Lesson 005

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


Now you’ve already learned 31 Russian 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?

Russian Pod 101

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

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

The soft sign, on the contrary, makes the preceding 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
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 [oo]
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]

Now you have finished your first important step of your journey to learn Russian.

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

Spotted an error? Let us know please!

10 comments on “005 – Russian alphabet: soft sign (Ь) and hard sign (Ъ)”

  1. Donald says:

    I don’t understand what the hard sign does. In a word like субъект (subject), what is the hard sign’s function? I think I pronounce it like субект.

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Donald,

      Hard sign creates a break between preceding consonant and following vowel. If the following vowel is soft, the softness does not pass to the consonant but stays with the vowel.

      съесть – s-yest’ (to eat)
      сесть – syest’ (to sit)

      You can compare the pronunciation here.

      (Click on the sound icon to listen)

  2. Luigi says:

    I understand what you say but when I go in the ‘real world’ (I mean the Russian language) things do not look like what you describe.

    Let’s take one Russian word such as бурьян (weeds). Now we find a soft sign after the letter р to make it soft, but the following vowel is a soft one я so by the rule the p was already soft. Why do we need another soft sign, just to reiterate that this consonant is very soft, twice soft or what ??

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Luigi,

      If there was no Ь in the word бурьян, it would be бурян and would be pronounced as bu-ryán. Ь adds a stop between Р and Я, so it’s bur’-yán.

      You can type both words in Google Translate and listen to the pronunciation to hear the difference.

  3. Anjali says:

    Does anyone know how to make the hard sign in Russian on an Acer chromebook

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Anjali,

      We don’t have an Acer chromebook, but usually, when you select the Russian keyboard in your settings, the hard sign is under the character “]” on the right side of the keyboard.

  4. Srinivasan says:

    how ti meet russion people

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Please check out this website: http://russianpenpal.com/en/home/

  5. Farheena sleem says:

    It’s really helpful as I am a beginner and now I know quiet a bit of Russian. ..Thanks to u

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Farheena,

      Thanks for the comment and welcome to the site! 🙂

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