Which of the two is used for general purposes, when you are not really looking to specify gender but just want to say it's a cat?
Like in Croatian we have "mačka" (кошка) and "mačak" (кот), but everyone mostly uses the feminine form for everyday uses, regardless of the cat's actual gender (unless they want to specify).
Did you use "мой" or "моя" with it? That's important, because while you are free to choose a word for a cat of either gender, once you've done it the possesive pronoun must agree with it.
Ps: I'd like to point out that "моя кошка" is the suggested answer, so it's obviously acceptable.
Technically, кот мой can be used as a form of address. Yet, the phrase is hardly ever used like that. The same phrase with the diminutive form - "котик мой" (sweetie) - is, though, used quite often as a form of endearment by some Russian women in talking to their beloved or to a child.
Кошка is more common. Other animals that are female by default in the Russian culture include обезьяна (monkey or ape), горилла (gorilla), пантера (panther), лиса (fox), куница (marten), норка (minx), ласка (weasel), крыса (rat), мышь (mouse), лягушка (frog), жаба (toad), змея (snake), ящерица (lizard), черепаха (turtle or tortois) and every fish and bird whose name ends in -а. In Russian fairytales these animals are inevitably female.
If you think that learning the difference between мой and моя will enable you to translate the word "my" into Russian, I feel sorry for you. One of the worst nightmares of many Russian learners is having to memorize 12 word forms for "my/mine" (or any adjective likewise). If we use capital letters N, G, D, A, I and P to encode the so-called cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental and prepositional, respectively) and small letters m, n, f for masculine, neuter and feminine singular forms, respectively, and pl for plural forms, then the list will look as follows: мой (Nm), моя (Nf), моё (Nn), мои (Npl), моего (Gm/n), моему (Dm/n), моим (Im/n or Dpl), моём (Pm/n), моей (G/D/I/Pf), мою (Аf), моих (G/Ppl), моими (Ipl). Am/n/pl = Nm/n/pl for inanimate objects, and Am/n/pl= Gm/n/pl for animate ones.
I'm a native English speaker, but studied German, which has four cases, all of which are also in Russian. With that, your post is actually intriguing and insightful, not frightening.
In German though, the gender of a noun is very important to learn as a part of the word, but I haven't seen that indicated when Russian nouns are introduced here. Is there a way to tell based on the ending of the noun whether it is masc/fem/neut, or some other way?
A few notes to add to the rule of thumb so wonderfully formulated by mizinamo:
The nouns юноша and старшина are masculine.
The nouns воображала, прилипала, забияка, задавака, задира, пройдоха, пьяница, убийца and maybe a few other nouns with similar endings can be either masculine or feminine depending on the gender of the person they denote.
Кофе is masculine.
Nouns ending in -ишко or -ище are masculine if they are derived from shorter masculine nouns (e.g. дом - домишко, домище) and neuter otherwise.
All nouns derived from verbs by replacing -ть with -тель are masculine (e.g. читать - читатель, учить - учитель).
Most abstract and uncountable nouns ending in -ь are feminine (e.g. кровь, боль, соль, удаль, лень, утварь, молодежь, речь).
Most countable nouns ending in -ь are masculine (e.g. корабль, корень, дождь, день, гвоздь, конь), but there are quite a few that are feminine, especially among the monosyllable ones: трость, кровать, вещь, рысь.
All nouns ending in -сть with the exception of гость (a male guest) and тесть (a man's father-in-law) are feminine.
All nouns ending in -жь, -шь, -чь or -щь are feminine.
The rules of thumb are:
- Ends in consonant: masculine
- Ends in -a or -ya: feminine
- Ends in -o or -e: neuter
- Ends in soft sign: could be masculine or feminine, usually feminine
There are exceptions, of course (e.g. neuter nouns in -mya such as vremya or imya), but on the whole it's a good rule of thumb.
"Cat " can be translated as both "кот " and "кошка " since the English word doesn't specify the gender of the animal. "Кот " is a masculine noun and therefore the possessive pronoun мой must be used with it; whereas кошка is feminine, so you need to use моя. Using either one is correct here, as long as the possessive pronoun agrees in gender with the noun it modifies.
I thought кошка was a neutral form if you are unsure if the cat is male and кот is only if you know the cat is definitely male. Is this wrong?
When there is no reference to male or female cat, shouldn't both Кошка and кот be correct?
Sure, as long as you use the correctly-gendered form of the word "my" (the feminine form with кошка and the masculine form with кот).
Please read all of the existing comments; this has been explained a few times, with examples.
