005 – Russian alphabet: soft sign (Ь) and hard sign (Ъ)

Now you’ve already learned 31 Cyrillic letters – almost the whole Russian alphabet. There are just 2 letters left to learn, they are neither vowels nor consonants. They don’t even have their own sound. So what are they? We call them signs: the hard sign and the soft sign.

the hard sign – Ъ ъ (твёрдый знак) [tvyór-dyî znak]
the soft sign – Ь ь (мягкий знак) [myáh-keeî znak]

What do they do?

When we start talking about the pronunciation, you will learn that the “soft” Russian vowels (Я, Ё, Е, Ю, И) change the sound of the preceeding consonants making them softer. The idea of “softening” can be illuststrated by the letter N in such words as ‘now’ and ‘new’: N sounds harder in the first word and softer in the second one.

So the hard sign makes the preceding consonant sound hard even if the following vowel is supposed to soften it.

The soft sing, on the contrary, makes the preceeding consonant sound softer.

In transcriptions, we mark the soft consonants with an apostrophe ‘. The consonants hardened by the hard sign are separated in transcriptions from the softening vowels with a dash. For example:

мать [mat’]mother (last Т is soft)

съесть [s-yest’]to eat (first С is hard, last Т is soft)

That’s it! Now you know all the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet!

It’s time to recap: listen to the audio and repeat the letters after it.

А а [a]
Б б [b]
В в [v]
Г г [g]
Д д [d]
Е е [ye]
Ё ё [yo]
Ж ж [zh]
З з [z]
И и [ee]
Й й [î]
К к [k]
Л л [l]
М м [m]
Н н [n]
О о [o]
П п [p]
Р р [r]
С с [s]
Т т [t]
У у [u]
Ф ф [f]
Х х [h]
Ц ц [ts]
Ч ч [ch]
Ш ш [sh]
Щ щ [sch]
ъ the hard sign (твёрдый знак)
ы [y]
ь the soft sign (мягкий знак)
Э э [e]
Ю ю [yu]
Я я [ya]

Next two lessons we’ll dedicate to the pronounciation of the Russian letters depending on their position in the word.

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