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, 2016 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, 2016 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 1
    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, 2016 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, 2016 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-. Oct 9, 2016 at 17:28

Somehow recently I often get to mention Zaliznyak… Zaliznyak's "Russian nominal declension" lists all (and I mean this quite literally) cases of unpredictable stem alternations in nominal inflection of standard Russian at pages 235-246 (by 2002 edition). In particular, stem modifications deleting a final suffix akin to судно where the split is singular vs. plural include:

  1. the -ин suffix being deleted in plural (хозяин - хозяева, listed separately, is effectively also here);
  2. цветок - цветы, щенок - щенята (and the process in -онок suffix becoming -ата or -енята is very similar);
  3. курица - куры.

Other splits with deletion of a consonant include:

  1. Nom. sg. (masculine if an agreeing word) vs. the rest: Христос, этот, тот, кто, что (and derivatives) - all other forms lack the final two letters.
  2. A huge number of adjectives with variant stems for "short" aka non-attributive forms, including маленький - мал, мала; выспренний - выспрен, выспрення; and a number of -нный adjectives with short forms in -н (either in whole or only in masculine: cf. уверенный - уверен, уверена and воспитанный - воспитан, воспитанна).

However, I have to mention that -н is most certainly final stem consonant (and it is finality in stem that counts) in судно; moreover, it is most certainly part of a suffix (specifically, one that would be designated as -*н- by Zaliznyak's system were it not deleted in plural, masking its fleeting vowel).

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