Mastering the Sounds: A Comprehensive Pronunciation Guide to the Russian Cyrillic Alphabet

Below is a basic pronunciation guide for each letter of the Russian alphabet. Keep in mind that there can be slight variations in pronunciation depending on word context and the position of the letter within a word. Stress also affects the pronunciation of certain vowels.

Cyrillic LetterPronunciation (IPA)Approximate English Equivalent
А а/a/‘a’ as in “father”
Б б/b/‘b’ as in “bat”
В в/v/‘v’ as in “van”
Г г/ɡ/‘g’ as in “go”
Д д/d/‘d’ as in “dog”
Е е/je/ or /e/‘ye’ as in “yes” (at the beginning of a word or after vowels or the soft sign); ‘e’ as in “bet”
Ё ё/jo/‘yo’ as in “yonder”
Ж ж/ʐ/‘s’ as in “pleasure” or ‘g’ as in “genre”
З з/z/‘z’ as in “zoo”
И и/i/‘ee’ as in “see”
Й й/j/‘y’ as in “boy” (used after vowels to form diphthongs)
К к/k/‘k’ as in “kite”
Л л/l/‘l’ as in “look”
М м/m/‘m’ as in “man”
Н н/n/‘n’ as in “not”
О о/o/‘o’ as in “bog” when stressed, more like ‘a’ in “sofa” when unstressed
П п/p/‘p’ as in “spot”
Р р/r/‘r’ as in “trilled” or rolling ‘r’, similar to the Spanish or Italian ‘r’
С с/s/‘s’ as in “sun”
Т т/t/‘t’ as in “stop”
У у/u/‘oo’ as in “moon”
Ф ф/f/‘f’ as in “face”
Х х/x/‘h’ as in “Bach” or Scottish “loch”
Ц ц/ts/‘ts’ as in “cats”
Ч ч/t͡ʃ/‘ch’ as in “check”
Ш ш/ʂ/‘sh’ as in “shush”
Щ щ/ɕː/“shch” as in “fresh cheese” (longer and softer than “ш”)
Ъ ъ– Hard Sign – has no sound; historically used to indicate a preceding consonant is hard
Ы ы/ɨ/No direct equivalent in English; close to ‘i’ in “roses” or ‘u’ in “rut”, with the tongue pulled back
Ь ь– Soft Sign – has no sound; indicates that the preceding conson
Э э/e/‘e’ as in “pet”
Ю ю/ju/‘yu’ as in “universe” (at the beginning of a word or after vowels or the soft sign)
Я я/ja/‘ya’ as in “yard” (at the beginning of a word or after vowels or the soft sign)
Ъ ъ(silent)The hard sign is used as a separator to indicate that there should be no palatalization of the preceding consonant.
Ь ь(silent)The soft sign signals the palatalization (softening) of the preceding consonant, which means it is slightly modified by raising the middle of the tongue towards the hard palate.

It’s important to note that the pronunciation of certain vowels, particularly “Е,” “Ё,” “И,” and “Ю,” can vary depending on their position in a word, and whether they follow a consonant or the soft sign (Ь). Additionally, the pronunciation of a vowel can differ if it is stressed versus unstressed.

The hard sign (ъ) has no direct impact on pronunciation itself in modern Russian but indicates that the preceding consonant should be “hard” or not palatalized. Today, it’s comparatively rare and mainly used in a few instances such as after prefixes.

Understanding the soft and hard signs is essential because they affect the pronunciation of the preceding consonant, even though these signs are not pronounced themselves.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that Russian pronunciation is not entirely captured by this guide, as intonation, stress, and the flow of speech can all affect how certain letters sound within a word. Listening to native speakers and practicing with audio resources or speech recognition technology will help learners to develop a more accurate pronunciation.


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