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Why is the verb in the first sentence neuter? Is it because the "number" of children is considered a neuter word? Are there other cases when I need to use a neuter verb?

What about the second one...would it be wrong to write "У них родилось два ребёнка?" insted of "двое"? And why is детей in genititve plural and not in genitive singular?

  • You can also say у них родилось десятеро детей. у них родилось два ребёнка is good. – alamar Jan 12 '15 at 11:48
  • The word двое means "a pair of," and in English wouldn't you say "a pair of children"? Hence using детей after двое is the same idea. From alamar's comment, десятеро is "a 10-fold amount of" (English does not really have a simple extension of single, pair, triple out to 10 items) and using genitive plural after it in Russian (assuming no prepositions are lurking nearby to cast their case rules on what follows them) makes sense too by comparison to English. – KCd Jan 13 '15 at 7:01
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See, when your subject is "some number of X", choosing between the singular and the plural is complicated. On one hand "A lot of", "The majority" etc. are singular, on the other—it obviously means many people.

  • Remembder, for numbers you've got no formal hint, since a number, like "one", "a hundred", "ten" is neither singular nor plural.
  • still, it's more common to use singular if you express the idea of an action being performed "passively" by the things you count, "without their control", as a whole group rather than individually: «В автомобильной аварии погибло десять человек», «На лекцию пришло сто–сто пятьдесят студентов».
    • singular "было N объектов" (there were N objects) also has a shade of just reporting the situation, like "There were 4 couches and 10 chairs"~«Там было 4 дивана и 10 стульев». Another example: "На диване лежало две рубашки". Plural would seem less natural here, especially awkward with objects.
  • if you have smth like "these two children", "All these ten women" etc., use plural: "Эти пять детей точно знают ответ".
  • Words like "пара"(a couple), "тройка" (three), "куча" (~a great lot) and similar words typically use singular
  • много, мало, столько/сколько, немало (also mostly "несколько") use singular. In informal speech and writing people occasionally fall back to plural when it feels more "right".

Since children have little control on their birth, it is much more natural to desribe it as an event than happened "to them" : "У нас было два ребёнка", "У них родилось трое детей".

I believe your Genitive plural question about «два ребёнка»-«двое детей» is more about collective numerals than anything else. And collective «двое», «трое», «четверо», «пятеро», «шестеро», «семеро» use plural, not singular.

I feel that with children, «дети» sounds a bit more colloquial in this borderline sentence about children being born. That is not to say that «У них родилось два ребёнка» is wrong anyhow. Just sounds a bit formal and detached to my ear. Anyway, since "дети" is already plural, you either use a collective number for 2 or must switch to singular "ребёнок"→"2 ребёнка".

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The sentence may be loosely translated as "They have xxx children".

It has nothing to do with numerals, it is so known "Безличное предложение" (impersonal sentence). There is no explicit subject in the sentence. Such sentences imply that what happened, happened without consent of the objects mentioned in the sentence. For example "Я не спал" implies "I didn't sleep because I choose so" while "Мне не спалось" means "I didn't sleep because I could not.".

Impersonal sentences must not be confused with 'truncated' sentences, when either the subject or the verb is omitted because obviously derivable in context.

Impersonal sentences may be very loosely paralleled with "there is/are" construct: where is that there? Same here, there is no "who" or "what" that "родилось" in this sentence.

Yes, it is a case when difference in one symbol radically changes the way the sentence must be parsed (though, luckily, in this case the meaning does not differ much).

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As for the second part

What about the second one...would it be wrong to write "У них родилось два ребёнка?" insted of "двое"? And why is детей in genititve plural and not in genitive singular?

There is some freedom here.

The proper plural form of "ребенок" is "дети" (very much like forms of "to be" in English),so it is possible for uniformity use "двое детей" instead, yet it is possible to use "ребенка" for numerals below five . A bit more consistent example would be "гусь". One can say "Один гусь, два гуся, три гуся, четыре гуся, пять гусей, шесть гусей, .... двадцать гусей", but also "Один гусь, двое гусей, трое гусей, четверо гусей, пять гусей, шесть гусей, .... двадцать гусей" (for non-round numbers above 20 the inflection is selected on basis of the last word in the combined numberal)

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