Russian Letters and Pronunciation

Russian (Cyrillic) script is derived from the Greek script and has 33 letters. Some letters look exactly like Latin ones.
In most cases Russian words are pronounced as they are written. However, sometimes different letters or combinations of letters sound the same. And one letter may have different sounds. Phonetic transcription of Russian words shall help beginners to pronounce the words correctly.

Letters that look and sound like English ones:
Russian letterPronunciationExample
A[a]as in papa = папа
K[k]as in key = ключ
M[m]as in mother = мать
T[t]as in Taxi = такси
O[o]as in pot = горшок
Letters that look like English ones but sound different:
Russian letter
Pronunciation
Example
B[v]as in vase = ваза
E[ye]as in yet = ещё
H[n]as in night = ночь
P[r]as in arrow = стрела
C[s]as in souvenir = сувенир
Y[oo]as in moon = луна
X[h] or [ch]similar to Lochness = Лохнесс

Check out the Russian alphabet with sound samples.

Russian Vowels

Hard: а, о, у, ы, э

Soft: я, ё, ю, и, е

In the following cases soft vowels (except for “и“) are pronounced with an initial "y"-sound:

  • in the initial position as in яблоко - ya-bla-ka - apple
  • after another vowel as in красивая – kra-sée-va-ya – beautiful (feminin)
  • after a hard sign (ъ) as in подъезд – pad-zd – doorway
  • after a soft sign (ь) as in семья – seem-ya – family

Stressed vowels are long:
Город – gó-rat- town/city

Unstressed vowels are short:
Городской – ga-rat-skói – town/city as an adjective

Here there is an obvious difference between spelling and pronunciation: unstressed "o" has a pronounced very much like "a", but shorter.

Russian Consonants

Anzeige

Most consonants can be hard or soft (palatalized). The softness is marked by the letters that follow the consonant.
Soft vowels (я, ё, ю, и, е) and the soft sign (ь) soften preceding consonants. Compare the differences in the pronunciation of the following consonants, first hard and then soft.

Hard consonants
Soft (palatalized) consonants
масло – s-la - butterмясо – mya-sa - meat
мост – most - bridgeмёрзнуть – myór-znoot - freeze
рука - roo-ká - armрюмка - ryóom-ka – small wineglass
быть - bit – to beбить - bit – beat/hit
каратэ - ka-ra- – karateтелефон - tee-lee-fón – telephone
город - gó-rat- town/cityлошадь - ló-shat – horse

Always hard are ж, ш, ц
Always soft
are ч, щ

In Russian there are voiced and voiceless consonants. Most of them come in pairs:

Voiced
Voiceless
бп
вф
гк
дт
жш
зс

Voiced consonants are pronounced voiceless:

  • in the final position
  • if followed by a voiceless consonant

Example:

VoicedVoiceless
дружба – dróosh-ba - friendshipхлеб – chlyep - bread
думать – dóo-mat – to thinkидти – ittí - to go/ to come

Always voiced are л, м, н, р, й
Always voiceless are х, ч, ц, щ

Word stress in Russian

There are no stress rules in Russian. Any syllable of the word can be stressed. In transcriptions, an accent mark indicates the stressed vowels. It is important to learn the place of the stress when learning a new word.

Capitalisation in Russian

In Russian, following words begin with a capital letter:

  • Names / Surnames
  • Names of towns, cities, countries and other geographical names
  • Official institutions
  • First words of a new sentence