожь, мышь - она, but

нож, куш, клещ, борщ, фарш - он.

For the rest words, which end in other soft consonants, there is no formal mark to define the gender.

It is the experience of usage (hearing, speaking) of those words with case endings and adjectives that helps us define the gender of a noun. Because formally there are no means to understand that день - он, but тень - она.

Наводить тень на плетень. Тень - она, плетень - он.

Тень - тени - тени - тень - тенью - о тени. Плетень - плетня - плетню - плетень - плетнём - о плетне.

Since learners do not have this experience, they have to look such words up.

Some words have changed their gender with time. E.g., метро (though there is no -ь there) was initially masculine, when the word was borrowed.

Но метро сверкнул перилами дубовыми,

Сразу всех он седоков околдовал.

And then the word was assimilated and gained the typical for Russian -o-ending words neuter gender.

The same can happen with feminine and masculine in -ь. Most native speakers don't know which gender is мозоль and use both variants. :)

The hard sign has not been used in the end of the words since 1918, so, it does not participate in the gender-forming or defining processes.

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