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Yes, we can learn whether or not a noun is feminine, but does anyone have a break-down of the percentages? I know that the majority seem to be Feminine, but what is the exact figure?

спасибо за помощь. по-моему, просто лучше знать эту информацию, чтобы лучше угадывать, которым падежом мне надо пользоваться.

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Я протестировал слова из открытого корпуса Open Corpora. Из 7784 слов-существительных, оканчивающихся на "ь", 5632 были женского рода (72%). Список слов сохранил в архиве

I tested words from open corpus Open Corpora. There was 7784 noun words ending with "мягкий знак" and 5632 of them was feminine (72%). I saved results in archive.

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  • In fact the OP has no restriction on soft sign placement. It would be also interesting to have a statistics for the words that contain soft sign inside them (not at the end of the word).
    – Artemix
    Dec 2 '14 at 15:29
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It is hard to make a judgement for all entirety of the language (one should probably do a search in a large computer dictionary or a large corpus).

However, you can tackle it from the other side: which of the two you are going to encounter more often. According to frequency dictionaries, feminine nouns are the majority of the most used Ь-ending nouns (I am talking not about only the top-500, but a few thousands).

In the frequency list for spoken speech about 60% of all Ь-nouns in the first 1500 most popular words (and even 3000, 5000) are feminine. It covers 62-65% of usage of such nouns (mind, though, that top-5000 list only covers about 85% of all words). Also, 16 out of 22 in the first thousand are feminine. День, рубль, родитель, гость, учитель are your survival list of masculine nouns (especially день, which is as popular as feminine жизнь).

All in all, this type of nouns is not that frequent. There are a little under 200 of Ь-ending nouns in the list of the most frequent 5000 words in spoken speech (using the spoken Russian corpus of ruscorpora.ru). It makes less than 9% of all nouns in the list. You'll make your life easier using these tricks:

feminine

  • жь, шь, щь, чь ending— hushes.
  • ость (-есть). "ост" is a very popular suffix for abstract nouns (скорость, взаимность, новость, свежесть)
  • знь at the end. For example: жизнь, болезнь
  • треть (1/3) and четверть(1/4) are feminine, same as other fractions of a whole (половина, пятая, шестая часть и т.д.)

masculine

  • тель : a popular suffix for professions and other "doers": учитель (teacher), усилитель (amplifier)
  • арь: словарь, Also, all month names are masculine (though, not all of them end in -арь)

If you remove suffixed nouns (учитель, словарь) and month names, common masculine nouns in -Ь go as follows:

день, рубль, гость, путь, парень, огонь, камень, ноль, уровень, дождь, отель, лагерь, корабль, медведь, господь, корень, царь, зверь, спектакль, стиль, монастырь, король, шампунь, ноготь, гвоздь, портфель, кашель, кошель, кисель, контроль, ремень, алкоголь, конь, руль, лось, гусь, пень, автомобиль, коктейль, гриль, госпиталь, картофель.

A really comprehensive list that covers what a learner is going to encounter up to their higher-intermediate proficiency level.

P.S. When seeing a 'suffix', think for a few seconds whether it is really a suffix.

  • "обитель"(abode) is feminine: no suffix here.
  • masculine гость(guest) and feminine кость(bone), obviously, don't have the -ост- suffix.

If you already have some good experience with Russian, try the following rule of thumb. If you remove the 'suffix', and rest does not really look like a stem of any word you ever learnt — there is a good chance it isn't. Of course, occasionally you encounter зритель (viewer) or председатель (chairman), which are based on more advanced vocabulary (зрение 'vision' is not obscure, but if you fail to spot the resemblance, only archaic зреть/узреть 'to see' may help you)

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  • 2
    Great answer, +1. Just wanted to add that what might sound like suffixes you mentioned might not necessarily be them: канитель, обитель, постель; киноварь, тварь, гарь etc. are feminine; гость is masculine. Of course those words don't have suffixes -тел-, -ар- and -ост- in them, but one has to have a deeper comprehension of Russian to tell the difference.
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 2 '14 at 15:51
  • @Quassnoi Yeah, a good addition. It is just that I looked over my post, it was already way too long to include words that have these parts not as suffixes. Not that I didn't want to.
    – Shady_arc
    Dec 2 '14 at 20:06
  • does not словарь have a suffix?
    – Anixx
    Dec 2 '14 at 21:48
  • @Anixx ... as does монастырь.:) It seeems I didn't clean up the list very well, thanks for paying attention.
    – Shady_arc
    Dec 2 '14 at 21:56

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