Were there once vocative forms, different from nominative forms, of common nouns such as книга, буря, стол, место, мышь, имя, and if so, what were they?

I realise that most of these probably died out before the orthographic reform of 1918 and possibly also before previous reforms. That aside, would it be accurate to say that the vocatives of say книга, буря, and стол were, rendered in modern orthography, книге, буре (or бури?), and столе?

3 Answers 3


Old Russian had several declension paradigms. Traditionally, those paradigms are defined by the final sounds of the "historical stem" (историческая основа), that is the stem of the Proto-Slavic etymons of Russian words.

Most of these paradigms do have an attested distinct vocative form.

If we mechanically applied the paradigms, they would give us къниго ( stem), боуре (-ja stem), столе (m. -o stem), мыши (f. -i stem). In the modern orthography, they would have been книго, буре, столе, мыши.

The vocative is usually not reconstructed for neuter nouns in Old Russian. The word чадо, animate in the modern language, in Old Russian was used in the nominative form in vocative positions. Church Slavonic, on the other hand, regularly uses the form слове in the vocative.

Имя has the historical stem in -men. This paradigm doesn't have attested vocatives.

In spoken Russian, the vocative had completely died out by the XVI century. In several set forms, mostly used in the religious context: боже, господи, Иисусе, отче, дево, царю etc., it still lingers, influenced by Church Slavonic.


The vocative is mostly useful to call to someone, so it's not really relevant in practice for most words. It's still used in contemporary Russian for words like папа, vocative пап (lack of final vowel), or мама, voc. мам.

  • 1
    I've heard Russians cut off the final vowel in names like that, but is that a true grammatical vocative or just a spoken trend?
    – CocoPop
    Jan 4 at 13:37
  • 1
    @CocoPop: true how? It's an optional, but consistent separate form of names and terms of endearment of the first declension, only used in the vocative position.
    – Quassnoi
    Jan 7 at 1:51
  • @Quassnoi true in the sense of is it an actual grammatical rule in action or is it a colloquial vocative trend?
    – CocoPop
    Jan 7 at 16:51
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    @CocoPop: there is a well-defined form (папа/пап, Маша/Маш etc) which can be used in well-defined conditions (addressing a person) for a well-defined class of nouns (1st declension name-like nouns: that is names proper, family relationship terms, and terms of endearment). It's optional, in the sense that you can always replace it with the nominative and it will still be grammatical, but you can totally use it in a wrong way, so there is a rule. You can address someone whose nickname is Пуля using the word Пуль, but you cannot use it to address an actual bullet (poetically or otherwise).
    – Quassnoi
    Jan 7 at 17:46
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    @Cocopop: in English, as far as I know, you can use cutesy forms of some names, like "Sheila > Sheils, Mimsy > Mims" etc., but I'm not sure there's a pattern to the names that lend themselves to this usage. In Russian, there is.
    – Quassnoi
    Jan 7 at 17:50

It is very difficult to answer your question exactly. There surely were ancestors of the contemporary Russian language with vocative for all words, as in the contemporary Czech or Ukrainian, for all Slovan languages have active Vocative case now, but no one of these ancestors was called Russian. Nowadays we call them Praslovan or old Eastern Slovan languages.

At the start of the 20th Century, the Russian language had vocative case only for 2 words.

But we cannot say that vocative is not active in the contemporary Russian language, too.

There are two vocative cases in contemporary Russian. The old one, nicely described by Quassnoi, is now used only for the words боже and отче. These two also did exist at the start of the 20th century.

Aside from these two words, the vocative case is used only in distinctively archaic or poetic speech. We inherited this vocative case from the common Slavic language and it's presently still used in most contemporary Slavic languages but has practically died off in Russian.

Despite that, there is a living, sound, different, shortened, contemporary vocative that independently appeared in the spoken language in the 20th century. It exists only in informal speech for nouns of the first declension, but, on the other hand, it can be used with many of them. That declension includes all nouns of male or female genders ending in -а,-я.

папа - пап! мама - мам! няня - нянь!

The longer and the more complicated the noun is for the most part, the less speakers are inclined to use this vocative with it. Forms like Кать! Жень! Мам! - are a spoken norm.

Exception: Never "сестр!" but "сеструх!" is totally OK. 

Longer nouns with the stress on the next-to-last syllable end up with the stress on the final syllable in their vocative form and are absolutely normal: Сережа - Сереж! Валера - Валер! дедуля - дедуль! бабуля - бабуль! Сестренка - сестренк! Наташа - Наташ!

However, if the vocative stress ends up anywhere but on the last syllable, it sounds very strange: бáбушка - бáбушк! - can be used, but isn't by many speakers.

For these words, the nominative form is normally only used instead of the vocative case in formal speech or when the speaker is shouting, trying to make themself heard; the longer form is simply easier to hear.

Note that if you're speaking, not shouting, and not using that case for the above-mentioned words, you're speaking formally. Pay attention!

Some suffixes can make the vocative sound strange — even in shorter words: Мамк! - is somewhat acceptable, but much more people will simply say мамка! or мам!

For some words with suffixes, the vocative can take an even shorter form by dropping the suffix: братишка - братиш! & братишк!

For some non-personal names, even without suffixes, the vocative could still be used, but isn't by many speakers.

Собак! sounds wrong.

With most of the four-syllable nouns in the nominative, the vocative becomes almost impossible. (See one exception in the next point) продавщица - the vocative is impossible here.

Sometimes forms considered awkward or even impossible immediately become acceptable when the vocative form is meant to be offensive by the speaker: Училк! Инженерк! - Beware — this is a distinctly impolite form. It expresses contempt. Additionally, a special pronunciation is applied, with the stressed syllable exaggerated and prolonged.

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