Russian Alphabet

The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters: 10 vowels (а, е, ё, и, о, у, ы, э, ю, я), 21 consonants and 2 signs (hard and soft) that are not pronounced. The Russian alphabet uses the Cyrillic script.

Some letters of the Russian alphabet look like and sound similar to the letters of the Latin alphabet. But there are also significant differences. The phonetic transcription helps pronounce a word more or less correctly. It might be difficult, though, to get exactly the right sound just reading the transcription. It is better to learn the Russian alphabet using audio samples.

Note:
– In Russian, the pronunciation of vowels is affected by word stress. Stressed vowels are pronounced clearly and distinctly whereas unstressed vowels are shorter and weaker (reduced). That is why the stressed vowels are marked red in the table below. There is no mark in one syllable words.
– The symbol [j] (a superscript j) marks soft (palatalized) consonants (Unicode U+02B2 of the International Phonetic Alphabet)

Letter +
Handwriting
Name
of the
letter
Transcription + Pronunciation Pronunciation Samples
(red = stressed)
А а a-off
a [a] (open and clear if stressed)
[a] / [i] (reduced if unstressed)
как [á] = how
какой [a] = which, what
часы [i] = clock, watch
Б б be-off
бэ
[be]
[b] (voiced)
[bj] (voiced soft)
[p] (voiceless)
[pj] (voiceless soft)
быть [b] = be
бить [bj] = beat
клуб [p] = club
голубь [pj] = pigeon
В в we-off
вэ
[ve]
[v] (voiced)
[vj] (voiced soft)
[f] (voiceless)
[fj] (voiceless soft)
вы [v] = you
виза [vj] = visa
все [f] = all
кровь [fj] = blood
Г г ge-off
гэ
[ge]
[g] (voiced)
[gj] (voiced soft)
[k] (voiceless)
год [g] = year
гимн [gj] = hymn
слог [k] = syllable
Д д de-off
дэ
[de]
[d] (voiced)
[dj] (voiced soft)
[t] (voiceless)
[tj] (voiceless soft)
да [d] = yes
день [dj] = day
вход [t] = entrance
будь [tj] = be (Imperativ 1st Person Sing.)
Е е je-off
е
[ye]
[ye] as in yet (in the initial position, after vowels and after ь and ъ)
[e] / [i] / [ɨ] (after consonants, regardless of stress)
Note:
– the preceding consonant is soft
ехать [ye] = go, drive
пьеса [ye] = theater play
диета [ye] = diet
нет [nje] = no
немного [nji] = a little, a few
желать [ɨ] = wish
Ё ё jo-off
ё
[yo]
[yo] as in your (in the initial position, after vowels and after ь and ъ)
[o] (after consonants)
Note:
– the preceding consonant is soft;
– ё is always stressed;
– it is often written without dots on top
ёлка [yo] = fir tree
даёт [yo] = he/she gives
пьёт [yo] = he/she drinks
всё [o] = everything
Ж ж sche-off
жэ
[zhe]
[zh] voiced as in leisure
[sh] voiceless as in sure
Note:
– always hard
жена [zh] = wife
муж [sh] = husband
З з se-off
зэ
[ze]
[z] (voiced as in zone)
[zj] (voiced soft)
[s] (voiceless as is sown)
[sj] (voiceless soft)
завтра [z] = tomorrow
зима [zj] = winter
близко [s] = near
мазь [sj] = ointment
И и i-off
и
[i]
[i] / [ee] (as in tee)
[ɨ] (after ж, ш, ц)
Note:
– the pronunciation is more or less the same in stressed and unstressed syllables;
– the preceding consonant is soft
алфавит [i] = alphabet
машина [ɨ] = car
Й й i-kratkaje-off
и краткое
[i krátkaye]
short I
[y] as in toy
Note:
– always soft and voiced
мой = my
К к ka-off
ка
[ka]
[k] (voiceless)
[kj] (voiceless soft)
Note:
– In Russian, it is not aspirated like the K in skip
кот [k] = cat
кит [kj] = whale
Л л el-off
эль
[elj]
[l] (voiced)
[lj] (voiced soft, like in the French name Michelle)
луна [l] = moon
люди [lj] = people
М м em-off
эм
[em]
[m] (voiced)
[mj] (voiced soft)
сам [m] = myself, himself
семь [mj] = seven
Н н en-off
эн
[en]
[n] (voiced)
[nj] (voiced soft)
она [n] = she
они [nj] = they
О о o-off
о
[o]
[o] (when stressed it is a clear O-sound as in or)
[a] (reduced when unstressed)
тот [o] = that (m)
этот [a] = this (m)
П п pe-off
пэ
[pe]
[p] (voiceless)
[pj] (voiceless soft)
Note:
– In Russian, it is not aspirated like the P in speak
пока [p] = Bye
пить [pj] = drink
Р р er-off
эр
[er]
[r] (voiced)
[rj] (voiced soft)
Note:
– The Russian R is rolled with the tip of the tongue
рука [r] = arm, hand
рюмка [rj] = small liqueur glass
С с es-off
эс
[es]
[s] (voiceless)
[sj] (voiceless soft)
сад [s] = garden
сидеть [sj] = sit
