Lesson 004

Russian pronunciation rules

In Russian, as in many other languages, some letters change their pronunciation depending on their position in words and the letters that surround them. In this lesson, we will teach you the Russian pronunciation rules so you are able to read Russian words on your own.

Pronunciation of Russian vowels

  • Overall, Russians tend to be lazy when it comes to pronunciation, so the Russian letter O, when unstressed, usually sounds close to A. For example:

    по́мощь [pó-masch] – help
    молоко́ [ma-la-kó] – milk

  • The same “lazy pronunciation” happens to the letters Я, Е and Э. When unstressed and not in the beginning or the end of the word, the Russian letters Я, Е and Э tend to be pronounced close to the Russian sound И. For example:

    е́хать [yé-hat’] – to go (by vehicle) [E stressed]
    мечта́ [meech-tá] – dream [E unstressed]
    я́щик [yá-scheek] – box [Я stressed]
    тяжёлый [tee-zhó-lyî] – heavy [Я unstressed]
    э́хо [é-ha] – echo [Э stressed]
    аэродро́м [a-ee-ra-dróm] – airfield [Э unstressed]

  • The letter Ё (don’t confuse it with E) is always stressed (accentuated) in the Russian words (you will never see an accent mark above it as it’s always assumed):

    зелёный [zee-lyó-nyî] – green
    жёлтый [zhól-tyî] – yellow

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Pronunciation of the Russian consonants

There are a few cases when Russian consonants are pronounced not as they are written:

  • Russian voiced consonants are pronounced as their voiceless counterparts when they appear at the very end of the word. Examples:

    обе́д [a-byét]dinner
    муж [mush]husband

  • Voiced consonants become voiceless when they are followed by other voiceless consonants. Example:

    ю́бка [yúp-ka]skirt

  • Voiceless consonants sound as their voiced counterparts when they are followed by the consonants Б, Г, Д, Ж, З. Example:

    футбо́лка [fud-ból-ka]t-shirt

  • Endings -ОГО and -ЕГО become -ОВО and -ЕВО respectively (or -ОВА/ЕВА if unstressed). But be careful, this rules only applies to the endings and does not apply when -ОГО/-ЕГО is a part of the word’s stem. Examples:

    ничего́ плохо́го [nee-chee-vó pla-hó-va]nothing bad
    мно́го [mnó-ga]many, a lot (the stem is “мног”)

  • If several consonants go together, some of them can be omitted to facilitate the pronunciation. Examples:

    со́лнце [són-tse]sun (omit Л)
    чу́вство [chú-stva]feeling (omit В)
    здра́вствуйте [zdrást-vuî-tye]hello (omit В)
    аге́нтство [a-gyénst-va]agency (omit first Т)

  • -ТЬСЯ at the end of the word (the ending of reflexive verbs in the form of infinitive) is pronounced as -ЦА [tsa]. Same with the -ТСЯ (the ending of the verbs in the Present tense, 3d person). Examples:

    улыба́ться [u-ly-bá-tsa]to smile
    улыба́eтся [u-ly-bá-ee-tsa](he/she) smiles

  • Do you remember the 5 soft vowels that we learned in the first lesson? If any of them follows a consonant, you should soften that consonant to achieve more natural sound. For example:

    нет [nyet]no
    приве́т [pree-vyét]hi


Now, we have fully covered the Russian alphabet and pronunciation rules. It will take you some time to master your reading skills and pronunciation in Russian. Soon you will also encounter some words that don’t exactly follow the rules you’ve been learning so far – there are many exceptions in the Russian language, but don’t let this fact confuse or discourage you.

Remember this: the best way to master the Russian pronunciation is to try to mimic the native speech. So listen to the Russian speech as much as possible and try to repeat what you hear.

We hope you enjoy our lessons. Thank you for deciding to learn Russian with us! See you in the next lesson!

Update: we have also created the whole site to learn the Russian alphabet easy and free. Don’t hesitate to check it out!

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The offline version of this lesson is available here

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34 comments on “004 – Russian pronunciation rules”

  1. Truong says:

    I have heard someone said “o” some times is pronounced “er” also (when it is one word away from the stressed letter) , so that do they have 3 pronunciations?
    like in шоколад (chocolate).

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hi Truong,

      When it’s not stressed, O is replaced by Russian А in oral speech. I’m not sure what it means “one word away from the stressed letter” because every word has a stressed letter.

      In шоколад, every O is pronounced as A (it actually sounds шакалат) because the stressed vowel is A. So for O, there are only 2 pronunciations: stressed (O) and unstressed (A).

  2. Rin says:

    Hello, I have a question. ‘does not apply when -ОГО/-ЕГО is a part of the word’s stem.’ What does it mean by “part of the word’s stem”?

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Rin,

      In grammar, every word has a stem – a part that never changes (or barely for some smaller group of words).

      For example, for the word “много” the stem is “мног”. The word can take different forms, but the stem never changes: многие, многих, многое, etc.

      In the beginning, it will be hard for you to figure out the stem of a word, but the more Russian words you know, the easier it gets.