Both кот/кошка should be accepted here.
But the phrase to be translated is not "the cat" but "my cat".
So you have to write мой кот or моя кошка, not just кот or кошка.
(And моя кот or мой кошка would be completely wrong -- the ending of the word "my" has to be match the gender of the following noun.)
getting me to correct мои кошка to мой кошка.
кошка is feminine, so using the masculine мой before it is just as wrong as using the plural мои before it.
You need the feminine моя, as in моя кошка.
tells me I'm wrong and and it's кот?
мой кот is correct. моя кошка is also correct.
What won't work is моя кот or мой кошка.
If you are proud of yourself because you’ve learned the difference between мой and моя, I must tell you: it’s too early to celebrate. The full paradigm of ‘my’ can be picked up from the following examples:
Nominative: Это мой кот. Это моя кошка. Это мои коты/кошки.
Genitive: Здесь нет моего кота / моей кошки / моих котов/кошек .
Dative: Дай это моему коту / моей кошке / моим котам/кошкам.
Accusative: Видишь моего кота? (Acc. = Gen.). Видишь мою кошку? Видишь моих котов/кошек? (Acc.=Gen.; zero ending and evasive е in кошек).
Instrumental: С моим котом / С моей кошкой / С моими котами/кошками всё в порядке. (In poetry, моею is often used instead of моей).
Prepositional: Я расскажу вам о моём коте / о моей кошке (Prep.=Dat.) / о моих котах/кошках.
In all forms of мой and кот that have more than one syllable the stress falls on the second syllable and the о of the root is pronounced like a weak а (u in ‘cut’). In all forms of кошка the stress always falls on the first syllable.
Is there a neutral way for cat then, in English, If we dont know the gender? Well, since there's no genre in English, in Spanish for example, when the genre is unknown, the masculine is used as the NEUTRAL (кот= male cat= gato, кошка= female cat= gata). Is 'Кот' acceptable then, when the genre is unknown? Cheers!
Remember the line "select ALL correct answers" (or something like that) in multiple-choice exercises.
Sometimes, two options are correct, and you have to select both of the correct ones before it will let you continue.
(Very rarely, all three are correct.)
So you can't just pick one at a time until you find the (single) right one. Or at least, not always.
There are tips and notes for every lesson, but they are only visible in the web app. https://www.duolingo.com/skill/ru/Possessive-Modifiers-1
Tips and notes
POSSESSIVE ENEMY MINE
There isn't much to say about words like "my" or "your" in Russian.
his/her/their do not change: его́, её, их(and they don't get an initial Н after prepositions!)
my/your/our roughly follow an adjectival pattern, i.e. they copy the gender and the case of the noun they describe. Just like этот:
Unlike English, no distinction is made between my and mine, her and hers etc.
Pronunciation: in «его», as well as in adjective endings and "сегодня" the letter Г is pronounced В. It is a historical spelling.
Nouns in Russian belong to one of three genders: feminine, masculine or neuter. If a noun means a person of a certain gender, use that one. For all other nouns look at the end of the word:
(TABLE) ENDING IN NOM; GENDER; EXAMPLES
-а/-я ; feminine ; ма́ма, земля́, Росси́я, маши́на
consonant ; masculine ; сок, ма́льчик, чай, интерне́т, апельси́н
-о/-е ; neuter ; окно́, яйцо́, мо́ре
-ь ; feminine or masculine - consult a dictionary ; ло́шадь, ночь, мать, любо́вь / день, конь, медве́дь, учи́тель
IF THERE'S A SOFT SIGN, IT ISN'T POSSIBLE TO PREDICT THE GENDER, AT LEAST, NOT ACCURATELY. HOWEVER, ABOUT 65-70% OF THE MOST USED NOUNS THAT END IN -Ь ARE FEMININE. ALSO, YOU CAN LEARN THE COMMON SUFFIXES ENDING IN A SOFT SIGN THAT PRODUCE A WORD OF A PREDICTABLE GENDER. THEY ARE:
-ость/-есть, -знь → feminine
-тель, -арь, -ырь → masculine
ALL NOUNS WITH -ЧЬ, ЩЬ, -ШЬ, -ЖЬ AT THE END ARE FEMININE. THE CONVENTION IS TO SPELL FEMININE NOUNS WITH A SOFT SIGN AND MASCULINE ONES WITHOUT ONE: НОЖ, ЛУЧ, МУЖ, ДУШ. IT DOESN'T AFFECT PRONUNCIATION, ANYWAY.