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The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters, each having upper- and lower-case forms. There are 20 consonants, 10 vowels, 1 so-called semivowel (Й/й), and 2 letters (Ъ/ъ and Ь/ь) that are not themselves pronounced but indicate how other letters should be pronounced.

The Russian alphabet descended from the Greek alphabet, so while some of the letters may look like English, their pronunciation might be very different. The pronunciations in the table below are just the most common ones; others are possible, as discussed below.

The Russian Alphabet, with common English transliterations and typical IPA pronunciations
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33
LC а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я
Eng. a b v g d ye yo zh z i y k l m n o p r s t u f kh ts* ch sh shch y e yu ya
IPA a b v g d je jo ʐ z i j k ɫ m n o p r s t u f x ts ʂ ɕː ɨ ʲ e ju ja


  • Similar to English: easiest to grasp for English speakers, as their sound resembles the English sound
  • Similar to Greek: easy for those who know some Greek — e.g., Л is pronounced like Lambda
  • Hard and soft signs: see Signs
  • Other letters

^* While Ц and ц are most often pronounced like the ts in tsunami or the zz in pizza, it can also represent the English soft c sound in words borrowed from Latin, such as in центр (center). See the Wikipedia article for the letter for more information.

Basic pronunciation rules

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Notes on the Alphabet and Pronunciation of Russian

  1. While Russian has a mostly phonetic orthography, there are a few exceptions:
    • Voiced consonants with voiceless counterparts lose their voicing at the end of a word, e.g. строганов (stroganoff) is pronounced /stroganof/.
    • Voiced consonants with voiceless counterparts become unvoiced before voiceless consonants, e.g. водка (vodka) is pronounced /ˈvotkə/.
    • Similarly, voiceless consonants with voiced counterparts become voiced before voiced consonants, e.g. футбол (soccer/football) is pronounced /fʊdˈbol/.
  2. The hard sign (Ъ/ъ) indicates that the preceding consonant is not palatalized. However, it has been very rarely used since the spelling reform of 1918. Its use now is to indicate that the following vowel like е or я is to be pronounced iotated (that is, as if it was the first letter in the syllable).
  3. The soft sign (Ь/ь) indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. In the middle of a word, it also has the same effect "ъ" does.
  4. The vowels Е/е, Ё/ё, И/и, Ю/ю, Я/я make the consonants before them palatal consonant. This means that one pronounces the consonant with the middle of the tongue raised, pressing against the hard palate.

Vowel reduction

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The following vowel reductions occur in unstressed syllables in Standard Russian. Note that these mergers are not present in all dialects:

  1. /o/ merges with /a/. This is called аканье (akanye), and its absence is called оканье (okanye).
  2. /e/ merges with /i/. This is called иканье (ikanye), and its absence is called еканье (yekanye).
  3. /a/, /e/ and /o/ all merge with /i/ after a soft consonant or /j/.

Pronunciation mnemonics

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  1. Letters similar to Latin equivalents: к о м е т а (which form the Russian word for comet)
  2. Letters similar to Greek equivalents: г л ф (compare to Gamma, Lambda, Phi) — the Russian word флаг (flag) is useful here
  3. да (da, yes) нет (nyet, no): two easy Russian words that illustrate how д, н and е are pronounced
  4. суши-бар (sushi-bar): popular in St. Petersburg, this word is a very useful way of remembering how с, у, ш, и, б and р are pronounced
  5. хип-хоп (hip-hop): this can help with х and п, although note that the х is a much harsher sound than the English h, more like the ch in Scottish loch
  6. союз (Soyuz): useful for remembering the sounds of ю and the з (the latter of which you can think of as a cursive Latin z)
  7. я (ya, I) and вы (vy, you): pronouns you'll be using most often when talking with strangers — as in, "I do not speak Russian; do you speak English?" — but unlike in English, pronouns can be omitted due to context in the present and future tenses
  8. царь (tsar) and чай (chai, tea): for keeping your ц and ч straight

See also

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Lesson 1 >>