Russian alphabet

Russian alphabet

Any language should be studied starting from the aphabet (алфави́т), and many our readers asked us for such a lesson. Today we prepared it for you. Learn Russian alphabet, pronunciation rules and see how hand written Russian is different from the printed version of Russian you are used to.


Download the audio file of this lesson

About Russian language

Russian language belongs to the Indo-European family and is one of the four living members of the East Slavic languages. It’s closely related to Belarusian and Ukranian languages.

Russian an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and many other territories. In countries like Ukraine and Latvia, as well as in other countries on post-Soviet territories, it’s not official but also widely spoken.

Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. Only in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the number of Russian native speakers reaches 144 million.

On top of that, Russian is the second most widespread language on the Internet after English.

Russian alphabet

The Russian alphabet uses Cyrillic symbols and consists of 33 letters: 10 vowels, 21 consonants and 2 letters which do not have a sound (instead, they just make the precedeing letter sound harder or softer).

Let’s learn Russian letters one by one:

[] – approximate pronunciation. Listen to the audio to hear the real sound of each letter.

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 [y]
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 [ph]
Russian Pod 101
Х х [h]
Ц ц [ts]
Ч ч [ch]
Ш ш [sh]
Щ щ [sch]
ъ the hard sign
ы ~ [i]
ь the soft sign
Э э [e]
Ю ю [yu]
Я я [ya]

Follow the audio file for correct pronunciation.

Pronunciation of Russian Ы

The most difficulties the English speakers that learn Russian alphabet usually have with the letter Ы that does not have an equivalent in English. It will take you some time to learn to differentiate this letter from other close sounds.

To make the sound of Ы, you need place your tongue between the positions which it takes for the English sounds i (like in “kit”) and u (like in “sugar”).

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

These two letters of the Russian alphabet don’t have their own sound. Instead, they change the sound of preceeding consonants.

The hard sign (Ъ) makes the preceding consonant sound hard in the positions before the vowels И, Я, Ю, Е, Ё.

The soft sign softens the preceding consonant.

The difference between soft and hard consonants can be seen on example of the English letter N in such words as “new” and “not”.

Hand-written Russian alphabet

The letters of the Russian alphabet look differently in printed and hand-written versions. Even if you are not going to write in Russian by hand any time soon, it’s always useful to have at least a basic understanding of it.

Let’s study the hand-written Russian letters one by one:

А а
Б б
В в
Г г
Д д
Е е
Ё ё
Ж ж
З з
И и
Й й
К к
Л л
М м
Н н
О о
П п
Р р
С с
Т т
У у
Ф ф
Х х
Ц ц
Ч ч
Ш ш
Щ щ
ъ
ы
ь
Э э
Ю ю
Я я

Russian language keyboard

Russian pronunciation rules

In certain cases, the letters of the Russian alphabet are not pronounced as you learned them in the alphabet.
Let’s learn some basic rules that will help you to start reading in Russian:

Vowels

[Правила произношения: гласные]

  1. In unstressed positions, Russian letter O is pronounced like unstressed Russian A. But when stressed, it sounds like О in more.
  2. In unstressed positions, and usually not in the end of the word, Russian letters Я, Е, Э are pronounced like an abbreviated Russian И.
  3. The letter Ё is always stressed in Russian words.
vowel stressed unstressed
а ма́ма (mother) каранда́ш (pencil)
o по́мощь (help) молоко́ (milk)
у ру́ки (hands) уро́к (lesson)
э э́хо (echo) эта́ж (floor)
ы ры́ба (fish) краси́вый (beautiful)
и кри́к (scream) игра́ (game)
е ме́бель (furniture) семья́ (family)
ё зелёный (green), жёлтый (yellow)
ю ю́бка (skirt) любо́вь (love)
я я́щик (box) тяжёлый (heavy)

Consonants

[Правила произношения: согласные]

A few of Russian consonants form some sort of pairs between each other. The two consonants in a pair sound very similar with the difference that the first one is voiced and its pair is voiceless.

Pairs of consonants. Пары согласных.

voiced voiceless
б п
в ф
г к / х
д т
ж ш
з с
  1. Russian voiced consonants are pronounced as their voiceless counterparts when they appear in the the very end of the word.

    Example: обе́д(dinner) – [abе́t]

  2. Voiced consonants become voiceless when they are followed by other voiceless consonants.

    Example: ю́бка – (skirt) – [yúpka]

  3. Voiceless consonants sound voiced when they are followed by voiced consonants.

    Example: футбо́лка – (t-shirt) – [fudbólka]

  4. If a consonant is followed by one of these vowels – Я, Е, Ё, Ю, И, soften the consonant to achieve more natural pronunciation. For example, the word нет consists of sounds N, IE, and T. To avoid many beginners mistake of pronouncing “нет” like “ниет“, soften the Н, and it will allow you to go over Е much smoother.
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4 comments on “Russian alphabet

  1. Is it easier or better to learn Russian by starting with handwritten Russian first. I am teaching myself with no help.
    Thank you!

  2. I’ve spent a few days to just get used to the Russian alphabet because it’s so different from English. But now I can already read a little bit of Russian, it feels amazing. Your lessons help a lot, thank you. Keep up with the good work! 🙂

    • Everyday Russian says:

      Thank you Chris for the comment. We are happy to know that the site is helpful. Keep up with the good motivation to learn Russian!

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