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I always see this simple tables, where inclination is determined very easy - you just look if it's feminine, masculine or neuter and then look at the ending of the word.

But it just doesn't work sometimes. "звено" - "звенья" but "зерно" - "зёрна" and "шило" - "шилья". Sometimes it works several ways like "крыло" - "крылья" but "крылА" works as well (although sounds a bit old-fashioned).

Is there some more general rule or I'll just have to memorize all this? I'm especially interested about "зерно" and "звено", they appear so similar!

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    wow, the correct plural of шила - шилья is a revelation to me, i've never heard it in a real life, people in my region say шилА May 25, 2018 at 6:53
  • as far as зерно - звено are concerned, you may notice a cluster of consonants in зеРНо, зёРНья (зёРНЬЙА) is that much more difficult to pronounce due to 3 successive consonants, this could be part of the reason why such form of plural is unlikely May 25, 2018 at 7:00

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It seems you are mixing things. If we speak about declension both зерно and звено decline in the same way.

И. зерно, звено
Р. зерна, звена
Д. зерну, звену
В. зерно, звено
Т. зерном, звеном
П. о зерне, о звене.

So what is the problem? As for plural forms, крылья, звенья, (шила!, если два, три, четыре), шилья, зёрна, there's no general rule. You should consult a dictionary.

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  • Yeah, I meant plural forms; I thought they are determined by inclination as well.
    – Amomum
    May 25, 2018 at 15:44
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There is more to declension than just the type. The type determines the endings but quite a few words also get suffixes added or replaced especially when switching into plural:

  • муж - мужья
  • стул - стулья

  • котёнок - котята

  • мышонок - мышата

(This type of suffix alteration is quite regular and applies to all animate nouns and the name of a mushroom опенок.)

  • мать - матери
  • дочь - дочери

There are also volatile vowels:

  • ветер - ветра (compare to: катер - катера)

Quite a few masculine nouns get 'neuter' endings -а/-я: доктора, учителя.

Given just the nominative singular form of a noun you can't reliably deduce its inflected forms. You need to know if the word has a volatile vowel or suffix alterations or irregular endings. Such information can be found in dictionaries such as The Grammatical Dictionary of Russian by Andrey Zalizniak. Or you can simply use software tools such as this one: http://morpher.ru/Demo.aspx

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  • Interesting tool. It gives "директор" - "директора" but "конструктор" - "конструкторы".
    – Amomum
    May 26, 2018 at 12:49
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    @Amomum конструктор has two meanings:1. a game like LEGO and 2. a designer, developer, engineer, in the 1st one it only inflects with the -Ы ending, in the 2nd it can take both inflections, but in colloquial language leans towards -A May 26, 2018 at 13:06

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