Russian Alphabet

For many learners of Russian starting out, the Russian alphabet can be somewhat confusing. There are letters similar to the Latin script that make similar sounds (like “T” or “M”), similar letters that make different sounds (like “H” or “P”) and letters that are only kind of similar (“И” or “Я”) or totally different (“Ж”, “Ц” or “Ф”).

When you start learning Russian, you should devote some time to mastering the Russian alphabet. It will help you avoid confusion in the future and help you start reading in Russian sooner and easier.

The Russian alphabet uses letters from the Cyrillic script to write the Russian language. The Cyrillic script was developed in the late 9th century on the basis of the Greek alphabet, with some letters from the old Glagolitic alphabet to represent sounds not found in Greek. The script is named in honour of the two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, who created the Glagolitic alphabet earlier on.

Until the 17th century, the only written language in Russia was Church Slavonic. Civil Russian language started appearing in writing during the reign of Peter the Great (1672-1725). The Moscow dialect was used as the basis for written Russian. The new civil alphabet was introduced by Peter the Great himself in order to write civil books, books on science and other texts not related to the church.

The early Russian alphabet had 43 letters. The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters. There are 10 vowels (а, е, ё, и, о, у, ы, э, ю, я), 21 consonants and 2 signs (the hard sign ъ and the soft sign ь) that are not pronounced.

The pronunciation of vowels in Russian is heavily influenced by stress. Stressed vowels are pronounced clearly and distinctly whereas unstressed vowels are shorter and weaker (reduced). The vowels ⟨е, ё, и, ю, я⟩ indicate a preceding palatalized (“soft”) consonant.

Russian consonants can be voiced and unvoiced. Voiced consonants become unvoiced if they are used at the end of a word.

Apart from these rules, the connection between the Russian letters and pronunciation is pretty straightforward (one letter – one sound or diphthong). If you master the alphabet you can read any word easily and when you hear a word and write it down, chances are you do it correctly.

Thus, although the Russian alphabet seems weird and confusing at first, after you familiarize yourself with all the letters and how they are pronounced, reading Russian becomes fairly easy.

Full list of the 33 current Russian letters


LetterCommon TransliterationExample
Ааaдва (dva) - two
Ббbоба (óba) - both
Ввvвот (vot) - here
Ггgгод (god) - year
Ддdда (da) - yes
Ееe, yeне (ne) - not
Ёёyoёж (yozh) - hedgehog
Жжzhжук (zhuk) - beetle
Ззzзной (znoy) - heat
Ииiили (íli) - or
Ййy, iмой (moy) - my, mine
Ккkкто (kto) - who
Лл†lли (li) - whether
Ммmмеч (mech) - sword
Ннnно (no) - but
Ооoон (on) - he
Ппpпод (pod) - under
Ррrрека (reká) - river
Ссsесли (yésli) - if
Ттtтот (tot) - that
Ууuуже (uzhé) - already
Ффfформа (fórma) - form
Ххkh, hдух (dukh) - spirit
Ццtsконец (konéts) - end
Ччchчас (chas) - hour
Шшshваш (vash) - yours
Щщshchщека (shcheká) - cheek
Ъъʺобъект (obyékt) - object
Ыыyты (ty) - you
Ьь'весь (vyes') - all
Ээè, eэто (èto) - this, that
Ююyuюг (yug) - south
Яяyaряд (ryad) - row

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