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.
Every word in the Russian language carries an accent. These accents are fundamental – accentuated vowels are pronounced with more intensity and do not change their sound regardless or their position in a word.
These accents are one of the most challenging things for every Russian student as there are no rules that could help you to figure out where the accent should fall. To make things worse, Russians do not have a habit of putting accents in words when writing. At the same time, changing the accents can not only complicate the communication but change the meaning of a word completely.
Have a look at these examples below:
за́мок [zá-mak] – castle
замо́к [za-mók] – lock
у́же [ú-zhe] – narrower
уже́ [u-zhé] – already
This is why you should always memorize Russian words together with the accents. It seems like a lot of work, but we promise, further down the road it will become easier as you’ll start seeing some patterns and be able to guess the correct accentuation.
Tools to help
There are a few tools in the internet that can help you with the accents. For example, morpher.ru will put all the accents in the text you enter into the field. Attention though: when the word can have a few different accents (and a few different meanings for every accent), this tool will offer you all of them.
In the example below, the word дома has two different meanings depending on where you put the accent:
– дóма [dó-ma] – at home
– домá [da-má] – houses
The letter Ё is always accentuated.
Unfortunately, very soon you’ll come accross the fact that Russians are too lazy to put the dots above Е to make it Ё. Even when typing, many do not bother and just replace Ё with Е. If you find yourself trying to read a text where Ё-s are not specified, it’s safer to assume that the words contain E-s, because the Ё is the least used letter in the Russian alphabet.
If there is only one vowel in a word, it’s the one that’s accentuated. In this case the accent is not shown.
A little secret
If you feel a bit intimidated by this information, we will tell you a little secret: sometimes even Russians themselves can’t remember where the accent goes in certain words. For example, the word звонит (calls/is calling) is prounounced by many as звóнит, although the correct version is considered to be звони́т.
To finish this lesson, here are some more examples of the words where changing the accent changes the meaning:
ви́ски [vées-kee] – whiskey
виски́ [vees-kée] – temples (body part)
тру́сы [trú-sy] – cowards
трусы́ [tru-sý] – underpants
пиро́ги [pee-ró-gee] – pirogues
пироги́ [pee-ra-gée] – pies
писа́ть [pee-sát’] – to write
пи́сать [peé-sat’] – to pee
в душе́ [v du-shé] – in the soul
в ду́ше [v dú-she] – in the shower
заплачу́ [za-pla-chú] – I will pay
запла́чу [za-plá-chu] – I will cry
We hope you enjoy our lessons. Stick with us and we will help you to make your first steps in your journey to learn Russian language!
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?
The soft sign makes the preceding consonant sound soft. 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”.
Not only the soft sign can make a consonant sound soft. The soft vowels that we learned in the first lesson do that to. So the hard sign, in its turn, makes the preceding consonant sound hard even if the following vowel is supposed to soften it.
Listen to the audio and compare the pronunciation:
кон – конь
[kon – kon’]
game – horse
у́гол – у́голь
[ú-gal – ú-gal’]
corner – coal
сесть – съесть
[syest’ – s-yest’]
to sit – to eat
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.
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 [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 [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)
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.
In the previous lesson we have learned 10 Russian vowels. Today we will get familiar with the Russian consonants.
There are 21 consonants in the Russian alphabet. Some of them form pairs as the vowels do, others do not.
6 pairs of Russian consonants
Consonants in Russian can be voiced or voiceless.
To explain the concept of voiced and voiceless consonants, let’s take the English letters V and F. To pronounce them both, you put your lips in the same position, but for the V you make a sound with your vocal cords, and for the F you don’t. So the V is voiced and the F is voiceless.
Study the letters below and notice that one is a voiceless counterpart of the other:
|Б б [b]||П п [p]|
|В в [v]||Ф ф [f]|
|Г г [g]||К к [k] or Х х [h]|
|Д д [d]||Т т [t]|
|Ж ж [zh]||Ш ш [sh]|
|З з [z]||С с [s]|
Being able to distinguish between voiced and voiceless consonants will help you to master the Russian pronunciation.
Other Russian consonants
For the rest of the consonants, it is not important whether they are voiced or voiceless.
