2

Russian differentiates between animate and inanimate nouns:

Я вижу кота

Я вижу дом

In principle all animate nouns are either masculine or feminine but cannot be neuter. So why "животное" and not "животная" or "животный"?

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  • Since the sex of said animal is not known, it makes total sense it to be neutral.
    – alamar
    Dec 17 '19 at 9:27
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    But still for some reason you do not wonder why мертвец ('dead person') and робот ('robot') are masculine and animate. :D
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 17 '19 at 10:37
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    @YellowSky the famous distinction between "мертвец" and "труп" ))) also - robots would like to have a word with you )))
    – shabunc
    Dec 17 '19 at 10:42
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    A list of animate neuter nouns: gramdict.ru/search?symbol=со Dec 17 '19 at 18:33
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    @SergeySlepov. Cool site!
    – farfareast
    Dec 19 '19 at 2:48
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The real answer is the claim that "in principle all animate nouns are either masculine or feminine but cannot be neutral" is false. For instance, we consider obsolete yet existent word "дитё" (or "дитя") which is animate and neuter. Or "чадо", or "существо", or "чудовище" etc.

The situation is not unique to Russian, there's a famous example from German, a Mädchen or Kind, which are also neuter.

Animacy and gender are different grammar features and while relationships between them are complicated. That complicated that some researchers even go that far that they conclude that there's more than 3 genders in Russian and some other Slavic languages.

It's quite safe, however. to assume that animacy/inanimacy doesn't necessarily implies specific gender.

Here's a quote from wikipedia:

While animacy is viewed as primarily semantic when approached diachronically, a synchronic view suggests animacy as a sublevel of gender. Syntactic gender is defined through patterns in agreement, not necessarily semantic value. For example, Russian has "common gender" nouns that refer to traditionally masculine roles but act as syntactically feminine.

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    This isn't my claim but one of my study book[1] ^^ However I took the time to check other sources and indeed, animate neuter nouns, however rare, do exist in Russian. [1] Le Russe sans peine, Victoria Melnikova-Suchet, Assimil, 2008 (ISBN 978-2-7005-0382-1)
    – almerillat
    Dec 18 '19 at 18:09
  • @almerillat - Oh!.. I've had a look at the book and it really says, "Neuter nouns are always inanimate, because animate nouns are always either feminine or masculine; the accusative is therefore the same as the nominative." (page 527 in my English-language 2011 edition). That is really wrong, as you can see Russian does have neuter gender animate nouns, and they have accusative same as the nominative only in the singular, in the plural they have accusative same as the genitive, like all the animate plural nouns.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 19 '19 at 0:00
  • @YellowSky yes exactly there, in the grammar section at the end of the book. Didn't know it hat been translated in English by the way.
    – almerillat
    Dec 19 '19 at 19:20
  • @almerillat - Beside the English version, I've also seen a Spanish one.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 19 '19 at 21:06

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