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Introduction to the Russian Cyrillic alphabet

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The Russian alphabet has 33 letters, out of which 10 are vowels and 21 are consonants. Two of the letters (Ь and Ъ) are used for changing sound of the preceding consonant. Note, that in the list below first is capital, then the small letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, then comes an explanation of how the sound should sound/feel like when pronounced.

The written forms of many of the Cyrillic letters appear significantly different from their printed counterparts. The written forms, however, will be discussed in a later lesson.

All letters

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Letter Name Sound Sample Pronunciation in English
А а а [a] /a/ a in father
Б б бэ [bɛ] /b/ or /bʲ/ b in bit
В в вэ [vɛ] /v/ or /vʲ/ v in vine
Г г гэ [gɛ] /g/ g in go
Д д дэ [dɛ] /d/ or /dʲ/ d in do
Е е е [jɛ] /je/ or /ʲe/ ye in yet
Ё ё ё [jo] /jo/ or /ʲo/ yo in yolk
Ж ж жэ [ʐɛ] /ʐ/ g in genre, s in pleasure, or zh
З з зэ [zɛ] /z/ or /zʲ/ z in zoo
И и и [i] /i/ or /ʲi/ ee in see
Й й и краткое
[i ˈkra.tkə.ɪ]
/j/ y in yes
К к ка [ka] /k/ or /kʲ/ k in kitten
Л л эл or эль
[el] or [elʲ]
/l/ or /lʲ/ l in lamp
М м эм [ɛm] /m/ or /mʲ/ m in map
Н н эн [ɛn] /n/ or /nʲ/ n in not
О о о [o] /o/ o in open
П п пэ [pɛ] /p/ or /pʲ/ p in pet
Р р эр [ɛr] /r/ or /rʲ/ rolled r
С с эс [ɛs] /s/ or /sʲ/ s in see
Т т тэ [tɛ] /t/ or /tʲ/ t in tip
У у у [u] /u/ oo in boot
Ф ф эф [ɛf] /f/ or /fʲ/ f in face
Х х ха [xa] /x/ kh in khan
Ц ц це [tsɛ] /ts/ ts in sits
Ч ч че [tɕɛ] /tɕ/ ch in chip
Ш ш ша [ʂa] /ʂ/ sh in shut
Щ щ ща [ɕɕa] /ɕɕ/ sch (soft sh), sh in sheer (but with a slightly more "y" sound)
Ъ ъ твёрдый знак
[ˈtvʲо.rdɨj znak]
- a sign which, placed after a consonant, indicates it is not palatalized
Ы ы ы [ɨ] /ɨ/ i in sill
Ь ь мягкий знак
[ˈmʲækʲɪj znak]
/ʲ/ a sign which, placed after a consonant, indicates a softened pronunciation
Э э э [ɛ] /e/ e in met
Ю ю ю [ju] /ju/ or /ʲu/ u in use
Я я я [ja] /ja/ or /ʲa/ ya in yard

Latin Letter Matches

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Of the 33 letters in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet, 5 of them look and sound very similar to their Latin counterparts. There are subtle differences in pronunciation, but these will be addressed in the intermediate Russian course. These letters are:

А, а like in wand

К, к like in kitchen

М, м like in mammal

Т, т like in tail

О, о This letter can make either the sound oh like in bold, or ah like in hot. It makes the sound oh when it is the accented vowel, and ah when unaccented. We will talk more about what accented or unaccented means in the lesson on accents.

Letters similar to Latin

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В, в [vě] like in van

Е, е [yě] like in yell

Ё, ё [yō] like in yoga

Н, н [ěn] like in note

Р, р [ar] like in break, try to emphasize the r

С, с [ěs] like in some

У, у [ōō] like in use

Х, х [khǒ] like in Astrakhan

Letters not in the Latin Alphabet

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Б, б [bě] like in bat

Г, г [gě] like in goat

Д, д [dě] like in doll

Ж, ж [zhě] like in azure

З, з [zě] like in rose

И, и [yē] like in I'm

Й, й [yē krǒtkǔ] like in yes

Л, л [ěl'] like in lemon

П, п [pě] like in pet

Ф, ф [ěf] like in fall

Ц, ц [cě] like in tsar

Ч, ч [chě] like in cherry

Ш, ш [shǒ] like in shell

Щ, щ [shēyǒ] like in shall, it should sound softer than Ш/sh

Ъ, ъ [hard mark(tōō arděsnǒk)] makes preceding consonant sound hard, e.g. compare d's of deal and doll (hard version)

Ы, ы [y, back i] i like in eel, that is being pronounced in behind of your mouth, close to the throat

Ь, ь [soft mark(mē ǒkěsnǒk)] makes preceding consonant sound soft, e.g. compare ch's of chalk and birch

Э, э [ē ǎbǔrōtnǔ] like in fell

Ю, ю [yōō] like in you

Я, я [yǒ] like in yahoo

See also

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