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In the nominative case, if we are counting something of size 2, 3, or 4 then the object being counted is in the genitive singular case, e.g., три треугольника. If we have an adjective involved, then it is genitive plural if the noun is masculine or neuter (e.g., три различных треугольника, три различных числа), but the situation with adjectives modifying feminine nouns that are being counted is more involved.

One reference I found said that in the nominative case after 2, 3, and 4 an adjective modifying a feminine noun is in the nominative plural (e.g., три различные функции). Another reference said that this rule is "normally" true if the noun has the same stress in genitive singular and nominative plural -- which I guess is what most feminine nouns are like -- and if the noun has different stress in genitive singular and nominative plural then the adjective is "normally" genitive plural (e.g., три различных стороны).

A) I'd like to know some counterexamples to these two stress tests for determining the case ending on adjectives modifying feminine nouns being counted by 2, 3, or 4. (If there weren't counterexamples then I'd think that reference would have explained the rules without the qualifying label of them being "normally" true.)

B) Is there a comprehensive rule for the case endings on adjectives modifying feminine nouns being counted by 2, 3, and 4 (with the numbers themselves being in the nominative case)?

I realize that anything applying to 2, 3, and 4 can be extended to other numbers ending in 2, 3, and 4 (except 12, 13, 14), but I keep the question restricted to 2, 3, and 4 for simplicity.

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    I would never say "три различных чисел" or "три различные шары", but rather "три различных числа" and "три различныx шарa" – brilliant Jul 5 '12 at 4:27
  • Excuse me, that was an error, which I have fixed. In the initial draft of this question I had some examples including 5, e.g., пять различных чисел. When I decided to focus on 2,3,4 and made edits accordingly, I missed changes that I needed in some of the examples. – KCd Jul 5 '12 at 5:09
  • see my answer here: russian.stackexchange.com/a/497/134 (the bottom part) – Quassnoi Jul 5 '12 at 8:01
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Rosenthal, Справочник по правописанию и литературной правке для работников печати:

При существительных женского рода в указанных условиях определение чаще (emphasis mine. Q.) ставится в форме именительного падежа множественного числа: две большие комнаты. Например:

  • На изгороди из трех жердей сидели три женские фигуры (А. Н. Толстой);
  • На платформе прохаживались... две молоденькие чему-то смеявшиеся девушки (Шолохов);
  • По этим дорогам двигаются две большие колонны немцев (Бубеннов).

При наличии перед всем оборотом предлога возможны варианты: на две равные части / по две столовых ложки.

From what I can tell, there is no strict rule. The literary norm is pl. nom., however it may be violated (I personally use pl. nom. but won't perceive pl. gen. as ungrammatical).

The two queries to the corpus: pl. gen. and pl. nom. yield 1691 and 9598 entires, accordingly.

This means that pl. nom. is the prevalent form, but pl. gen. is widely used nevertheless.

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  • The examples in your citation are consistent with the rule I wrote, rather than being counterexamples (what interested me more), except for по две ложки. That expression is unexpected to me because I thought dative always follows по, i.e., по двум ложке. Is по две ложки preferred to по двум ложке? – KCd Jul 5 '12 at 14:27
  • The "pl. gen." link has many counterexamples of the kind I was interested in, thanks. – KCd Jul 5 '12 at 14:29
  • Since pl. gen. doesn't sound ungrammatical, does три различных стороны sound okay, or did you mean that only in some cases the pl. gen. after a feminine noun sounds okay? – KCd Jul 5 '12 at 14:31
  • по as a distributive preposition has different government. See Rosenthal, gumer.info/bibliotek_Buks/Linguist/rozent1/04.php, #164.7 – Quassnoi Jul 5 '12 at 14:58
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    По двум ложке is ungrammatical in any case. It would be по две ложки in distributive sense (принимать по две ложки после еды), or по двум ложкам in directional sense (он прошёл по двум ложкам, лежащим на полу) – Quassnoi Jul 5 '12 at 15:04

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