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Encyclopedia > Dual (grammatical number)

The dual in Slavic languages

Common Slavic had a complete singular-dual-plural number system, although the dual paradigms showed considerable syncretism. Verbs had the same form in the second and third person dual; however, nouns, adjectives, and pronouns inherited the three Proto-Indo-European dual forms.[1] Proto-Slavic is the proto-language from which Old Church Slavonic and all the other Slavic languages later emerged. ... In linguistics, syncretism is the agreement in form of distinct morphological forms of a word. ...

Of the living languages, only Slovene and Sorbian have preserved the dual number as a productive form. In all of the remaining languages, its influence is still found in the declension of nouns of which there are commonly only two: eyes, ears, shoulders, in certain fixed expressions, and the agreement of nouns when used with numbers.[2] The Sorbian languages are classified under the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European languages. ...

In all the languages, the declension of the "two" maintains most of its dual characteristics, which can be verified from the table below.

language nom.-acc.-voc. gen.-loc. dat. instr.
Common Slavic дъва (dǔva) (masc.) / дъвѣ (dǔvě) (fem./nt.) дъвою (dǔvoju) дъвѣма (dǔvěma) дъвѣма (dǔvěma)
Belarusian два (masc./nt.) дзве (fem.)
Czech dva (masc.) / dvě (fem./nt.) dvou dvěma dvěma
Polish dwa (masc./nt) / dwie (fem.)1 dwu / dwoch dwu / dwom dwoma
Russian два (masc./nt. ) / две (fem.) двух двум двумя
Slovak dva / dve dvoch dvom dvoma
Serbian/Croatian dva (masc./nt.) dve/dvije (fem.) dvaju (masc./nt.) dveju (fem.)2 dvama (masc./nt.) dvema (fem.) dvama (masc./nt.) dvema (fem.)
Slovenian dva (masc.) dve (fem./nt.) dveh dvema dvema
Sorbian dwaj (masc.) dwě (fem./nt.) dweju2 dwěmaj dwěmaj
Ukrainian два / дві двох двум двома


  1. In Polish, there is a further distinction between animate and inanimate masculine nouns. For animate masculine nouns, the possible nominative forms are dwaj, dwoch, or dwu.
  2. In Serbian/Croatian and Sorbian, the form given is only for the genitive case; the locative case is then the same as the dative or instrumental cases.

The words oba and obidva meaning "both" are declined similarly to the numeral "two."

In Common Slavic, the rules where relatively simple for determining the appropriate case for the noun, when it was used with a numeral. The following rules apply:

  1. With the numeral "one", both the noun, adjective, and numeral were in the same singular case, with the numeral being declined as an adjective.
  2. With the numeral "two", both the noun, adjective, and numeral were in the same dual case. There were separate forms for the masculine and neuter-feminine nouns.
  3. With the numerals "three" and "four," the noun, adjective, and numeral were in the same plural case.
  4. With any numeral above "four", in the nominative case, the numeral was followed by the noun and adjective in the genitive plural case. For all other cases, both the noun, adjective, and numeral were in the same plural case.

With the loss of the dual in most of the Slavic languages, the above pattern now is only seen in the forms of the numbers for the tens, hundreds, and rarely thousands. This can be seen by examining the following table:

Language 10 20 30 50 100 200 300 500
Common Slavic дес”ѧть (desętǐ) дъва дес”ѧти (dǔvě desęti) три дес”ѧте (tri desęte) п”ѧть десѧ”ть (pętǐ desętǔ) съто (sǔto) дъвѣ сътѣ (dǔvě sǔtě) три съта (tri sǔta) пѧ”ть сътъ (pętǐ sǔtǔ)
Bulgarian десет двадесет тридесет петдесет сто двеста триста петстотин
Belarusian дзесяць дваццаць трыццаць пяцьдзесят сто дзвесце трыста пяцьсот
Slovenian deset dvajset trideset petdeset sto dvesto tristo petsto
Polish dziesięć dwadzieścia trzydzieści pięćdziesiąt sto dwieście trzysta pięćset
Russian десять двадцать тридцать пятьдесят сто двести триста пятьсот
Serbian/Croatian deset dvadeset trideset pedeset sto dvesta/dvijesto trista/tristo petstotina/petsto
Upper Sorbian[3] dźesać dwaceći třiceći pjećdźesat sto dwě sćě tři sta pjeć stow
Slovak desať dvadsať tridsať päťdesiat sto dvesto tristo päťsto
Ukrainian десять двадцять тридцять п'ятдесят сто двісті триста п'ятсот

In those languages that lost the dual, the above rules become the following for all languages except Bulgarian and Macedonian, which have lost all declensions:[4]

  1. With the numeral "one", both the noun, adjectives, and numeral are in the same singular case, with the numeral being declined as an adjective.
  2. With the numerals "two", "three" and "four", there are two different possibilities. In Polish, Czech, Slovak, Sorbian, and Ukrainian, the numeral, adjective, and noun are in the same nominative plural case. In Ukrainian, the stress on the noun is that of the genitive singular (or the old dual). In Russian, Belarusian, and Serbo-Croatian, the genitive singular is used for the noun, which in most cases resembles the dual in form is used. The adjective can be either in the genitive singular or plural forms. In all other cases, the appropriate plural form is used.
  3. With the numerals "five" and above, in the nominative case, the numeral is followed by the noun and adjectives in the genitive plural case. For all other cases, both the noun, adjectives, and numeral are in the same plural case.

