I was reading an article about typology of Russian language by Gasparov, B. M. (“Structure of Russian language from typological point of view (Intro to sociogrammatics). Article 2. Morphology of the noun”. Scholarly notes of Tartu University, issue 486. Tartu, 1979. Pp. 23—44.) and in the section about grammatical number there is passage where I am not sure how to translate certain terminology in English. I am native Russian speaker, I just do not know the proper linguistic terms.

Below is the passage from page 32 (Rus) where he talks about the general development of dual and then its extinction in Russian language, translated to the best of my ability (terms in question are emboldened, author’s own emphasis of one of the words is converted to italics by me):

Most ancient stratum of the functioning of this form, apparently, constitute the so-called independent dual — the form used with a noun outside of combination with the numeral “two”, that is, not supported by lexical definition of quantity. Independent dual was used originally for designation of paired objects (“eyes”, “arms” and the like). Subsequently develops the usage of connected dual [related? bounded?] that combines the noun with the numeral “two”. As a result, the usage of the form of dual grammatical number broadens, and this form becomes universal quantitative determinant that can be imparted to any noun.

To elaborate more on “connected dual” author examples (p. 33) how relics of dual forms now differ in meaning according to whether or not they are used with a qualifier, such as numeral “two” or pronouns “these”, “such”, “mine”, “some” etc. If someone says “на столе лежат книги” (there are books laying on the table), listener would assume a “larger multitude” of “more than two” (>2), whereas “эти книги лежат на столе” (these books are laying on the table) means that there could be any number of books, including two (>1). That is, author argues that if there were, in fact, two books on the table, the speaker is expected to note that directly, or qualify that he is talking about specific objects (again, akin the definite article).

For me, as a native speaker, it is not readily intuitive, but I do agree that author is onto something.

Old Russian dual and its relics in modern Russian

To shed more light on what the author talked about, below are several examples of Old Russian dual and its relics that remained after its extinction:

The modern word рука (NOM SG F) meaning “arm” is the same in Old Russian save for the digraph ѹ in place of у (both have similar or identical sound). NOM PL is the рѹкы (modern руки), and NOM-ACC-VOC DU is рѹцѣ which has no modern counterpart (although the numeral “two” follows the same paradigm for the F: modern две was дъвѣ). If that points to anything, this form is the same for DAT SG and LOC SG.

Now, in modern Russian there is no dual, but there is, we could say, paucal form for plural of 1.5, 2, 3, and 4. In case of рука and several other words it is formed with the same word as uncounted plural, but with the stress shift. “Two hands” is две руки́, but uncountable “hands” is ру́ки. From 5 to 20 GEN PL form is used: 13 рук. After that combined numerals begin.


From the article it is unclear to me what author means exactly by “connected dual”. As he writes “connected dual that combines the noun with the numeral ‘two’”, does it not defeat the whole idea of dual? Although examples of Old Russian dual (Rus, Wikipedia) show that it could have been used both with or without numeral “two”. Gasparov also notes that after usage of dual had broadened, dual for paired objects took on function similar to that of definite article in English: рѹцѣ [dual, the arms, both arms, arms of one person] vs. рѹкы [plural, arms].

What are the correct linguistic terms for these particular types? Did I translate correctly? Please, link authoritative source or glossary, and bear in mind that I am not a linguist, so nothing excessively recondite.

