Еще одна сложность в русской грамматике

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Today we’ll be looking at majorities, minorities and numbers, and why they’re all incredibly confusing!

Let me set the scene for you. You’re sat at a table in a nice café in the centre of St Petersburg having a chat with one of your new Russian friends. Your friend is asking you about the other students in your class. In particular they’re interested in the age of your classmates. After a split second of mental gymnastics your brain decides you’re talking about multiple students and orders your mouth to say:

“Когда я приехал(а), большинство студентов в моём классе были старше меня, но теперь большинство – моего возраста.”

“было”, corrects your friend, “Большинство is neuter singular you need to say было”.
Of course your eyes light up with joy upon hearing yet another a new grammar rule
“Ah so even though the subject of the sentence is plural, because I’m talking about a majority the verb agrees with the collective noun, not the subject?”
“Correct”, confirms you friend.
“How fantastic”, you think to yourself, “I’m so glad Russian has such clear, understandable and, most importantly, uniform rules. I’m already one step closer to speaking like a native.”

A little later on the conversation turns towards a discussion of St Petersburg’s many tourist attractions. “Ты уже посетил(а) Царское Село?”, asks you friend inquisitively.
Suddenly a spark goes off in your mind. With a flash of inspiration you remember the new grammar rule you learnt earlier and say confidently –

“Большинство студентов, которые учатся в моём классе, уже посетило Царское Село, но я там ещё не был(а).”

“Err, no”, interrupts your friend “you’re talking about many students so it should be посетили.”
“But earlier you said!…”, you shout, a little bit too loud.
“Calm down”, says your friend as the other people in the cafe start staring at the two of you, “I’m sure I can explain.”
A few minutes of silence pass as you wait expectantly. Eventually your friend quietly mumbles, “actually, I’m not sure why…”
Something inside you snaps, the stress of yet another unexplainable grammar rule on your already overburdened soul proves far too much. Smoke starts pouring out of your ears and you face melts off.

A terrible fate, I’m sure you’ll agree; one that no-one should have to suffer. Well fortunately you won’t have to if you read the rest of this blog.

The problem with sentences like this is that the verb can decline in two different ways, either with the collective noun – “Большинство посетило Царское Село” (a.k.a. formal grammatical agreement) or with the subject – “студенты посетили Царское Село” (a.k.a. agreement by meaning).
How you should conjugate the verb depends on the main idea you want to convey with your sentence as well as on the type of collective noun you are using. That’s right, this problem goes far beyond the word “большинство”. You will face this dilemma of how to conjugate verbs when working with all collective nouns (Большинство, меньшинство, ряд, часть, и т.д.), cardinal numbers (один, два, пять, сорок, и т.д.). Just to make things even more compicated some individual words also have their own separate rules. Sometimes both formal agreement and agreement by meaning can both be legitimate choices but here are some situations in which you can only use one. In this blog I’ll be running through some of the most common rules that you should follow when using collective nouns and cardinal numbers.

Collective nouns (Большинство, меньшинство, ряд, часть, и т.д.)

Use formal agreement if…
The subject of your sentence is only a collective noun with no dependent noun –
“Только меньшинство считает, что он хороший человек”

The dependent noun is singular –
“Часть здания разрушилась”

Use agreement by meaning if…
The subject is plural and is followed by an explanatory participle or subordinate clause using the word ‘который’ also in plural –
“Большинство студентов, изучавших русскую грамматику, были в недоумении.”
“Большинство студентов, которые изучали русскую грамматику, были в недоумении.”

If the subject is performing more than one action (i.e. there are two or more different verbs being performed by the subject of the sentence in the same sentence) –
“Ряд музыкантов выпили перед концертом и плохо играли.

You want to stress that every individual in collective acted separately at different times –
“Много людей учились в Державинском институте в прошлом году.”

If the predicate contains a plural noun or plural adjective which describes the subject –
“В россии в 1917 большинство российсских граждан были крестьянами.”
“Часть наших игроков были ркусские”

Extra: with the words столько, сколько, много, немного, мало, немало

Only ever use formal agreement! (Simple) –
“Сколько людей идёт на экскурсию?”

With cardinal numbers (один, два, пять, сорок, и т.д.)

Use formal agreement (note: indeclinable Russian numbers are neuter) if…
The subject of the sentence is performing a passive action (that is, the action itself is a passive action e.g. быть, существовать, умереть, etc. not simply a passive construction e.g. строиться) –
У меня было пятнадцать собак.

You want to stress that all of the subjects of the sentence performed the action as a group. If you want to draw attention to the number of people performing an action not the nature of the action itself –
“На урок пришло двадцать студентов”

The subject is just a number on its own then the verb should be singular and neuter –
“Сто делится на двадцать, и получается пять.”

Use agreement by meaning if
The subject of the sentence is performing an active action (that is the action itself is an active action e.g. бегать, кричать, пробовать etc. not simply an active construction e.g. быть) –
“Четыре всадника проезжали во тьме”

You want to stress that all of the subjects of the sentence performed the action at seperately. If you want to draw attention to the nature of the action not the number of people performing it –
“Пять студентов сдали экзамен.”

The subject of the sentence is preceded by an adjective which stresses it’s plural nature, e.g. все, эти, мои, красивые, etc. –
“Все сто студентов провалили экзамен”

Extra: with 21, 31, 41, 51 and so on…

If the number ends in one then the verb should normally take the singular form and agree in gender with the subject itself. The exception to this is when using verbs like обсуждать (to discuss) which  can only be performed by multiple people –
Сто один далматинец бродил по улице.
Сорок один участник тайного общества обсуждали тему, как захватить мир.

Extra: with the numbers тысяча, миллион, миллиард, etc.

The verb always agrees with the number in number and gender –
“Тысяча людей дралась в центре города.”

And finally you reach the end, dear reader, of this little list of rules. I’m sure that either you’re sobbing into the nearest pillow-like object out of sheer frustration with the complexity of Russian grammar, or you’re patting yourself on the back for already remembering everything that’s written here. Either way I have bad news for you; there are far more rules than just these. If you’re feeling brave you can check out the original source article for the information contained in this one (all in Russian) here – http://new.gramota.ru/spravka/letters/64-bolshinstvo
If, on the other hand, you’re feeling more like you want to hide under a blanket I can only remind you that – большинство людей поймёт и поймут тебя, помните ли Вы правила или нет.