Russian Language Grammar

    Usage of Singular and Plural

Nouns Used Normally in the Singular, and Occasionally in the Plural

To this class belong nouns which express: 

   (a)    Long duration or repetition 

северные ветры northern winds
крещенские морозы
cold spells expected to occur at the beginning of January

   (b)    Large quantities 

вечные снега
eternal snows
территориальные воды territorial waters

   (c)    Collective nouns or nouns belonging to a whole class 

французские вина French wines
минеральные воды mineral waters

Abstract Nouns

Many abstract nouns expressing feelings or various characteristics are found in the singular only; these include the above-mentioned любовь, оптимизм, вес. Others occur both in the singular and in the plural:

надежда – hope; сомнение – doubt; трудность – difficulty; способность – capability, aptitude.

Мои надежды оправдались. My hopes have come true.
С лучшими пожеланиями. With best wishes.

Note:  The above is comparable to the English usage.

Names of Vegetables and Berries 

In contrast to English, some of these nouns are found in the singular only, others in both singular and plural. 

Singular  only:    морковь   (carrot);    лук   (onion);    капуста   (cabbage); клубника (strawberry); малина (raspberry), and a few others.

Singular and  plural:    огурец  (cucumber) – огурцы;    томат / помидор (tomato) – томаты / помидоры;     баклажан  (eggplant) – баклажаныягода (berry) – ягоды, etc.

Singular Used to Imply Plurality 

   (a) Occasionally, the singular is used to imply plurality. It may refer to a group or class: 

Швед, русский колет, рубит, режет.   (Пушкин)

Swedes, Russians stab, saber, slash.

Яблоня цветёт весной.

Apple trees blossom in the spring.

Собака – друг человека.

The dog is the friend of man.

   (b) It may be also used when referring to something common to a whole group: 

Все опустили голову.

They all lowered their heads.

Повелено брить им бороду.(Пушкин)

They were ordered to shave their beards.

Правое плечо вперёд – марш!

Column left … march! (a military command)

Поднимите левую руку! Нагните туловище!

Raise your left hands! Bend your bodies! (in aerobics, for example)