I can take two books in the bookshop and say обе to indicate I want to buy both.

Are there any analogous words for three and more items, to indicate that I have all of them in mind?


2 Answers 2


What you are referring to is (or related to) a concept of trial grammatical number. Short answer is “no”, as only some Austronesian languages were so far identified as those having this grammatical category. What follows is lengthy explanation as to significance of dual (Lat. dualis) grammatical number in development of Russian language and its numerals.

On Dual

PIE, and many languages derived from it (Sanskrit, Ancient Greek etc.) had the dual, thus forming tripartite grammatical number system (singular, dual, plural (>2)). Russian language also had dual, but it became to disintegrate since about XIV century (Gasparov, p. 32).

R. Jakobson in his essay “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation” talks about difficulty of translation from one language that would not have category of dual and the other that would. However, the other way around is easier (p. 235):

If some grammatical category is absent in a given language, its meaning may be translated into this language by lexical means. Dual forms like Old Russian брата are translated with the help of a numeral: “two brothers.”

Basically, the same thing is what happened during the development of the modern Russian language: in effect, Old Russian брата was translated into modern Russian “два брата”. And while today we would designate the word брата as a genitive or accusative singular, in Old Russian it was also nominative dual. For declension paradigms in Old Russian see Historical grammar of Russian Language (2008) (Rus, p. 25).

Gasparov talks about “free dual” (not sure if my translation of the term is correct) as something related to paired objects (eyes, ears). Then developed “related dual” which describes any two of any noun, thus this form becoming “the universal quantitative determinant”. After that, this form for the paired objects took a function similar to that of a definite article in English — it is not just eyes, but eyes of one person (pp. 32—33):

руцѣ [dual] — рукы [plural] ≈ the hands [definite] — hands [indefinite].

Then (p. 34) he talks about development of the separation of concepts “small multitude” and “large multitude”. “Small multitude” developed from dual and now, as a relic of extinct dual, it manifests in modern Russian in special plural form for object count from 2 to 4:

1 стол → 2 стола → 3 стола → 4 стола → 5 столов

That is, small multitude is something that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and starting with five and more, it is just “a lot”. Gasparov (ibid.) points to sources that establish significance of ancient base-five counting system as related to a hand.

The Specificity of the Word оба

Russian word оба is, in a way, a very special one. Schenikova (Rus, p. 7) notes that in the opinion of many philologists it cannot be simply lumped with aggregative numerals (двое (“two-of” (or “[those] two”?)), трое (“three-of”) and so on) due to their “formally-grammatical and semantic differences” being so great.

Krylov’s Etymological Dictionary (2004) defines it as:

ОБА All-Slavic [?] word of Indo-European nature. In Greek we find ampho, in Latin — ambo, in English — both. Literally “located near”, kindred to preposition об.

Here I would posit a hypothesis (as I have not researched that far) that the word оба, while etymologically not related to the quantity “two”, has something to do with paired objects specifically (as Gasparov was talking about “definite” function of dual).

Things are ever so murky because numeral as an independent part of speech in Russian language is a gray area. Some researchers (Kalinina, L. V., qtd. by Schenikova) contend that it is yet not fully formed even in the beginning of XXI century, yet others (Zholobov (Rus)) argue that numerals were integral and distinct part of speech from the beginning in Slavic and many other languages, and that scientists failed to thoroughly research and classify them as such.


  1. Gasparov, B. M. “Structure of Russian language from typological point of view (Intro to sociogrammatics). Article 2. Morphology of the noun”. Scholarly notes of Tartu University, issue 486. Tartu, 1979. Pp. 23—44.

    Гаспаров, Б. М. «Структура русского языка с типологической точки зрения (Введение в социограмматику). Статья вторая. Морфология имени». Ученые записки Тартуского государственного университета, выпуск 486. Тарту, 1979. Стр. 23—44.

  2. Jakobson, R. O. “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”. Harward. 1959. Also, see Wiki explanation of this article.

    Якобсон, Р. О. «О лингвистических аспектах перевода». Вопросы теории перевода в зарубежной лингвистике. М., 1978. Стр. 16—24

  • 1
    An awesome one!
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 10:08

No, there are not. You can use "Все три/четыре/...", just like in English.

  • I'm a bit dissapointed, I hoped there's something I don't know.. Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 8:33
  • Take heart: the more I learn the less I know.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 8:36
  • 6
    You should be a little careful. It's "Все три девушки" but "все трое мужчин".
    – texnic
    Commented Jun 14, 2012 at 8:50

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