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Making sense of old handwriting

Numbers and Ages in Russian Language Documents

While Arabic numerals have been used in the former Russian Empire since the 1600s, Russian language documents often spell numbers out, especially when referring to dates. With different names and endings for the various numbers depending on context and grammar, important numbers like ages or dates can be tricky to decipher. This page—as well as the pages about Dates and Times and Calendars—is designed to guide you through the various forms of numbers you will encounter, providing the vocabulary that will help you to accurately interpret the key genealogical information held in the documents you read.


Russian/500 Rubles (1912)
500 ruble bill, 1912. Public Domain (PD-1996: Russia).

Similar to how English uses the word “one” in some contexts and “first” in others, different words are used for the cardinal and ordinal numbers of the Russian language.

Cardinal numbers—the basic number set used for counting items (such as one, two, three, etc.) --are used in Russian language documents to describe the ages of individuals. These numbers act like nouns and take on noun endings when they are declined.

Just two cardinal numbers have different endings depending on the gender of the noun they go with: один (one) and два (two). Один appears as один with masculine nouns, одно with neuter nouns, or одна with feminine nouns. Два has two forms, два and две. Две is used with feminine nouns, while два is used with masculine and neuter nouns.

Ordinal numbers—the number set used for putting items in a specific order (such as first, second, third, etc.) --are used in Russian language documents to describe dates. These numbers act like adjectives and take on adjectival endings when they are declined.

Review the table below to compare these two forms:

Cardinal Numbers Ordinal Numbers
1 один 1st первый
2 два 2nd второй
3 три 3rd третий
4 четыре 4th четвёртый
5 пять 5th пятый
6 шесть 6th шестой
7 семь 7th седьмой
8 восемь 8th восьмой
9 девять 9th девятый
10 десять 10th десятый
11 одиннадцать 11th одиннадцатый
12 двенадцать 12th двенадцатый
13 тринадцать 13th тринадцатый
14 четырнадцать 14th четырнадцатый
15 пятнадцать 15th пятнадцатый
16 шестнадцать 16th шестнадцатый
17 семнадцать 17th семнадцатый
18 восемнадцать 18th восемнадцатый
19 девятнадцать 19th девятнадцатый
20 двадцать 20th двадцатый
21 двадцать один 21st двадцать первый
30 тридцать 30th тридцатый
40 сорок 40th сороковой
50 пятьдесят 50th пятидесятый
60 шестьдесят 60th шестдесятый
70 семьдесят 70th семидесятый
80 восемьдесят 80th восьмидесятый
90 девяносто 90th девяностый
100 сто 100th сотый
700 семьсот 700th семисотый
800 восемьсот 800th восьмисотый
900 девятьсот 900th девятисотый
1,000 тысяча 1,000th тысячный

Note that in numbers expressed in more than one word (such as 22nd), only the last word is an ordinal number. Rather than being written as двадцатый второй, the ordinal version of 22 would be двадцать второй.


Three different words are used to express the idea of “years” in Russian language documents when referring to ages:

  • Год is used for ages that end in the number 1 (not including 11) 
  • Года is used with an age ending in the numbers 2-4 (not including the teens ending in those numbers) 
  • Лет is used for ages that end in numbers larger than 4, ages that end in 0, and ages in the teens. 

Use the rules above to determine why each of the words for "year" are used in the following examples:

  1. Тридцать один год (31 years) 
  2. Двадцать два года (22 years) 
  3. Сорок шесть лет (46 years) 
  4. Девятносто лет (90 years) 
  5. Четырнадцать лет (14 years) 


Paleography Introduction