Russian pronunciation

of the transcription used at this website

(in Russian alphabetical order)

First posted y11107
latest change y11112

Copyright © 2001 by Hugo S. Cunningham

This Latin-alphabet transcription may be slightly different from the ones you are most accustomed to. It is intended to keep each Cyrillic character as distinctive as possible, while consistent with the most common on-line Cyrillic alphabet converters, eg at URL

Alternative Latin-alphabet transcriptions are shown in parentheses. Alternatives commonly given by on-line Cyrillic-Latin converters are marked with an asterisk *.

The same table, but also showing the Cyrillic characters

The same table, but in English alphabetical order

astressed: "a" in English "father
unstressed: "a" in "Lima"
bas in English
vas in English
gEnglish g in "go". Never English g in "gin."
dsimilar to English dt
(sometimes "ye" at beginning of word)
stressed: "ye" in English "yet" (but see also entry for ë)
unstressed: same as Russian "i" (see)
Note: When this letter appears at the beginning of a Russian word, it is often transcribed "ye" to distinguish it from the letter I transcribe as "e^" (see below). This does not cause confusion with the separate vowel "y" (see below), because the sequence "y-e" never appears at the beginning of a Russian word.
Example: The surname «Ezhov» is often written "Yezhov."
ë (always stressed) "yaw" in English "yawl"
The dots are shown in dictionaries and primers; otherwise this is usually written "e."
zhvoiced "sh" sound: the "s" in "measure"
(always hard)
zas in English "zoo"
i as in Spanish, or the English "i" in "machine"
Keep in mind, however, that the preceding consonant is "soft" (palatalized). When unstressed, Russian "i" often sounds more like a quickly and softly pronounced English "yi" in "yip."
(y, i)
English "y" in "toy" or "yet"
kas in English "bucket"kpt
l soft: like English "ll" in "million"
hard: somewhat like English "l" in "yolk"
mas in English
nas in English
o stressed: as in Spanish, or like English "au" in "auto"
unstressed: like Russian "a" (see)
pas in English "reaper" kpt
ris trilled (rolled)
salways unvoiced, as in English "set"
t similar to "t" in English "butter" dt, kpt
u as in Spanish, or like English "oo" in "boot" hard
fas in English
(h *, kh)
Spanish "j", Polish or Greek "ch", German "hard ch";
distantly related to English "h"
(ts *)
English "ts" in "cats"
(always hard)
chas in English
(always soft)
shas in English
(always hard)
(sch *)
like English "shch" in "fresh cheese"
(always soft)
" or ''
(hard sign)
(makes previous consonant "hard". Puts English "y" sound [as in "yet"] in front of following "soft" vowel.)
Since Russian uses «brackets» for quotes, the hard sign " and the soft sign ' need not be confused with quotes.
y related to Russian "i" (see), but follows "hard" consonant.
The most difficult Russian sound to explain to English-speakers.
Sounds a bit like "ui" sound in English "quick," or sometimes more like "uoy" in "buoy" (pronounced softly and quickly).
Sounds "shorter" than Russian "i" to English ears, more like English "i" in "pit."
(soft sign)
makes previous consonant "soft"
Also, if followed by "soft" vowel, puts English "y" sound (as in "yet") in front of vowel
(e *, eh)
English "e" in "bet"
Note: Except in a handful of compound words, or foreign borrowings (eg "poe^t," "poe^ziya,"), this letter is only found at the beginning of words. For that reason, most transcription systems do not bother to distinguish it from the common "soft" letter "e," except at the beginning of words. (See "note" to "e" above.)
yuEnglish "yu" in "Yule" soft
ya stressed: English "ya" as in "yacht"
unstressed: like Russian "i" (see).


Russian Vowels, hard and soft

Russian makes a key distinction between palatalized ("soft") consonants (pronounced with the tongue against the palate, the gum ridge behind the upper teeth) and unpalatalized ("hard") consonants. To English ears, palatalization sounds similar to a "y" (though not exactly the same); thus, English-speakers hear the Russian word for "no" as "nyet," even though it would more properly be transcribed "net." Almost all Russian consonants have alternate "soft" and "hard" pronunciations. These are indicated by the following vowel, one of 5 alternating "soft" or "hard" forms.

hard vowelsoft vowel

If the last consonant in a cluster is "soft" (palatalized), then the one(s) before it are soft as well, eg in the word «otomsti» ("avenge"), the «m» and the «s» are soft just like the «t».

Incidentally, Polish, a related language written with a Latin script, solves the same problem by using "i" to indicate palatalization ("softness"). "I" also can be a stand-alone "soft" vowel:

hard vowelsoft vowel

A phonetic script, with a few exceptions

The Russian script is largely phonetic (each letter corresponds to only one sound, and each sound corresponds to only one letter), making pronunciation and spelling much easier than English.

Historical note: the
origin of the Cyrillic script.

Return to main alphabet page.