I had previously known words for vessels that move on the water like корабль and лодка, but recently came across судно. It was quite surprising that н, which is not a final consonant, disappears in all the plural cases: суда, судов, судам, судами, судах. Are there other words where an interior consonant disappears in many declensions (without the word fundamentally changing, so человек->люди isn't an example of what I'm asking about)?

I am aware that the н is retained in the plural declensions when судно has the meaning of "bedpan" instead of "ship," and maybe these two different meanings are in some way an explanation for the phenomenon of the disappearing н in the plural, but since the two words seem to be identical in the singular I don't understand how they came to be treated differently only in the plural.

  • I don't understand how the came to be treated differently only in the plural That's normal in Russian. Cf. "колено" -> pl. "колени", "колена" or "коленья" depending only on the meaning. – Matt Oct 9 '16 at 5:47
  • @Matt your example of колено is not the same. My point was not changes in the ending, but that a nonfinal consonant from the dictionary form (nominative singular) disappears in the plural. With колено the nonfinal consonant н remains in the word through all of its cases, singular and plural. – KCd Oct 9 '16 at 17:04

According to this forum thread (Russian), суда is a suppletive plural much like люди, albeit from the same root. The plural forms come from суд, in its Old Russian meaning of "vessel" (which is also the literal translation of судно, albeit in the narrow nautical sense).

I must say I'm not quite satisfied with how the question of the nom. pl. суда is waved away there ("we've discussed this before"). I'm not sure pointing to other plurals of masculine nouns isn't anachronistic in this case. I'm aware, though, that the posters there are probably more qualified than me.

Another example, also mentioned there, is цветокцветы, which is, again, two nouns fused into one. Цвет used to be the word for "flower" but there was obvious pressure to disambiguate it from "colour". Note that the "regular" plural цветки is the norm when talking about flowers in a scientific (biological) context.

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    Ah, that's a good point about цвет/цветок as another example. I have at times gotten confused by that pair because of the mostly overlapping plural forms, but the meaning of цветы was easy to pick up by osmosis because it is on so many shop signs. – KCd Oct 8 '16 at 19:05
  • Actually, in цветок/цветы the disappearing consonant к is a last letter rather than an interior consonant, so it is not quite what I had been seeking, but it still looks unusual (if you don't check into the etymology) since it is not common even for a last letter that is a consonant to vanish in declined forms. – KCd Oct 9 '16 at 17:16
  • @KCd Last letter or not, it's a suffix. I don't think Russian's got anything to match the Arabic barnāmij "program" becoming barāmij in the plural. Except maybe котёнок–котята, when you consider that the -ён- and -я- are historically the same -en-. – Nikolay Ershov Oct 9 '16 at 17:28

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