Pluralizing Words in Romanian


Ahhh yes, plurals, a constant and very difficult subject for people learning the Romanian language.

Over the years I’ve learned a number of languages (or parts of them) and Romanian is one of the trickiest because it doesn’t follow any sort of internal rules that you can simply memorize. Furthermore, because it is an inflected language (see my post here on noun cases), this means that:

  • Verbs must be conjugated
  • Adjectives must match gender/number; AND
  • All nouns have declensions

Therefore all nouns and adjectives have to match (luckily adverbs don’t).

Consider this phrase: limba straina (foreign language).

A great resource for finding the declensions of nouns is here, which tells us that “limba” is feminine (click on “Get Declension”).

The adjective in this case – “strain” – (foreign) must be modified to match the noun in question, therefore “strain” takes the feminine version and becomes “straina”.

So far, so good as many languages use the format that words ending in “a” are feminine, so that’s relatively easy to understand.

But how do we pluralize this phrase? Turns out the answer is: limbi straine.

How do we know? Well the same website linked above shows that the pluralized form of “limba” is “limbi” so that part was relatively easy. But why is it “straine” and not “straini” to match? Aren’t they both feminine and thus pluralized the same?

Sadly, no.

Let’s take a different tact and we’ll see why.

Imagine the phrase: baiat strain (foreign boy).

Clearly in this case “baiat” is masculine so we then use the masculine version of the adjective for foreign, being “strain”. What would the plural be?

Again, using the same website, we see the plural for “baiat” is “baieti”. Woah! And then the plural form of the adjective would be “straini” (masculine form) so the pluralized version of “baiat strain” would end up being “baieti straini”.

Confused yet? Good! But wait, it gets even more confusing.

Some words that end in “a” are actually masculine, such as “tata” (father). Therefore if you had a foreign father it would be “tata strain” and the pluralized version would be “tati straini”.

Therefore “foreign languages” would be: limbi straine; and

“foreign fathers” would be: tati straini.

You have approximately two options when learning pluralization in Romanian.

Option 1 – Memorize the 50 different forms of pluralization and how they change depending on gender and number; or

Option 2 – Just listen to and read a lot of Romanian and then you will begin to get a natural feeling for how these things work together.

Sadly, neither option is easy, I’m here to tell you.

There’s a great wikipedia article describing nouns here but again it’s a long list of “generally it’s this but sometimes it’s that” and I at least could never memorize all those rules.

Furthermore, some adjectives have both a feminine and masculine version and some don’t. Fun times!

The most common one of these wacko adjectives is verde (green). There is only a unisex singular version and a unisex plural version.

Example: limba verde (green tongue/language, whatever that means LOL) in the plural becomes limbi verzi because there is no female plural version of “verde”. It only seems like it should be “verze” but it isn’t because that form doesn’t exist.

Therefore: Limbi straine sunt (are) limbi verzi is a legitimate sentence.

Every single Romanian, in their head, “just knows” the gender of every single noun and adjective and slots them together in their head without thinking about it. That’s clearly not possible if you’re learning this language as an adult.

The first thing you have to do is start learning (and feeling) what the gender of each noun is, which can be extremely confusing if you speak other languages with gender, as often they won’t be the same. The word “flower” in Italian is masculine, feminine in Spanish and feminine in Romanian.

Furthermore, Romanian has the “third gender” known as “neuter” which is nothing more and nothing less than masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural.

Even though there are a lot of plural forms, it isn’t an infinite amount and you need to get the hang of hearing and constructing these forms until they sound familiar. Use the link above to find these out.

A list of a few nouns and their plural form:

English Singular Plural Gender
boy baiat baieti masculine
car masina masini feminine
pajama(s) pijama pijamale feminine
girl fata fete feminine
tomato rosie rosii feminine
mountain munte munti masculine
coffee cafea cafele feminine
sun soare sori masculine
brick caramida caramizi feminine
cable cablu cabluri neuter
(writing) pen pix pixuri neuter

So you can see how confusing it is already. Two words which are both feminine and end in “a” (masina and pijama) have different plural forms.

Two other words both ending in “e” (munte and rosie) are of two different genders and have different plural forms.

Also the interior part of the words often changes when it becomes plural. The word “fata” becomes “fete”, “baiat” becomes “baieti” and “caramida” becomes “caramizi”.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that there is some easy rule to understand how to pluralize all these words but there just isn’t. There is no way to look at a word and know its gender, period. Nor its plural form.

Nonetheless, you need to start getting a feeling for the gender and forms of all words you learn in Romanian. The good news here is that once you learn the forms, they never change.

Let’s take the two adjectives we’ve been working with, strain and verde and match them up.