  3. Bruce A Hamilton says:

    щ seems to be nearly always be pronounced the same as ш. What are the rules on that? Thanks!

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Bruce,

      Щ sounds close but quite distinctively different from Ш.

      Ш is always hard, i.e. unlike most of the Russian consonants, Ш will sound the same with soft and not soft vowels:

      – ше = шэ
      – шю = шу

      Щ, on the contrary, is always soft, it sound soft regardless of the following vowels.

      There are no particular rules about the pronunciation of both. However, there are some spelling rules which should be memorized.

      To find out more about the pronunciation of both these letters, please visit another site of ours where you can listen to the sound of the letters by themselves and in the syllables and words: Russian letter Щ, Russian letter Ш.

  4. ZHU says:

    In china how I donate by wechat or 支付宝 I donot have paypal

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Zhu,

      You can try to donate an amout in rubles here using your bank card. This is our fundraising page on Yandex.

      If you can’t access it, unfortunately, we don’t have WeChat. But thank you very much for your intention. 🙂

      Feel free to ask questions on the lessons, we are always ready to help! 🙂

  5. emin says:

    why in some sentence you pronunce the o as A a

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Emin,

      As the lesson above says, when the O is unstressed it is often pronounced as A.

  6. уссама says:

    hey there , i just want to thank you all for your effort , these lessons has boosted my Russian language ,

  7. khalid says:

    I cant find listening file, Please guide me how to play the listening file ?

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Khalid,

      There is a blue button at the bottom of screen, click on it and you will see an audio player.

  8. Peace says:

    Thank you so much for the great job you do. I really love to learn Russian here

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Peace,

      Thanks for the comment. If you have any questions, we are here to help.

  9. Peace says:

    тяжёлый [tee-zhó-lyî] – heavy [Я stressed]
    I think in this word, Я is unstressed not stressed.

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Peace,

      Thanks for noticing the error, it’s corrected.

  10. Röyal says:

    Hello. Which level will I reach after I complete this course? E.g. B1, B2, C1 etc.

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Röyal,

      This is mostly a grammar course and designed to walk you through the complicated Russian grammar. To reach even the level A1 in Russian you need some vocabulary besides grammar. For the moment we have a few vocabulary lessons that cover topics of the level A1, A2 and even B1. As we said earlier replying to your comments, this course by itself is not enough to start speaking Russian. You need to combine it with other activities.

      For your information: http://en.russia.edu.ru/russian/levels/

  11. Röyal says:

    Hello! Is it necessary to learn the example words used in lessons? Or they will be taught in the next lessons?

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hi Röyal,

      No, you don’t have to learn the example words. In this lesson they are given just to demonstrate the pronunciation. Some of them you’ll see again in the course, some of them we don’t mention anymore.

      But overall you can’t go too far without learning new words, you’ll have to memorize some of them at some point to be able to move forward.

  12. Madelyn says:

    Hi! Im a bit confuse with the pronunciation of the two vowel together in a word. Can you help me

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Madelyn,

      In Russian, when two vowels go together, each of them is pronounced separately and keeps the sound as it was alone. For example:

      аудио [á-u-dee-o] – audio
      биоакустика [bee-a-a-kús-tee-ka] – bioacoustics
      аэропорт [a-e-ra-pórt] – airport

  13. ken muruthi says:

    HI how does one pronounce the Russian vowels. And how is the word Grandduchess written in Russian?

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Ken,

      Grand Duchess in Russian is Великая Княгиня.

      As for the pronunciation of Russian vowels, please refer to the lesson you are looking at and the lessons 001 and 002.

  14. jeffrey jones says:

    any advice on dictionaries?

  15. loth says:

    thank you so much. ^^ I am right, then. No need to put the hard sign after the “T” since “O” is not a soft vowel, right? I love this lesson 🙂

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Loth,
      Your are right, in your name there is no soft sign.

  16. loth says:

    This is just so great! 🙂
    I’ve been learning a lot here, but how to write the /th/ sound in Russian?
    How to write my name? (LOTH)

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Loth,

      The sound TH in Russian is replaced by simple T, so your name would be Лот.

  17. Craig B Caldwell says:

    I am wanting to write my given name in Cyrillic letters. My name is Craig. The C is a hard sound. It’s the AI I’m not sure about! The name does not rhyme with Greg! The correct sound is closer to the a, in way. So, at this point, I have this:

    Кр __ гь

    What letter, or combination best fills in the blank? The English equivalent is the word “plain,” (simple, ordinary)

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello Craig,

      You name in Cyrillic will be Крейг. No need for the soft sign in the end.

      Good luck!

  18. daniele says:

    itash or etash?
    why some russian person tell tyazhioliy and other tizhioliy?

    1. Learn Russian Step by Step says:

      Hello daniele,

      Usually the real pronunciation is something between и and я, different people give different efforts to pronounce the words clearer.

      But if you tend to pronounce the word exactly as it’s written it sounds less natural. So the best advise – try to listen to the pronunciation and you will feel it.

      Good luck.

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