"Ему пять лет или шесть?"
Translation:Is he five or six years old?
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First, when counting years, you use irregular genitive plural form «лет». Genitive plural is not «годо́в» (which would be expected), but «лет». It actually comes from the word «лето» 'summer'. I.e. you're counting not by years but by summers!
Please note that 'лет' is only used when counting years (e.g. with numerals or words expressing quantity, such as мно́го 'many', ма́ло 'few', доста́точно 'enough' etc.). In other contexts, you use «годов» as a genitive plural form. E.g. «Пеки́н девяно́стых годо́в» 'Beijing of 90’s'.
Second, the rule for choosing the case form after a numeral. They're somewhat complex: you use either nominative singular, or genitive singular, or genitive plural. (The good thing they're same for all the nouns.).
For numbers ending in оди́н you use 'год': e.g. оди́н год '1 year', два́дцать оди́н год '21 year', сто оди́н го́д '101 years' (but not 11 because it's оди́надцать, it ends in -дцать).
For numbers ending in два́, три́, четыре you use 'го́да', genitive singular: e.g. два́ го́да 'two years', три́дцать три́ го́да '33 years', сто́ четы́ре го́да '104 years'. (But not двена́дцать '12', трина́дцать '13', четы́рнадцать '14' because they end in -дцать).
For other numbers, i.e. ending in пя́ть '5', ше́сть '6', се́мь '7', во́семь '8', де́вять '9', де́сять '10', -дцать, and ending in zeroes, you use the genitive plural. For 'год', as I've said, it's not «годов» but «лет»: e.g. пя́ть лет 'five years', со́рок шесть лет '46 years', сто́ лет '100 years', ты́сяча лет '1000 years'.
After soft consonants, Russian vowels can become fronter: so, пять /pʲatʲ/ can be pronounced [pʲætʲ], лёд /lʲot/ can be pronounced [lʲøt], люк /'lʲuk/ can be pronounced ['lʲyk]. This distinction is not phonemic in Russian: that is, both [a] and [æ] are considered the variants of pronounciation of /a/.
(Compare English: English speakers usually pronounce 'key' with soft [kʲ] and 'caught' with hard [k], but they are not distinguished in English, and we consider both to have the same phoneme /k/ because English doesn't distinguish [kʲ] and [k]. In the same way, Russian doesn't distinguish [a] and [æ]. We just consider them both variants of /a/, just like English considers both [kʲ] and [k] to be variants of /k/.)
If you decide to pronounce [æ] in пять /pʲatʲ/, make sure it's an open vowel [æ] and not a mid vowel [e]! Because [e], unlike [æ], will be understood to be a different phoneme: /e/. In fact, петь /pʲetʲ/ is a completely different word, meaning 'to sing'!
The exact reason for choosing [a] or [æ] might depend on accent or on speed of speech. Since [a] and [æ] are considered variants, you can choose any, really. (But make sure you only do this after soft consonants. I.e. in па́сть you can only pronounce [a]: [pastʲ], because [p] is a hard consonant.)
Probably you want to stick to the 'default' pronounciation, i.e. [pʲatʲ] and not [pʲætʲ], if you're unsure if you can distinguish [æ] and [e].
Sorry if my explanation is unclear, please ask questions.
I have noticed that vowels have the tendency to be slightly raised when followed by a palatalized consonant or the /i/ sound. This occurs in other languages, so I imagine it is just a natural physiological process of anticipating the raising of the tongue for the following sound. Any comment?
The never ending story of hard/soft consonant: it seems to me like a snake bitting its queue: is the vowel indicating the softness of the preceding consonant or vice versa ? In the example above, the consonant is always the П, but in пять you say it's soft, whereas in паст you say it's hard.... Wouldnt'it be simpler to tell that the wovel is hard (а) or soft (Я) ?
ш ж ц is hard consonant it self.
ч щ й is soft consonant it self.
consonant is hard if it's located before: а о у э ы ъ , or consonant without soft sight ь after it. so these "п" "с" "т" in паст is hard. /past/
consonant is soft if it's located before: я ю ё и е ь. so these "п" and "т" in пять is soft. /pʲatʲ/
Thank you for detailed explanation, but: do you mean that ш ж ц are always hard, no matter what vowel they are followed by, or that they can only be followed by a,o,y,э,ы (same for soft consonant in itself) ? "deactivated user" says that a in паст can only be pronounced |a| because of п is hard: but п is considered to be hard just as being followed by а. So, woudn't it be simplier to say that а is always pronounced |a| and Я can be pronounced |a| or |ae| ?
ш ж ц has a type of hard, for example like одИннадцать, because д is not pronounced with hard consonant, so you will here: ~надцать [~nət͡ʃətʲ]. but there are other rule for pronounce, so ш ж ц are just the type of hard consonant in this example.
because the stress is not regular in Russian, if the word is stressed in 'a', the 'а' is pronounced п|á|ст. no matter what fore consonant is hard or soft.
if 'a' is not stressed, it is /ɐ/ when it before a stressed syllable, or /ə/ in other syllable.
again, there are many rulers for pronounce, hard and soft is just a basic rule for classify consonant, you still need to listen Russian's pronounce of each word and to memorize the stress and be used to more rule of pronounce.
ex: if you listen дЕвять or месяц in detail, you will noticed the 'я' is like /ɪ/.