Hard-stem and Soft-stem Adjectives

Learn about the differences between Hard-stem and Soft-stem Adjectives in Russian

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. Russian adjectives agree with nouns in gender, number, and case. Adjectives can be long or short. Long adjectives are divided into two groups: hard-stem and soft-stem.

Hard-stem adjectives

In Russian, most of the adjectives are hard-stem. They can have a stressed stem or a stressed ending. Stressed-stem adjectives in their initial form (Nominative masculine) have the ending -ый. Stressed ending adjectives have ending -ой.

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Stressed Stem Но́вый дом Но́вое окно Но́вая машина Но́вые люди
Stressed Ending Большо́й дом Большо́е окно Больша́я машина Больши́е люди

Notice that the only difference between these two types of adjectives is the masculine ending. Let's now look at the reason why the plural forms are not the same.

When agreeing adjectives in gender and number, you should always keep in mind of the two very important spelling rules: 7 Letter Spelling Rule and 5 Letter Spelling Rule.

7 Letter Spelling Rule

7 Letter Spelling Rule states that whenever there is a grammatical need to put Ы after Г, К, Х, Ж, Ш, Ч, Щ, you have to put И instead.

That’s why it’s большие, not большые.

Here are some more examples:

  • Деловой / деловая / деловое / деловые - this is a hard-stem adjective with a stressed ending. No Spelling Rules are applied.
  • Русский / русская / русское / русские - this is a hard-stem adjective with a stressed stem, and normally I would use endings -ый, -ая, -ое, and -ые. But it is affected by the 7 Letter Spelling Rule in masculine and plural.
  • Плохо́й / плоха́я / плохо́е / плохие - this is a hard-stem adjective with the stressed ending, and it is affected by the 7 Letter Spelling Rule in the Plural: плохие, not плохые.
  • Молодой / молодая / молодое / молодые - this is a hard-stem stressed ending adjective. No Spelling Rules are applied.
  • Све́жий / све́жая / све́жее* / све́жие is a hard-stem adjectives with a stressed stem, but is affected by the 7 Letter Spelling Rule in the Masculine: cве́жий, not све́жый.

*What about the Neuter form? Shouldn’t the ending be -ое? Why is it different? Here is why:

5 Letter Spelling Rule

5 Letter Spelling Rule states that whenever there is a grammatical need, we need to put О after Ж, Ш, Ч, Щ, and Ц. In an unstressed position, you have to put Е instead.

Thus, it’s све́жее, not све́жое.

Here are more examples:

  • Хоро́ший компьютер / хоро́шая работа / хоро́шее настроение / хоро́шие друзья.
  • Горячий чай/ горячая чашка / горячее молоко / горячие напитки.

Soft-stem adjectives

Soft-stem adjectives are adjective ending in -НИЙ. The stress is always on the stem.

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Синий дом Синее окно Синяя машина Синие цветы

Fortunately, there are not too many soft adjectives, thus they can be memorized. Here is the list of the most common soft-stem adjectives.

последний last
домашний home
синий blue
зимний winter
весенний spring
летний summer
осенний autumn
ранний early
поздний later
вчерашний yesterday’s
сегодняшний today’s
завтрашний tomorrow’s
дальний distant
ближний near
нижний lower
верхний upper
средний middle
передний front

* there are several adjective that don’t end in -НИЙ, but also belong to the soft-stem adjectives. Some of them are третий (third), лисий (fox’s), козий (goat’s), карий (hazel).