I've been given the following task: "Let's suppose you have an hourglass that measures 7 minutes and an hourglass that measures 4 minutes, and you need to time 9 minutes by using only these hourglasses."

I've already figured out a solution, but that's the easiest part, for the task is not only to find a solution but also to explain it in Russian, and I'm at a loss as to how to express the very first step, which is to start both hourglasses at the same time.

Запустить оба песочных часов? Запустить обе песочных часов?

Sounds weird and I guess neither of those variants is grammatically correct, for a single hourglass is a plural noun in Russian, whilst the Russian word for "both" requires a singular noun (оба стакана, not оба стаканов).

But how do I say? Is it only silly me who can't figure out the right endings?

I tried to circumvent the problem by using "two" instead of "both": запустить два песочных часов, запустить две песочных часов. But it seems I'm getting exactly the same problem.

I also thought about using "couple" instead of "both": запустить пару песочных часов. I'm unsure whether this variant is grammatically correct, but even if it is, I think it sounds rather like "start a couple of hourglasses," whilst we have the two hourglasses, the ones given. I could try to avoid that by saying запустить нашу пару песочных часов or запустить эту пару песочных часов, but I can't get rid of the feeling of weirdness of using the word "couple" and such constructions in this context.

Desperate, I thought also about запустить все песочные часы, but there are not many hourglasses, just two, so it's weird again. I guess no native Russian speaker will say запустить все песочные часы in this situation.

My mind is overwhelmed and Russian is hard!

Can you help me put my chaotic thoughts in order? Is there any natural way to say "start both hourglasses" in Russian, after all?

  • 3
    I think you've stumbled upon one of those cases for which there is no correct form. "Эту/нашу пару песочных часов" sounds best to me, but really, it's just a weirdness of the language that we all have to live with.
    – Alissa
    Jul 3, 2020 at 16:52
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    Any excuse for this awful text formatting, Mitsuko?))
    – tum_
    Jul 3, 2020 at 17:32
  • @tum_ : Sure, Russian is so hard and I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't pull myself together and write a perfectly structured post :)
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 3, 2020 at 17:41
  • 1
    Tried to format your text to make it a bit more readable. Hope you don't mind.
    – tum_
    Jul 4, 2020 at 1:21
  • 2
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 4, 2020 at 15:18

5 Answers 5


You could say:

Переверните и те и другие песочные часы (одновременно).

The numerals два, три, четыре, оба don't play well with plural-only words like часы, весы, брюки, ножницы, сутки. You can easily say "25 суток" but there is no good way of saying the same for 24. These numerals govern genitive singular which plural-only nouns don't have. The language has partially solved this problem by using collective numerals: двое, трое, четверо суток. But unfortunately there is no collective numeral for 'both' and collective numerals only work in simple cases like 2, 3, 4 but not 22, 23, 24.

Somehow native speakers learn to steer away from these "holes" in the language. There's always a way to say the same thing differently. In your case you can just replace the word оба with compounds и тот и другой or и тот и этот.

  • 3
    Does it really matter which one is which? You are starting them both. That's what и тот, и другой means: it's a synonym for оба (both / either). Jul 3, 2020 at 17:45
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    А почему бы просто не сказать «запустить двое часов одновременно»?
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 3, 2020 at 19:20
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    @Mitsuko - Yes, двое часов is grammatical, Sergey Slepov writes about it in his answer, "The language has partially solved this problem by using collective numerals: двое, трое, четверо суток". *Обои is definitely ungrammatical, there's no such form of оба, оба can be used only with nouns that have a singular form.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 3, 2020 at 19:27
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    И те и другие ---лучший вариант, только глагол странноват.
    – V.V.
    Jul 3, 2020 at 19:53
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    Именно. Зачем же швыряться часами.
    – V.V.
    Jul 4, 2020 at 4:35

I would imagine you can go for

Запустите оба прибора

as it's likely quite possible to understand from the context that you mean hourglasses.

Запусти пару песочных часов.

– так как слово "часы" во множественном числе, мы не можем знать их род (мужской, женский или средний). Поэтому вынуждены импровизировать с использованием вспомогательных слов.

  • 1
    пара часов означает один прибор.
    – Anixx
    Sep 19, 2020 at 23:31
  • @Anixx пара брюк – тоже.
    – wintermute
    Sep 21, 2020 at 15:43

Переверни двое песочных часов одновременно.


Actually it depends on a context, but I think usually it would be like: "Запустите песочные часы", you would not mention "both" in this case if you use plural form and all participant see all the clocks that need to be started, unless it is not obvious and you want to strongly emphasize that, in fact, it is unusual, but you need to start ALL of them - then it would typically be "Запустите ВСЕ песочные часы". "Both" in this context is not used. Other way to get around this is to play around with phrase "запуск(старт) обоих песочных часов", "запустите и те и другие"

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