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 letter Pronunciation Example
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
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
У [oo] as in moon = луна
Х [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

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 - butter мясо – mya-sa - meat
мост – most - bridge мёрзнуть – myór-znoot - freeze
рука - roo-ká - arm рюмка - ryóom-ka – small wineglass
быть - bit – to be бить - bit – beat/hit
каратэ - ka-ra- – karate телефон - tee-lee-fón – telephone
город - gó-rat- town/city лошадь - 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:

б п
в ф
г к
д т
ж ш
з с

Voiced consonants are pronounced voiceless:

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


Voiced Voiceless
дружба – dróosh-ba - friendship хлеб – chlyep - bread
думать – dóo-mat – to think идти – 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

Learn Russian

Russian Language Exercises online (some with audio samlples)
Russian language course
Russian nouns
Russian adjectives
Russian pronouns
Russian verbs
VERB CONJUGATION TRAINER: Learn and practice the conjugation of Russian verbs online