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I've just started learning German and what strikes me with there plurals is that a word in plural can differ no only at the end but in the middle as well (die Kopf / die Köpfe, der Stuhl / die Stühle, der Wald / die Wälde).

And then I've realized that in Russian we have for istance:

  • десна / дёсны
  • весна / вёсны
  • ведро / вёдра
  • бедро / бёдра

My question is - is there any rule one can memorize when this is the case in Russian? If not, what is more or less full list of such words?

UPD: For those who claims that this is due to ѣ/e change, can you please be more specific. For instance, words that evolved from рѣпа, пѣна, лѣто do not follow this pattern. On the other hand, word жена which came from жєна does follow this pattern.

UPD: I've just realized that it's wider than "ё"/"е". Just like Dmitry've mentioned, we have "ё"/"е". And actually we also have "a"/"о" (заря/зори)

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Actually, as Zaliznyak (1967) shows, it is, synchronically, ё>е in singular not e>ё in plural. Words like "десна'" are actually "дёсна'" (' for stress), but unstressed ё is not used in Russian (except for very special cases of some loanwords, for which Zaliznyak adds a special rule "convert unstressed ё to ё` (a special symbol unaffected by most rules)" before converting every е that is in stress-caused alternation with ё to ё) so we write "десна". It is lexical information for every word (or, rather, morpheme) what is its actual phonemical view.

Just the same thing happens to words with ё which lose their stress on it in oblique cases: "ёж" - "ежа'" (phonemically "ёжа'").

Diachronically, though, it is related to ѣ which did not alternate to o in t'et situation (where t is any hard consonant but ц and t' is any soft consonant or ж or ш) and е which did. However, ѣ later coincided with е, and afterwards some analogy processes caused some words with ѣ to gain "alternation" as well and some words with е to lose it.

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  • So you claim that all words that have this ё/e are actually should be pronounced (or originally were) with ё? so, "звёзда", "вёсна", "бёдро" - but well, this does not seem right to me
    – shabunc
    Oct 9 '16 at 16:32
  • I've updated the question with explanation why I'm not fully satisfied with ѣ/e explanation.
    – shabunc
    Oct 10 '16 at 10:15
  • @shabunc Underlyingly they are. But then "ё", "е" and "я" are all subject to the same reduction which leads all the three to be pronounced as [и] or [ь] depending on the position of stress. And we show that in writing for ё but don't show that in writing for я because... well, because reasons.
    – Viridianus
    Oct 20 '16 at 21:47
  • @shabunc Actually the diachronical claim is: "Alternation to ё under stress happened in XIV if and only if there was no yat' in the word and it has not been a case of special change (like "звезда" which used to have yat')". However, because of the second part it is not quite useful.
    – Viridianus
    Oct 20 '16 at 21:50
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жена - жёны

звезда - звёзды

some people say that the difference stems from the form of singular with or without the obsolete letter "ѣ - ять", which denoted the vowel "e", so i guess unless one knows where "ѣ - ять" must be present in the singular form it's impossible to derive the plural form logically

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It's quite simple: if you have an emphasis changed from other vovwel to е it changes to ё.

Examples

ведро — вёдра... and other examples from your question

But not here:

одежда, умение, отец

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    Not such simple. What about беда́-бéды, земля́-зéмли, перó-пéрья etc?
    – Dmitry
    Oct 9 '16 at 12:40

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