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The Russian alphabet has 33 letters. It descended from the Greek alphabet, so while some may appear like the English alphabet, the pronunciation might be very different. It consists of 21 consonants, 10 vowel letters, and two letters, ь and ъ, that do not designate sounds.

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
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
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
Similar to English: easiest to grasp, their sound resembles the English sound
Hard and soft signs: see Signs
"Greek" letters: easy for people that know Greek. Л is pronounced like Lambda.

|^* Ц can represent c in English. The exceptions are when there's a hard c that is pronounced /k/ and ц represents ts as in tsunami, and when ц represents z as in pizza.

Basic pronunciation rules[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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

Pronunciation mnemonics[edit | edit source]

  1. Letters similar to their latin equivalents : к о м е т а (comet)
  2. "Greek" letters: г л ф (as in Gamma, Lambda, Phi). Try also, the Russian word, флаг, which means "flag".
  3. да (da/yes) нет (niet/no): two easy Russian words that show you how д, н and е are pronounced
  4. суши-бар (sushi-bar): these are popping up all over the place in St. Petersburg... this word is a very useful way of learning how с, у, ш, и, б and р are pronounced
  5. хип-хоп (hip-hop): actually, the х is a much harsher sound, like the "ch" in Scottish "loch", but otherwise хип-хоп music can help you learn х and п
  6. союз (Soyuz): useful for learning the ю and the з (which you should just 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 "do you speak English? I do not speak Russian". Unlike 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
  9. Not год (god) Цена (Cena) and ваш (wash).

See also[edit | edit source]

Lesson 1 >>