Т т te-off
тэ
[te]
[t] (voiceless)
[tj] (voiceless soft)
Note:
– In Russian, it is not aspirated like the T in stick
тогда [t] = then
тётя [tj] = aunt
У у u-off
у
[u]
[u] / [oo]
Note:
– the pronunciation is more or less the same in stressed and unstressed syllables (except for some special cases)
русский [u] = Russian
Ф ф ef-off
эф
[ef]
[f] (voiceless)
[fj] (voiceless soft)
фото [f] = photo
фильм [fj] = film
Х х cha-off
ха
[ha]
[h] (voiceless, similar to Lochness)
[hj] (voiceless soft)
хохотать [h] = laugh loud
хихикать [hj] = chuckle
Ц ц tse-off
цэ
[tse]
[ts]
(similar to tsar)
Note:
– always voiceless and hard
немецкий [ts] = German
Ч ч tsche-off
че
[che]
[ch] / [tch]
(as in cheers or Tchaikovsky)
Note:
– always voiceless and soft
учить [ch] = learn, teach
Ш ш scha-off
ша
[sha]
[sh]
(as in shop)
Note:
– always voiceless and hard
слушать [sh] = hear
Щ щ schtscha-off
ща
[shsha]
[shsh] (similar to fresh shots)
Note:
– sometimes it is transcribed as [shch] which might be confusing as the Russian letter Щ is pronounced more like the long Ш [shsh] and not like the combination auf Ш and Ч [shch];
– always voiceless and soft
ещё [shsh] = still, yet
ъ twordyj-znak-off
твёрдый знак
[tvjórdɨy znak]
hard sign
– the hard sign is not pronounced;
– it appears only between a consonant and the vowels -е, -ё, -ю, -я (with the exception of some loanwords);
– the preceding consonant is hard;
– the succeeding vowels are pronounced with the distinct initial Y-sound (ye, yo, yu, ya).
съесть [sye] (with ъ) = eat up
сесть [sje] (without ъ) = sit down
ы y-off
ы
[ɨ]
[ɨ]
Note:
– Ы is a retracted (half backed) variety of И [i] pronounced with the root of the tongue blocking the throat;
– the pronunciation is more or less the same in stressed and unstressed syllables
ты [ɨ] = you
ь machkij-znak-off
мягкий знак
[mjáchkij znak]
soft sign
[j]
– the soft sign is not pronounced;
– the preceding consonant is soft;
– the succeeding vowels -е, -ё, -и, -ю, -я are pronounced with the distinct initial Y-sound (ye, yo, yi, yu, ya).
есть [tj] (with ь) = eat
ест [t] (without ь) = he/she eats
семья [mja] (with ь) = family
семя [mja] (without ь) = seed
Э э e-off
э
[e]
[e] (similar to set or rap)
Note:
– the pronunciation is more or less the same in stressed and unstressed syllables;
– usually appears in the initial position or after vowels
это [e] = this, that, it
поэтому [e] = that’s why
Ю ю ju-off
ю
[yu]
[yu] / [yoo] (in the initial position, after ъ, ь or after vowels)
[u] (after consonants)
Note:
– the preceding consonant is soft;
– the pronunciation is more or less the same in stressed and unstressed syllables.
юмор [yu] = humor
ночью [yu] = at / by night
союз [yu] = union
любовь [lju] = love
Я я ja-off
я
[ya]
[ya] (in the initial position, after ъ, ь or after vowels)
[yi] or a combination of [yi] and [ya] (if unstressed)
[a] / [i] (after consonants, regardless of the stress)
Note:
– the preceding consonant is soft
ясно [ya] = clear
друзья [ya] = friends
Россия [ya] = Russia
язык [yɨ] = language, tongue
имя [mja] = name

About the Cyrillic and Russian Alphabet

In the middle of the 9th century, the Byzantine philosopher Cyril together with his brother Methodius created the Glagolic alphabet. It was one of the first Slavic alphabets and was used to write down religious texts. The Cyrillic alphabet developed from the Glagolic and Greek scripts and was named after Cyril.

The brothers Cyril and Methodius were declared saints both by the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. In Russia, the saints’ feast day on May 24 is celebrated as Slavonic Literature and Culture Day (Russian: День славянской письменности и культуры).

Russian is written in the Cyrillic script. The early Russian alphabet consisted of 43 letters. With time, the number was reduced to 33 eliminating some letter and introducing new ones. The last reform of Russian orthography took place in 1917/1918.

In Russian, the alphabet is also called азбука [ásbuka]. This word is derived from old names of the letters A = азъ [as] and Б = буки [búkji]. So the word азбука corresponds to the English ABC.

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