Functions of the nominative flexion -a in Russian

2018. № 1 (35), 9-32

Andrey A. Zaliznyak, Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences; Moscow, Russia


The paper analyzes the functions of the nominative flexion -а in Russian: 1) derivational marker of feminine gender; 2) marker of uncountability; 3) marker of collective plural, intensivity and expressivity. Examination of these functions makes it possible to undertake a critical survey of hypotheses concerning the origin of the masculine plural ending in -а́. The widespread hypothesis that the nominative dual was the leading factor in this process is rejected. An explanation of the process is proposed according to which the appearance of the new nominative plural in -а́ was triggered by two factors: 1) expansion of -а́- from the oblique cases to become a general marker of plural; 2) development of new nominatives ending in -а́ with the meaning of collective or emphasized plurality and syntactic ambivalence, which made it possible for them to be combined with either singular or plural predicates and attributes.