English Singular Plural Gender
foreign pen pix strain pixuri straine neuter
green pen pix verde pixuri verzi neuter
foreign tomato rosie straina rosii straine feminine
green tomato rosie verde rosii verzi feminine
foreign car masina straina masini straine feminine
green car masina verde masini verzi feminine
foreign brick caramida straina caramizi straine feminine
green brick caramida verde caramizi verzi feminine
foreign boy baiat strain baieti straini masculine
green boy baiat verde baieti verzi masculine

Now let’s throw into the mix an adjective with it’s own multiple forms, the word for “hot” (meaning temperature not spicy).

English Singular Plural Gender
hot calda calde feminine
hot cald calzi masculine

So let’s see if we can use this adjective with the nouns we’ve already discussed.

English Singular Plural Gender
hot tomato rosie calda rosii calde feminine
hot brick caramida calda caramizi calde feminine
hot pen pix cald pixuri calde neuter
hot sun soare cald sori calzi masculine
hot father tata cald tati calzi masculine

Again, the “neuter” is masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural, hence the weirdness above for the word “pix”, as it uses the masculine adjective in the singular (cald) and the feminine in the plural (calde).

This is why it’s so important to use Romanian enough that the gender is something you can “just feel” and don’t have to think about and analyze.

If it sounds confusing, it is. But as your vocabulary grows, practice learning all the different forms and state changes each nouns or adjective goes through.

To find the various forms for adjectives, go to the same website and plug in the Romanian word and click on “Cauta Definitie”.

For example the adjective “lucky” (see the results here):

Singular Masculine Singular Feminine Plural Masculine Plural Feminine
norocos norocoasa norocosi norocoase

Following all that gives us this:

English Singular Plural Gender
lucky tomato rosie norocoasa rosii norocoase feminine
lucky brick caramida norocoasa caramizi norocoase feminine
lucky pen pix norocos pixuri norocoase neuter
lucky boy baiat norocos baieti norocosi masculine
lucky father tata norocos tati norocosi masculine

Yes I realize it’s the devil to learn.

Just remember, the gender/number of the noun determines the gender/number of the adjective(s).

Despite the average Romanian speaker’s arrogance on this topic, they too often do not know how to pluralize or modify a word if they haven’t already previous learned the forms. I remember sitting around once listening to some native speakers debate the correct plural form of “balta” (puddle) because they were unsure whether it was “balti” or “balte” (it’s the former) precisely because until you’ve memorized the forms, there’s just no way to know what they are.

Don’t give up hope!

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Ovi says:

    hey Sam! Great article, but could you use diacritics? I know it’s a pain!

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      I will point you to a site I just discovered – http://www.diacritics.com – if you cut and paste Romanian in there, it’ll add the diacritics for you. Would’ve done it myself a long time ago if I had known about it.

      Like

      1. Gratziani Vaduva says:

        hey I just want to help you learning romanian. first of all, I’m a native romanian and I can tell you that it’s difficult even for natives to speak correctly romanian. But just because some of them aren’t educated enough and don’t know the many rules of romanian plurals, doesn’t mean that those rules don’t exist. So if the persons discussing the plural of “balta” would’ve been more educated they would’ve known that in general (ok, there are exceptions) words ending in ‘ta’ or ‘te’ have plurals in ‘ti’ (carte-carti, harta-harti, balta-balti, cetate-cetati etc).
        One thing that may also help you: If you have a feminine word ending in ‘a’, and the accent falls on that ‘a’, the plural for that word always ends in ‘ale’ (pijama-pijamale, baclava-baclavale, macara-macarale). So you see, you don’t have to memorize the plural of every word, you just have to memorize the thousands of rules of romanian plurals ;)))

        Like

  2. Anonim says:

    Correction: green tomato = gogonea, pl. gogonele

    Like

  3. Sherry says:

    You rock! :D These are questions I already asked several Romanians. Now I truly understand why people told me I was crazy to want to learn Romanian.

    Like

  4. Hahaha says:

    Hahaha…the nonsense here somewhat resembles the nonsense in Latin, which I have some handle of…but this seems even crazier….O_O

    By the way, I’m the same person as pencilcase…=)

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      btw your IP shows up when you post a comment so don’t worry about the name switcheroo stuff :D

      Like

  5. Pencilcase says:

    Um…I’m listening to a Moldovan band (O-Zone ^_^””””””””””)….would their Moldovan/Romanian be very different from “Romanian” Romanian?

    Thanks! =D

    Like

  6. Hahaha says:

    Fascinating language…but might need to procrastinate learning it….need so much time…

    Nice post, though! =D

    Like

  7. DudeImInRomania says:

    (O)(O)
    O

    fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!

    Like

  8. D. says:

    Correction: bun has a masculine AND feminine form for plural as well. It’s buni/bune. :P

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      aha! FIXED :D

      Like

  9. Megan says:

    o.O

    *dies a little inside*

    As if learning Spanish verb formation wasn’t hard enough! >:/
    Lol… but surely it must be easier than learning English. I doubt much can be as inconsistent than English! (I hope)

    Like

    1. Sam R. says:

      Don’t let it get you down, Megan. After all I learned this language in 37 easy steps! :D

      Like

Got something to say? Try to be nice!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.