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I always struggle with declining numerals in ordinary speech. For example, how should one read aloud the (declining) dates in bold in the sentence below?

В 1958—1972 годах Басов являлся заместителем директора ФИАН, а с 1973 по 1989 годы был директором этого института.

I'm guessing this is wrong, but I'd say something like:

В тысяча девятьсот пятьдесят седьмом по тысяча девятьсот семьдесят втором годах Басов являлся заместителем директора ФИАН, а с тысяча девятьсот семьдесят третьего по тысяча девятьсот восемьдесят девятый годы был директором этого института.

But that mixes singular and plural declensions ("втором годах", etc.), so seems strange/incorrect. [Also, having to repeat тысяча девятьсот each time seems cumbersome.]

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  • You're mostly right, only the "—" needs no translation (No "по" is needed there, just a pause), and "годы" looks like a mistake in the original text, I'd say "год" there. There's no mixture of singular and plural, "in the yearS [between] 1958 to 1972" sounds OK even in English.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 29 '15 at 23:46
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    "В 1958—1972 годах" is awkward, in my opinion, no wonder you are having difficulty. Jan 30 '15 at 8:27
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I say it as follows:

  • В тысяча девятьсот пятьдесят восьмом — тысяча девятьсот семьдесят втором годах Басов являлся заместителем директора ФИАН, а с тысяча девятьсот семьдесят третьего по тысяча девятьсот восемьдесят девятый год был директором этого института.

There is nothing wrong with plural «годы» in the first case since it refers to two numbers instead of one. The expression «с ... по ...», on the other hand, require singular (though, officials may occasionally insert plural there, which is still considered substandard).

In spoken speech "тысяча девятьсот", "тысяча восемьсот" are often omitted when it is clear what century you are talking about (i.e. almost always). However, the excerpt you provided is most definitely written in formal style and is hardly supposed to be read aloud. So it does not matter whether pronunciation is cumbersome or not.

Still, if read aloud, probably some sound merging will happen at high speed. For example:

  • тысяча девятьсот → тысьча девицот / тыща девицот
  • пятьдесят восьмом → писят восьмом → пьсят восьмом
  • семьдесят → семьсят

Ordinal numbers aren't that hard, actually, because only THE LAST word changes.

In a cardinal number, though, you are supposed to put everything in the case required by the sentence. In reality native speakers are often having trouble doing that correctly (перед восемьюстами пятьюдесятью восемью слушателями?). For you it means, firstly, that a native mumbling a uncomfrtably long number is a bad role model here. Secondly, the system is probably going to become more solid and logical in a century or so (not that I hope to live long enough to see that).

  • right now natives sometimes do not decline the beginning (which is considered a mistake) or just talk their way around such a cumbersome number, using some construction that uses Nominative forms instead
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Much as this manner of writing date ranges feels awkward, according to Розенталь it is correct. The way people tend to read such ranges is:

В тысяча девятьсот пятьдесят седьмом — тысяча девятьсот семьдесят втором годах
or just
В тысяча девятьсот пятьдесят седьмом — семьдесят втором годах.

Singular and plural declensions are not perceived as mixed, as годах refers to both flanking years of the range and indeed implies the entire range.

The other date range in your sentence looks perfectly correct.

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