The resulting changes can be seen in the table below where the word "wolf" is used to form nominative noun phrases with various numerals.

"wolf" "wolves" "two wolves" "three wolves" "five wolves"
noun form nom. sing. nom. plur. varies gen. plur.
Common Slavic vǐlkǔ vǐlci dъva vǐlka (nom. dual) tri vǐlci (nom. pl.) pętǐ vǐlkovǔ
Czech vlk vlci dva/tři vlci (nom. pl.) pět vlků
Polish wilk wilki dwa/trzy wilki (nom. pl.) pięć wilków
Ukrainian вовк вовки два/три вовки (nom. pl.) п'ять вовків
Russian волк волки два/тры волкa (gen. sg.) пять волков
Serbo-Croatian vuk vukovi dva/tri vuka (gen. sg.) pet vukova

The dual has also left traces in the declension of nouns describing those object which humans customarily had two of, for example: eyes, ears, legs, breasts, and hands. Often the plural declension is used to give a figurative meaning. The table below summarises the key such points. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Language Examples
Czech certain body parts and their modifying adjectives require in the instrumental and genitive plural cases dual forms : se svýma očima (instrumental dual: "with one's own (two) eyes") or u nohou (genitive dual: "at the (two) feet"). Colloquial Czech will often substitute the dual instrumental for the literary plural instrumental case.
Polish Oko ("eye") and ucho ("ear") have plural stems deriving from old dual forms, and alternative instrumental and genitive plural forms with archaic dual endings: gen. pl. oczu/ócz/oczów, uszu/uszów; instr. pl. oczami/oczyma, uszami/uszyma). The declension of ręka ("hand, arm") also contains old dual forms (nom./acc./voc. pl ręce, instr. pl. rękami/rękoma, loc. sg./pl. rękach/ręku). The historically dual forms are usually used to refer a person's two hands (dziecko na ręku "child-in-arms"), while the regularized plural forms are used elsewhere. Other archaic dual forms, including dual verbs, can be encountered in older literature and in dialects: Jak nie chceta, to nie musita "If you don't want to, you don't have to".[5]
Slovak In Slovak, the genitive plural and instrumental plural for the words "eyes" and "ears" has also retained its dual forms: oču/očima and ušu/ošima.
Ukrainian The words eyes and shoulders had dual forms in the instrumental plural case: очима ("eyes") and плечима ("shoulders"). Furthermore, the nominative plural word "вуса", which is the dual of "вус" ("whisker"), refers to the moustache, while the true nominative plural word "вуси" refers to whiskers.


The Slovene language is the only major Slavic language that retains full grammatical use of the dual, including distinct dual forms for both nouns and verbs. The dual declension merges with the plural in certain nominal cases (e.g., genitive). Note that dual number is compatible with use of the pronoun oba(dva) or obe(dve) ("both"). This article needs cleanup. ...

Nominative case of noun "wolf", with and without numerals:

nom. sg. (wolf) nom. pl. (wolves) 2 wolves (nom. dual) 3 (or 4) wolves (nom. pl.) 5 (+) wolves (gen. pl.)
Slovene volk volkovi dva volkova trije volkovi pet volkov

The dual is recognised by many Slovene speakers as one of the most distinctive features of the language and a mark of recognition, and is often mentioned in tourist brochures.

For verbs, the endings in the present tense are given as -va, -ta, -ta. The table below shows a comparison of the conjugation of the verb oddati, which means to give away and belongs to Class I in the singular, dual, and plural.

Singular Dual Plural
First Person oddam oddava oddamo
Second Person odd oddata oddate
Third Person odda oddata oddajo

In the imperative the endings are given as -iva for the first person dual and -ita for the second person dual. The table below shows the imperative forms for the verb hoditi (to walk) in the first and second persons of the imperative.

Singular Dual Plural
First Person hodiva hodimo
Second Person hodi hodita hodite

  Results from FactBites:
Dual (grammatical number) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1978 words)
Dual is the grammatical number used to refer to two things, as opposed to the singular for one and the plural for all others.
Slovenian uses the dual number in full (although it tends to disappear in informal speech among young people), and Sorbian, the Slavic language of a very small minority in Germany, also uses the dual number.
Dual is one of the most distinctive feature of Slovene language and a mark of recognition, and is often noticed in touristic brochures.
  More results at FactBites »



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