  • 1
    I guess, this phenomenon perfectly fits into a distinction between Dual versus Plural, hence there's no additional term for it. Interestingly, although called dual, in Russian it applies to "tiny plural" (2, 3, and 4) contrary to "larger plural" (5 and above). The same article also points that composite numerals (fifty-three eyes) also follow the rule of "tiny plural" versus, e.g. twenty-eight eyes. Jan 19, 2013 at 8:30
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    @bytebuster, it was full and proper dual. “Tiny plural” for “small multitudes” of 2, 3, and 4 is a relic of the dual. They still have to be used with numeral quantifier, whereas Old Russian брата (nominative dual) meant “two brothers”, and only two.
    – theUg
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:31
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    if you are talking about a category which usually means 2, but can be 3 or 4, this is called paucal number. if it is a number that is at least 3, you can call it plural, and if it is 2 or more, you can call it non-singular. the correct choice depends on the overall distinctions available.
    – user483
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:14
  • @jlovegren, no, there is no paucal in Russian. It is just a relic of dual — the declension form for old nominative dual is used to designate plurality for “small multitudes” (still have to be used with a numeral): 1 стол → 2 стола → 3 стола → 4 стола → 5 столов. I cannot just say стола and expect people to understand it as “two tables” (or 3, or 4). In fact, that form would mean nothing today without a numeral or preposition to designate it as pl., or sg. genitive, or sg. accusative in modern Russian
    – theUg
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:20
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    Perhaps there is a name for the phenomenon where a morphological feature that used to be able to mark a certain function on its own but now requires another feature, but I doubt it; independent dual v. dependent dual makes sense in this context, provided that the reader fully understands how it works, or any of the other words proposed.
    – Cerberus
    Jan 22, 2013 at 2:37

2 Answers 2


I think I can help you. Parallels exists in modern Slovenian and Croatian.

In Slovenian, you would use dual with any two objects:

Matjaž in Janez sta bila... (dual of verb) "Matjaž and Janez were"...

Dva človeka sta bila (dual of verb) "Two men were"...

This is, I suppose, "independent dual", the same thing you had in Old Church Slavic and is somehow preserved in Slovenian.

In Croatian, you would use dual/paucal only if words for 2, 3, 4 or "both" are present:

Matjaž i Janez su bili (only plural possible)

Dva čovjeka su bila (dual/paucal of past participle)

I think that's the "connected" dual, like in Russian. It's restricted to constructs where words for 2, 3, 4 or "both" appear, it's not enough to have A and B, you must have the word two somewhere to trigger dual.

Maybe "restricted" or "bound" dual is a better term, since it's use is bound to some specific numerals. Hope this helps you a bit.

For various views on dual, check this work, pages 40-91, especially page 85.



If I understand correctly, some nouns had at first inherently dual meaning, but eventually there was a development where an affix historically deriving from the word meaning "two" began used as a generic dual marker. The first usage might be called the lexical dual, and the second the morphological dual.

  • These two terms, are they widely used in linguistics? Also, the dual in Old Russian (let’s say up until the XIV century when (according to the article I quoted) it began to disintegrate) was a fully developed category (see declension paradigm tables), which, methinks, is different from pseudo-dual the terms you referenced might indicate. While I would admit I do not fully comprehend the article I quoted, as far as I understand, Old Russian dual was used without numeral quantifier (руцѣ [dual, both arms] vs. рукы [plural, arms]).
    – theUg
    Jan 19, 2013 at 6:30
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    I don't know anything about Russian, but, if its "old dual" is anything like Greek or Proto-Indo-European dual, I would not call it lexical. It has its own set of endings just like singular and plural; it's just that it is not used much except with certain nouns that can occur in pairs, such as, indeed, eyes and arms, but also horses, and people. I would rather call "morphological dual", or just "dual". The other sounds like our "a pair/couple of" but an older, more integrated form; one might call that "suffixed dual". P.S. Or, wait, did you mix up "first" and "second" usage in your answer?
    – Cerberus
    Jan 19, 2013 at 10:33
  • @Cerberus you would know better than me. go ahead and put your comments in an answer.
    – user483
    Jan 19, 2013 at 15:59
  • @Cerberus, I am not clear as yet on this, but from the declension tables I linked above it can be seen that dual in Old Russian had been used with all kinds of words (there are exampled “stones”, “seeds” and so forth). The passage I quoted in OP explains general evolution of dual before delving in specifics of evolution of Dual in Russian. Author afterwards continues to explain how dual took on the function akin to the definite article in English (e. g. dual eyes would be eyes of one person, not just any number of, so to say, disparate eyes designated by plural).
    – theUg
    Jan 19, 2013 at 16:48
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    @theUg post some examples in the body of your question, showing singular, plural, and dual forms for each of the nouns in question, one set for the "old" dual and one set for the "new" dual.
    – user483
    Jan 19, 2013 at 17:13

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