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I have referenced a few Russian lesson pages, but I have not come up with an answer for why the ending changes in this particular manner. Could somebody explain this to me? I had thought that the change was from “е” to “я”

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  • It declines as an adjective, not a substantive
    – Anixx
    Sep 13 '15 at 20:30
  • @Anixx: I am guessing by 'substantive' you mean a noun. Perhaps you could give an answer with a couple of examples... Sep 13 '15 at 20:41
  • There can be adjective noun and substantive noun. Adjective is also a type of noun.
    – Anixx
    Sep 13 '15 at 21:06
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Животное is a nominalised adjective. These retain their adjectival declension in Russian but are otherwise treated as nouns for all intents and purposes. So for example there's столовая the adjective, meaning "table" (as in "table spoon"), and there's столовая the noun, meaning "canteen".

However, it's worth noting that животное and other taxonomical terms were (I think) 18th-century scholarly coinages calqued (with some liberties) from Latin and given a Church Slavonic-esque sound:

животные Animalia

млекопитающие Mammalia

земноводные Amphibia

насекомые Insecta

пресмыкающиеся Reptilia

— and with the exception of the latter, they were these nominalised adjectives right from the start, and hadn't really had a prior history as adjectives.

Where животный does get used as an adjective in modern Russian (as in животная притягательность "animal magnetism"), it's actually a back-transition into an adjective meaning "of or pertaining to animals", from the noun "animal", from a theoretical Church Slavonic adjective meaning "endowed with life".

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  • животные, млекопитающие and земноводные are not from these roots. Actually, both животный and млекопитающая had been conceived as adjectives: the former is just old plain CS adjective from животъ, the latter is one of Virgin Mary's epithets in Byzantine tradition.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 14 '15 at 13:28
  • Should all nominalised adjectives be treated with their corresponding adjectival declension? What should I do, if I want to use the word as a noun instead of an adject, such as "I see animals"? Should I still declinate according to the adjectival declension rules?
    – ShadowMecc
    Sep 14 '15 at 18:52
  • @ShadowMecc: yes, they decline exactly as if they were adjectives. Note that some words might look like adjectives (гений, стая etc.) but not be them etymologically, and hence should decline according to nominal patterns. Some proper names of foreign origin (like Russian singer's Diana Gurtskaya who is of Abkhaz descent) might be confused with adjectives too even by Russian speakers not aware of their etymology.
    – Quassnoi
    Sep 14 '15 at 21:13
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The ending changes similar to those of adjectives (зелёное, зелёные и т.п.) since this word was originally an adjective. You can think of it as short form of "животное существо" (animal creature).

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  • How could one know whether a word had once been an adjective or not?
    – ShadowMecc
    Sep 14 '15 at 18:50
  • Apart from the possibility of recognition by its 'adjective' type of ending ("-ое" here), such a word is likely to be contemporarily used as an adjective in combination with some nouns (животный мир, животные инстинкты и т.п.). If such an adjective can be used without any dependent noun in some context, it becomes a noun but usually keeps its type of ending and the ways of changing that ending.
    – Alex_ander
    Sep 14 '15 at 20:16

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