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The phrase я ошибся is past tense but doesn't include an л near the end. Are there any other examples of this phenomenon? I asked some native speakers and they couldn't think of any. One of them proposed that this might be a special property of the verbs that only have a form ending with -ся, but this isn't the case since the past tense for надеятся, смеяться, and улыбаться uses л.

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    Other verbs that don't have "л" in the past form are грести, скрести, ушибить(ся). However, "л" is missing only in singular masculine forms. – stillenat Jul 30 '13 at 12:59
  • погиб, умер, высек – Yury Jul 30 '13 at 14:00
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    @Yury: Oops, I did know погиб and умер but had forgotten about them. – KCd Jul 31 '13 at 6:03
  • пёк, нёс, рос, постриг(ся), ... – Anixx Aug 3 '13 at 21:23
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There are a number of verbs that do not take "-л-" to form past masculine forms.

Those are verbs that have the stem ending in -с, -з, -б, -г, -к, -р in the past tense. For example,

нести -> нёс, спасти -> спас, трясти -> тряс, везти -> вёз, ползти -> полз, лезть -> лез, грызть -> грыз, грести -> грёб, скрести -> скрёб, ошибиться -> ошиб-ся, ушибить(ся) -> ушиб-(ся), мочь -> мог, умереть -> умер

Note that "-л-" is missing only in masculine forms. Feminine, neuter and plural forms all take "-л-".

я/ты/она несла, спасла, лезла, гребла, ошиблась, могла etc. мы/вы/они несли, спасли, лезли гребли, ошиблись, могли etc.

The explanation for this that I could find is that in Old Russian, short participle forms (that in modern Russian are used for past tense) took gender endings -ъ(masculine), -а(feminine), -о(neuter).

писалъ - писала - писало, моглъ - могла - могло

Later the weak reduced vowel -ъ was dropped, and pronouncing consonant clusters like "-сл-, -зл-, -бл-, -гл-, -кл-, -рл-" at the end of a word became more problematic. "-л-" was often devoiced or hard to pronounce in words like *спасл, *могл, *умерл and was later dropped as well.

It didn't happen with feminine, neuter and plural endings because there was a vowel following "-л-".

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  • +1: How about verbs with with stem ending in -х like высохнуть → высох? – Yury Jul 30 '13 at 15:07
  • @Yury Yes, you're right! There might be even more. The point here is, it's not easy to pronounce /l/ in final position after most fricatives and plosives. – stillenat Jul 30 '13 at 16:25
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    There're also verbs, that have an opposite effect in them, they have the -л, but the final consonant of the stem disappears before this -л, for example: ел (ate), the stem is ед-; упал, the stem is упад-; сел. – Yellow Sky Jul 31 '13 at 2:27

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