Basic Bulgarian, Grammar - One cat, two cats (Noun Plurals)
Previous lesson: Gender of Bulgarian nouns
Last time, we looked at how to figure out the gender of a Bulgarian noun. To recap, Bulgarian nouns can be either masculine, feminine or neuter, and that can be determined by looking at the last letter:
- If it's a consonant, then the noun is masculine (with some exceptions)
- If it's "а" or "я", then it's feminine (again with some exceptions)
- If it's "е", "о", "и", "у" or "ю", then it's neuter.
- No words end in "ъ", which is otherwise one of the 6 core vowels of Bulgarian.
We also came up with a shorthand for introducing nouns that are exceptions to the above rules, for example нощ (f), meaning that it's a feminine noun despite ending with a consonant.
Today, we're going to learn how to make plural forms of Bulgarian nouns. Gender plays a big part, so if you haven't had the chance yet, please take a look at the previous lesson (link at the top) about genders.
But first, plurals in English
One of the aspects of English that is pretty neat for learners of the language is the simplicity with which plurals are formed. Almost always, you just have to add "-s" or "-es" to the end of the singular to form the plural. Of course, there are a handful of exceptions: child - children, ox - oxen, mouse - mice, woman - women, etc. Some nouns have the same form in the singular and the plural - e.g. sheep, fish. Foreign words sometimes have foreign plurals, e.g. nucleus - nuclei. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, you can get by with just adding "-(e)s".
This wasn't the case in Old English, which is the form of English spoken between approximately the 6th - 11th centuries AD, i.e. from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England to the Norman Conquest. It very regularly formed plurals by using other endings, such as "-er" and "-en" (which should be familiar to those of you who know German), and also by changing the vowel, as in "man - men". Over time, most languages simplify their grammatical structure, and eventually the "-(e)s" ending won out and started being used even on nouns that previously used another ending. That's why, for example, there are two plurals of "brother" - "brothers" and "brethren". Note also that there are differences in meaning (semantic differences) between the two plurals of "brother" - we're going to see a similar phenomenon in Bulgarian.
So what about Bulgarian plurals?
Unlike English, Bulgarian uses a variety of plural endings for nouns, and noun gender has a big part to play in it. Although feminine and neuter nouns have more or less predictable plurals, it's not generally obvious what the plural of a masculine noun should be just by looking at it. Another difference from English is that the stress within a word can often change in the plural. I'm going to give you some handy rules and examples that will work on a lot of nouns, but be prepared that there will be exceptions. I'll introduce some notation to let you know when a noun has a non-regular plural.
Let's dive right in!
Note - I'll be using an accent to mark the stress in the words. So far I've been using the yellow highlight feature for stress, but most people are used to seeing stress as an accent over the stressed letter. Remember that this is just for teaching purposes - written Bulgarian does not indicate stress, except in a small handful of cases to disambiguate between words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently.
By far, the most common ways to form a feminine plural is to replace the ending "-а/-я" with "-и":
- жена́ - жени́ (woman)
- ва́за - ва́зи (vase)
- кути́я - кути́и (box)
- па́ртия - па́ртии (political party)
That's also usually true for feminine nouns that don't end in "-а/-я":
- нощ - но́щи (night)
- о́бщност - о́бщности (community)
Neuter nouns ending in "-o" often have plurals in "-a":
- се́ло - села́ (village)
- де́ло - дела́ (deed)
- колело́ - колела́ (wheel)
- зърно́ - зърна́ (a grain)
Neuter nouns ending in "-e" usually add "-та":
- море́ - море́та (sea)
- кюфте́ - кюфте́та (kofta )
- чекмедже́ - чекмедже́та (a drawer)
Of course, there are exceptions. Neuter nouns ending in "-це" have a plural in "-ца":
- лице́ - лица́ (face)
- яйце́ - яйца́ (egg)
- сърце́ - сърца́ (heart)
Neuter nouns in "-и", "-у", and "-ю", which are usually loanwords, form a plural by adding "-та":
- такси́ - такси́та (taxi, cab)
- меню́ - меню́та (menu)
- кашу́ - кашу́та (a cashew)
Masculine nouns of two or more syllables generally have a plural in "-и":
- при́нтер - при́нтери (printer)
- ко́кал - ко́кали (bone)
- тава́н - тава́ни (ceiling, attic)
- ле́кар - ле́кари (doctor)
Before adding the "-и" in the above cases, the endings "-к", "-г" and "-х" change to "-ц", "-з", and "-с" respectively:
- ези́к - ези́ци (language, tongue)
- капа́к - капа́ци (lid, cover)
- зало́г - зало́зи (a bet)
- едноро́г - едноро́зи (unicorn)
- сирома́х - сирома́си (a poor person)
- мона́х - мона́си (monk)
One-syllable masculine nouns usually form a plural by adding "-ове":
- влак - вла́кове (a train)
- двор - дворо́ве (a yard, as in backyard)
- час - часове́ (hour)
- син - синове́ (son)
Masculine nouns have a ton of exceptions in the plural. We're going to learn about them as we encounter them.
Mentally preparing for the exceptions
Just like we introduced a shorthand for indicating the gender of a noun in parentheses, I'm going to introduce another shorthand for plural forms that don't follow the above rules:
- If the plural ending is as expected, but the stress changes in the plural, I'll indicate that with an accent in the ending:
- син (-ове́)
- двор (-о́ве)
- If the plural is too different from the singular, I'll just put the entire plural in parentheses:
- ден (дни)
- мъж (мъже́)
Exercise for the class
Can you figure out the plurals of the following nouns? Don't worry about the meaning or the stress for now.
It's the masculine nouns that fry my brain the most, mostly just due to the multitude of endings and letter changes that, to the uninitiated, can look like a different word. In addition, the use of -та in neuter can also be a little confusing if I'm not concentrating, because it's the feminine definite form too, but I guess this is no different than the -er ending in Norwegian (present tense verb or plural).
I'll put my answers here too: кофи, палми, магии, линии, пера, неща, момчета, момичета, бижута, ревюта, пликове, страхове, врагове, моменти, кореми, бюреци, подлози, евнуси, котки, кучета.
Answer key (also karlbbb's answer):
- кофа - кофи
- палма - палми
- магия - магии
- линия - линии
- перо - пера
- нещо - неща
- момче - момчета
- момиче - момичета
- бижу - бижута
- ревю - ревюта
- плик - пликове
- страх - страхове
- враг - врагове
- момент - моменти
- корем - кореми
- бюрек - бюреци
- подлог - подлози
- евнух - евнуси
- котка - котки
- куче - кучета