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Making sense of old handwriting

Word Endings and Spelling

Noun Endings

This table is designed to help you identify which case a noun is written in. Knowing the case can help you to understand relationships between the people a document describes.

Accusative Inanimate--ие-ию
Accusative Animate-ие-ию
Accusative Inanimate-ия-ии
Accusative Animate-ов-ей-ев--ей-ий-ию-ей

Adjective Endings

Adjectives match the nouns they describe in their case, gender, and number (singular or plural). If you do not recognize a name or another noun at first or cannot identify its case, check to see if there is an adjective describing it. You may be able to use these endings to determine the case of the adjective and corresponding noun.

Nominative-ы, -ой, -ий-ое, -ее-ая, -яя-ые, -ие
Accusative Inanimate-ый, -ой, -ий-ое, -ее-ую, -юю-ые, -ие
Accusative Animate-ого, -его-ое, -ее-ую, -юю-ых, -их
Genitive-ого, -его-ого, -его-ой, -ей-ых, -их
Prepositional-ом, -ем-ом, -ем-ой, -ей-ых, -их
Dative-ому, -ему-ому, -ему-ой, -ей-ым, -им
Instrumental-ым, -им-ым, -им-ой, -ей-ыми, -ими

Spelling Rules

Russian follows some general rules for spelling. Certain letters require that a specific vowel follows rather than another (which is why you see multiple versions of each adjective ending above). These are the main spelling rules of Russian:

LetterChanges toAfter
г к х ж ч ш щ
г к х ж ч ш щ ц
г к х ж ч ш щ ц
-о (unstressed)ж ч ш щ

Hard Sign (ъ) in Historical Documents

Another important factor to take into account is the use of the hard sign (ъ) in pre-20th century handwriting. While hard signs are only used in specific and rare contexts today, they were used as an ending for most words ending in a consonant before the 1918 spelling reform.

Remember that even with spelling rules to guide writing conventions, some scribes may still have written something unexpected. Allow spelling to be flexible, especially when reading names that could be spelled in different ways.

The word ending tables on this page are based on those used historically by the Missionary Training Center (MTC) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo, Utah.


Paleography Introduction