One thing that may be confusing you is the effect of the Russian spelling rules:
|Endings of Stems|
|Ш, Ж, Щ, Ч||ю→у||я→а||о*→е||ы→и|
|Г, К, Х||ю→у||я→а||---||ы→и|
In singular, both девочка & сестра end in -a, so the nominative plural ending should be -ы. However, since the stem of девочка ends in к, you have to change ы to и. In Russian, you are not allowed to spell the plural as девочкы, it has to be changed to девочки.
Тhe stem of сестра is сестр- which ends in р, so the spelling rules don't apply, and there's no change to the plural ending.
Without the spelling rules, both words would end in ы in their plural form.
Okay, so like a lot of other languages, Russian separates nouns into masculine, feminine, and neuter. In general, nouns breakdown like this:
- Masculine nouns typically end in a consonant or with -й
- Feminine nouns typically end in -а -я -ия
- Neuter nouns typically end in -о -е -мя
Nouns that end in -ь can be either masculine or feminine. There's no good way to know for sure with them. Now, for changing the nominative singular into plural, there's some basic rules:
- -о changes to -а so Окно becomes Окна
- -е changes to -я so море becomes моря
- -ь, -й, -я, changes to -и so Дверь becomes Двери
- masculine ending in a hard consonant adds -ы so Стол becomes Столы
- feminine ending in -а changes to -ы or -и depending on the consonant: улица becomes улицы and чашка becomes чашки
- masculine and feminine nouns with a stem ending in -к -г -х -ч -щ -ж -ш add -и so нож becomes ножи and нога becomes ноги
The problem you're running into is that it also depends on the case of the noun. Russian has six cases (more or less):
- Nominative (singular): this is the initial form of the noun, and the form given in the dictionary.
- Genitive: this is used to show when something belongs to something else.
- Dative: Also known as the indirect object in English. In English "I give the book to a friend," "friend" is the indirect object
- Accusative: Also known as the direct object in English. In English "I read the book," "book" is the direct object
- Instrumental: Used to indicate a tool or instrument that's being used. We don't have this case in English per se.
- Prepositional case: Denotes a place or a thing that is the object of speech and thought. These always follow a preposition, though not all prepositions in Russian use the prepositional case.
In some of these cases, the ending changes to reflect the noun's case.
Your best bet, when learning the endings, and how they relate to cases is to learn them IN sentences, especially with prepositions.
I know it seems overwhelming, but if you work at it, you will get it.
That was a great explanation - deserved a lingot! Similar to what the Deutsch language has, correct (nominative, genitive, dative,...)? Now, tell me, do you really know all those languages?! Impressive!! And 681 days in a row!! COngratulations, Herzlichen Gluckwunschen, Felicitaciones, Parabéns, and not sure how to say that in Russian yet.... :(
One of the things that makes this all quite a bit harder is that certain plural endings resemble singular endings in other genders.
For instance, the plural neuter а or я are the same as some singular feminine nominative endings and the same as some masculine singular genitive endings.
That to me seems to have the same logic as pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps, aka (also known as) circular logic. Endings are supposed to tell you the case of a word, which tells you the function of the word in the sentence. Technically, word order in case-oriented languages is unimportant, as the case is supposed to tell you the function of a word, so that the order of words doesn't matter - in theory, at least.
("To him the book gives she" means the same thing as "she gives the book to him", because we know the case and function of each word in that sentence. However, if you can't tell the difference between "she" and "to him" because in the foreign language, they both are the same word with the same ending, then you have a problem determining what the sentence means, at least not without something more besides simply the case endings.)
Thus, if an ending tells you that word is either Masculine Singular Genitive, Feminine Nominative Singular, or Neuter Nominative Plural, something else has to completely define the word-function, otherwise you'd couldn't be sure exactly what was being said.
IOW (In Other Words), the endings don't necessarily tell you the precise gender, number or case of a word, so you can't know what they mean exactly without some other clue in the sentence determining which case, number, and gender we're using.
I look forward to learning how to do that. The only thing I can do is not hold my breath while hoping Duo will get around to that.
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To answer more specifically (although Maurice's comment is great), Russian nouns can usually be classed into whether they end in a hard or soft sound. This is preserved between the different forms so if one form is hard then all the others will be too.
The hard sounds are all consonants, the hard sign ъ and the five hard vowels а, э, ы, о, у.
The soft sounds are the soft sign ь, the five soft vowels я, е, и, ё, ю and also й which is technically a consonant but sort of like a vowel as well.
For example, мост ends in a hard sound so the genitive singular is моста (not мостя), the dative singular is мосту (not мостю) and the nominative plural is мосты (not мости).
And история ends in a soft sound so the genitive singular is истории (not историы), the accusative singular is историю (not историу) and the nominative plural is истории (not историы).
However, there are some slight complications. First, э and ё don't appear at the end of words. This is significant for э. -е is a common soft ending, e.g. used for the prepositional case. Using logic, you would expect that -e would become -э for hard sounds. But instead -е is used in both cases, which breaks the rule. So if you look at a word in prepositional case ending with -е you cannot tell whether it is hard or soft.
The other main complication is that there are some consonants that just cannot be followed by -ы, and use -и instead, even though all of their other forms (previous paragraph excepted) have a hard sound. The consonants that do this are ones with a sh sound or similar (ш, щ, ж, ч), plus consonants pronounced by pushing your tongue against the back of your throat (velar) like k: (к, г, х).
There are irregular words too and such but this is basically how nouns work.
The pronunciation of сёстры seems to vary quite a bit. Of the 5 recordings at
only one actually pronounces ё with the alphabet sound; the rest pronounce it almost like the "i" is English "sister".
And the ы at the end sounds nothing like the ы in мы or вы. The ending -тры sounds much more like English "tree" - two or more of the recordings in the link I'm providing sound like "Sis-tree", but one sounds like "Syos-treh"
Olimo i need a help here about ë i have no idea why we use it or not
Unfortunately ё just comes up because сестра has an irregular plural form. It's very unusual for a Russian word to change spelling from form to form other than the ending but this is an exception.
The best example I can think of as an English counterpart is that "brethren" used to be the plural of "brother" with a vowel change.
If you see a "—" in a Russian sentence it means am/is/are/be, it doesn't mean what a dash would in English. So this sentence is a literal word for word translation: эти (these) девочки (girls) — (are) сёстры (sisters).
Now the tricky part is that sometimes instead of using "—" for am/is/are/be, they just drop it altogether. That means we have to work a bit harder to figure out if and when a verb to be should be inserted.
One place that is really obvious is if you have это followed by a noun that has a different declination (это is neuter and singular). So e.g. if you see это девочки, we know this doesn't translate literally into "this women" so there must be a verb to be missing in the middle so we translate it as "these are women".