Russian Language Grammar

    Agreement in Gender

When the subject and the predicate are of different genders, there is a difficulty (or awkwardness) as regards the agreement of auxiliary verbs.

1.  As a rule, the auxiliary verb agrees with the subject:

Его сестра (fem.) была очень милое существо (neut.).

His sister was a very nice creature.

Первый человек (masc.), пришедший на голосование, был старушкой (fem.) из соседнего дома.

The first person who came to vote, was an old woman from the house next door.

Это (neut.) было для меня трудным подвигом (masc.).

This was for me a difficult exploit.

2.  Sometimes, the auxiliary verb agrees with the predicate. This happens when the predicate carries a logical stress:

Всё это спокойствие (neut.) была чисто одна личина (fem.). (Писемский)

All this calmness was just a mask.

Многое (neut.) из этого была правда (fem.).

Much of this was the truth.

Note: In certain instances, it is not always easy to differentiate between the subject and the predicate. The distinction is not clear, for instance, in the following sentence:

Первый ученик был мой друг.

However, by rewording the sentence and putting the predicate in the instrumental case, the meaning is clarified:

SUBJECT

PREDICATE

Первый ученик был моим другом (instrumental).

The number-one student was a friend of mine.

PREDICATE

SUBJECT

Первым учеником (instrumental) был мой друг.

My friend was the number-one student.