So let’s just learn them as they are:
Й й – [î] (also called “и краткое” which means i short; like ‘y’ in ‘boy’)
Л л – [l] (like English ‘l’)
М м – [m] (like English ‘m’)
Н н – [n] (like English ‘n’)
Р р – [r] (a rolled sound ‘r’, like in Spanish)
Ц ц – [ts] (like ‘ts’ in “it’s”)
Ч ч – [ch] (like ‘ch’ in ‘cherry’)
Щ щ – [sch] (like sounds ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ together)
Please pay attention that the way we pronounce these letters in the audio is not an “official” way to read the Russian alphabet but rather the natural sound of the letters when you read them in words.
The transcription of the consonants is quite close to the real sound of the Russian letters.
Practice reading Russian words
Now, you can even read some Russian words:
сок [sok] – juice
пáпа [pá-pa] – dad
бык [byk] – bull
ток [tok] – (electric) current
бок [bok] – side
кот [kot] – cat (male)
ко́шка [kósh-ka] – cat (female)
ва́за [vá-za] – vase
лес [lyes] – forest
мир [meer] – peace, world
ру́сский язы́к [rús-keeî ya-zýk] – Russian language
рука́ [ru-ká] – hand / arm
интерне́т [een-ter-nét] – internet
We understand that it can take you some time to get used to the Cyrillic letters. To help you with that, we created a separate site entirely dedicated to the Russian alphabet where you can find all the information about pronunciation and pratice with audio.
If you wonder what are the accents that you see above some of the letters, visit this lesson.
This is it for this lesson. We hope you enjoy learning Russian with us. In the next lesson we will finish learning the Russian alphabet.
Welcome to Learn Russian Step by Step! This is the place where you will start doing your first steps in the captivating journey of learning the Russian language. All you need to succeed in this endeavour is your motivation and a bit of patience and perseverance.
In this lessons, we start learning the Russian alphabet.
An introduction to the Russian alphabet
Russian alphabet was derived from the Cyrillic one and includes 33 letters: 10 vowels, 21 consonants and 2 letters that are neither one or the other.
You can divide all the Russian letters into four groups:
- Letters that look and sound like in English (A, O, T, M etc.),
- Letters that look like in English but sound differently (P [r], У [oo], B [v] etc.),
- Letters that sound like in English but look differently (Ф [f], И [ee], Л [l] etc.),
- And the last group of Russian letters includes new to an English speaker sounds and looks (Ъ, Ь, Ы).
Despite the fact the some of the Russian sounds are close to the English ones, you should not forget that they are not absolutely identical. You will need some practice to get a perfect Russian accent.
Learn Russian vowels
Russian vowels form two groups – 5 pairs – where one vowel in a pair sounds like a soft version of the other.
Let’s start with the “not soft” ones:
А а – [ a ] (like ‘a’ in ‘far’)
О о – [ o ] (like ‘o’ in ‘not’)
У у – [ u ] (like ‘u’ in ‘sugar’)
Э э – [ e ] (like ‘e’ in ‘edit’)
Ы ы – [ y ] (has no equivalent in English)
The Russian letter Ы causes a lot of trouble to those not having this sound in their native language. To pronounce the Russian Ы correctly, you need to place your tongue in the position between the positions for I in kit and U in sugar. Make a sound, somewhat close to trying to say U with your lips opens for I. The correctly pronounced letter Ы should remind you of the sound that one makes being hit in the stomach. 🙂
Now, have a look at the following list: there are 5 pairs of vowels, where the first vowel in the pair is already familiar to you, and the second one is derived from its counterpart by adding “y” to soften the sound:
А а [ a ] – Я я [ ya ] (like ‘yu’ in ‘yummy’)
О о [ o ] – Ё ё [ yo ] (like ‘yo’ in ‘yours’)
У у [ u ] – Ю ю [ yu ] (like ‘yu’ in ‘you’)
Э э [ e ] – Е е [ ye ] (like ‘ye’ in ‘yes’ or ‘e’ in ‘exit’)
Ы ы [ y ] – И и [ ee ] (like ‘ée’ in ‘free’)
The only pair that does not really follow the pattern is Ы – И. Listen to the audio to feel the difference in the pronunciation.
And this is it for this lesson. In the next lesson, we will continue learning the Russian alphabet and have a look at the Russian consonants.