My Russian textbook gives the example, «Я родилась в июне сорок восьмого года.» Shouldn't genitive год following eighth be лет instead of года? Is this a mistake in my textbook? If not, could you please explain what's going on here? Is года in this formation simply a special case?

  • 1
    Восемь лет (cardinal) но восьмой год (ordinal)
    – jwalker
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:21
  • @jwalker If you expand on that, it could be a nice answer. :) Thanks.
    – Alenanno
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:21
  • @Alenanno Too lazy right now. That's why it's a comment :)
    – jwalker
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:22
  • Some more examples. Talking about age: "Мне было пять лет когда мне подарили велосипед", "В начале пятого года моей жизни мне подарили велосипед", "на пятом году моей жизни мне подарили велосипед". About period of time or counting the years: "Пять лет я не ел шоколада", "Вот уже пятый год как я не ел шоколада".
    – Artemix
    Apr 19, 2014 at 7:45
  • Word лет is plural.
    – Anixx
    Apr 20, 2014 at 8:17

6 Answers 6


When you refer to a point in time (calendar date) it is never "лет", always some form of "год". You use "лет" when referring to how many years passed, age etc. Like "I'm 5 years old" - "мне 5 лет". On the other hand "I'm 2 years old" is "мне 2 года". "Two/five years ago" is "Два года назад" "Пять лет назад"

  • After reading this and some thought, would I be correct in saying that, in my example, I use «года» instead of «лет» because "year" in the literal translation "...of the year [19]48" is a single year, not "48 years"?
    – Dale
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:38
  • @Dale correct, it's a n-th year
    – jwalker
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:40
  • What if it was 5 AD, when Jesus was 5 years old? It's still «5 года» not «лет». So I think that it's about referring to a point in time and not related to counting in this case. Apr 18, 2014 at 21:47

I'm russian, but not a linguist, so my answer is a practical. Sorry for this.
When you reference some particular calendar year, it is always год. For instance:

в таком-то году.
в 1945 году.
шел 2014 год...

Also in the following time ago (or time range) values год is used:

1 год назад (1 year ago); это продолжалось 1 год (it was for 1 year)
2 года назад (2 years ago); это продолжалось 2 года
3 года назад (3 years ago); это продолжалось 3 года
4 года назад (4 years ago); это продолжалось 4 года


5 лет назад (5 years ago); это продолжалось 5 лет
6 лет назад (6 years ago)
20 лет назад (20 years ago)

And again:

21 год назад
22 года назад
23 года назад
24 года назад

And again:

25 лет назад

The same thing for age:

Сколько ему лет? (How old is he?)
41 год (41 years)
42 года (42 years)
43 года (43 years)
44 года (44 years)
45 лет (45 years)

So, the rule:
if the number of years ago or time range or age is:

  1. 1 OR (> 20 and ends with 1) it will be год.
  2. 2 .. 4 OR (> 20 and ends with 2 .. 4) it will be года
  3. In all other cases - лет.
  • 1
    Not always. Мне не исполнилось двадцати трёх лет.
    – user31264
    Apr 19, 2014 at 4:12
  • @user31264: I think the rule described in the answer only applies to nominative and accusative.
    – Giorgio
    May 1, 2014 at 15:42

The textbook is correct. Plural genitive of год is either годов or лет, but singular genitive is года. Сорок восьмой год is singular, so июнь сорок восьмого года is singular genitive.

  • Thanks for pointing out «Сорок восьмой год» is singular, that's another good way for me to remember singular vs. plural here.
    – Dale
    Apr 19, 2014 at 18:15
  • Literally translated to English you also get a singular: June of the forty eighth year. That's why you use a genitive singular.
    – Giorgio
    May 1, 2014 at 12:52

In english it is in the year 1948, which is a cardinal, a quantity number. In russian however, it is in the 1948th year, which is an ordinal, an ordinal number. You may use the 48th year, the 948th year or the 1948th year in russian.

Of course, after the numeral eight it is лет, but after an ordinal it is год.

To make smthing clear, the question was not about age, but about year of birth, which is the year in a date. Dates seems handled differently in RF, that in USA or EU. And one has to add year always in russian, sometimes implied. For ages both languages use cardinal numbers, quantity numbers (russian name of it).

The same difference in usage of ordinals holds for other numbers, in german we say tramway number five, or platform two, the St. Raphael hospital, but in russian it is the fifth autobus, or the second platform, the one hundred second clinique.

+edit+ russian orthography with arabic ordinal numbers requires endings: 1948-й год, в июне месяце 1948-го года, and spoken it is в июне месяце тысяча девятьсот сорок восьмого года.


"Года" is genitive of "год", "лет" is plural of genitive of "год"

  • Can you add some examples that explain your answer?
    – Artemix
    Apr 19, 2014 at 19:46
  • "годов" is plural genitive of "год" too.
    – Abakan
    Jan 6, 2016 at 13:34

This is a reminiscent of two very old constructions. First, the long periods of times were counted by "summers", i.e. in medieval annals. There we read something like "Лета от сотворения мира ХХXX,...", i.e. "In the 'summer' XXXX from The Creation of the World...". The other distinctive feature of Russian language is a different paradigm for forming of plurals for the cardinals that end with 2,3,4 (which, according to some hypotheses, reflects a stage of a proto-language that still had no cardinals greater than 5, but this then should have been some Pre-Proto-Indoeuropean language then). Thus, "четрыре кота" (singular genitive) but "пять котов" (plural genitive). The form "лет" is thus a fossilized form that preserves older (possibly Church-Slavonic) norm.

  • Is it correct that this -a ending (which is nowadays confused with the genitive) is the same that is found in the numeral two?
    – Giorgio
    May 1, 2014 at 12:54
  • Oh, here I may indeed confuse You with the "-a" of dual ending. But this sounds surprising for me - why then this -a for 3 and 4? May 1, 2014 at 15:14
  • I have no problem to accept that the -a is a dual ending. That it is used with 3 and 4 is indeed strange. Maybe the indoeuropean dual was originally a paucal (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_number#Paucal)?
    – Giorgio
    May 1, 2014 at 15:40
  • Good hypothesis, but I'm not a linguist, and I doubt my introduction to Indoeurpean says anything about that. This may well also be a particular Slavic development (for, say, in Latvian the paradigm is regular except for the factors of 10 which employ a distinct form.) May 1, 2014 at 15:43
  • Neither am I. So how are these numbers treated in Latvian?
    – Giorgio
    May 1, 2014 at 15:47

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