Russian alphabet: Wikis


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This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The modern Russian alphabet (русский алфавит, transliteration: russkiy alfavit) is a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet and contains 33 letters. It was introduced into Kievan Rus' at the time of Vladimir the Great's conversion to Christianity.



The Russian alphabet is as follows:

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Capital Small Handwriting Name Old name1 IPA English example Numerical value19 Unicode (Hex)
А а 01-Russian alphabet-А а.svg а
/a/ a in father 1 U+0410 / U+0430
Б б 02-Russian alphabet-Б б.svg бэ
/b/ or /bʲ/ b in bit - U+0411 / U+0431
В в 03-Russian alphabet-В в.svg вэ
/v/ or /vʲ/ v in vine 2 U+0412 / U+0432
Г г 04-Russian alphabet-Г г.svg гэ
/ɡ/ g in go 3 U+0413 / U+0433
Д д 05-Russian alphabet-Д д.svg дэ
/d/ or /dʲ/ d in do 4 U+0414 / U+0434
Е е4 06-Russian alphabet-Е е.svg е
/je/ or / ʲe/ ye in yet 5 U+0415 / U+0435
Ё ё4,7 07-Russian alphabet-Ё ё.svg ё
- /jo/ or / ʲo/ yo in yolk - U+0401 / U+0451
Ж ж 08-Russian alphabet-Ж ж.svg жэ
/ʐ/[2] g in genre, s in pleasure, j in Jean-Jacques or zh in Dr Zhivago (voiced retroflex fricative) - U+0416 / U+0436
З з 09-Russian alphabet-З з.svg зэ
/z/ or /zʲ/ z in zoo 7 U+0417 / U+0437
И и4 10-Russian alphabet-И и.svg и
/i/ or / ʲi/ e in me 8 U+0418 / U+0438
Й й 11-Russian alphabet-Й й.svg и краткое
[i ˈkra.tkə.ɪ]
и съ краткой
[ɪ s ˈkra.tkəj]
/j/ y in yes - U+0419 / U+0439
К к 12-Russian alphabet-К к.svg ка
/k/ or /kʲ/ k in kitten 20 U+041A / U+043A
Л л 13-Russian alphabet-Л л.svg эл or эль
[el] or [elʲ]
/l/ or /lʲ/ l in lamp 30 U+041B / U+043B
М м 14-Russian alphabet-М м.svg эм
/m/ or /mʲ/ m in map 40 U+041C / U+043C
Н н 15-Russian alphabet-Н н.svg эн
/n/ or /nʲ/ n in not 50 U+041D / U+043D
О о 16-Russian alphabet-О о.svg o
/o/ o in more 70 U+041E / U+043E
П п 17-Russian alphabet-П п.svg пэ
/p/ or /pʲ/ p in pet 80 U+041F / U+043F
Р р 18-Russian alphabet-Р р.svg эр
/r/ or /rʲ/ rolled r 100 U+0420 / U+0440
С с 19-Russian alphabet-С с.svg эс
/s/ or /sʲ/ s in see 200 U+0421 / U+0441
Т т 20-Russian alphabet-Т т.svg тэ
/t/ or /tʲ/ t in tip 300 U+0422 / U+0442
У у 21-Russian alphabet-У у.svg у
/u/ oo in boot 400 U+0423 / U+0443
Ф ф 22-Russian alphabet-Ф ф.svg эф
/f/ or /fʲ/ f in face 500 U+0424 / U+0444
Х х 23-Russian alphabet-Х х.svg ха
/x/ Bach (German) (voiceless velar fricative) 600 U+0425 / U+0445
Ц ц 24-Russian alphabet-Ц ц.svg це
/t͡s/ ts in sits 900 U+0426 / U+0446
Ч ч 25-Russian alphabet-Ч ч.svg че
/t͡ɕ/ ch in chip 90 U+0427 / U+0447
Ш ш 26-Russian alphabet-Ш ш.svg ша
/ʃ/ similar to the sh in shut (voiceless retroflex fricative) - U+0428 / U+0448
Щ щ 27-Russian alphabet-Щ щ.svg ща
/ɕː/ similar to the "sh" in sheer (but with a slightly more "y" sound)
(sometimes followed by
a sound similar to the "ch" in chip such as the phrase "Welsh cheese") (voiceless postalveolar fricative)
- U+0429 / U+0449
Ъ ъ 28-Russian alphabet-ъ.svg твёрдый знак
[ˈtvʲo.rdɨj znak]
see note2 a sign which, placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified vowels with no palatalisation of the preceding consonant - U+042A / U+044A
Ы ы 29-Russian alphabet-ы.svg ы
[ɨ]5 like e in roses or the i in silly (close central unrounded vowel) - U+042B / U+044B
Ь ь 30-Russian alphabet-ь.svg мягкий знак
[ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj znak]
/ ʲ/3 a sign which, placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalises the preceding consonant - U+042C / U+044C
Э э6 31-Russian alphabet-Э э.svg э
э оборотное
[ˈɛ ə.bɐˈro.tnə.ɪ]
/e/ e in met - U+042D / U+044D
Ю ю 32-Russian alphabet-Ю ю.svg ю4
/ju/ or / ʲu/ u in use - U+042E / U+044E
Я я4,16,17 33-Russian alphabet-Я я.svg я
/ja/ or / ʲa/ ya in yard - U+042F / U+044F
letters eliminated in 1918
І і8 - - і десятеричное
/i/ or / ʲi/ Like и 10
Ѳ ѳ9 - - ѳита
/f/ or /fʲ/ Like ф 9
Ѣ ѣ10 - - ять
/je/ or / ʲe/ Like е -
Ѵ ѵ11 - - ижица
/i/ or / ʲi/ Like и or, sometimes, в -
letters in disuse by the 18th century18
Ѕ ѕ14 - - зѣло
/dz/, /z/ or /zʲ/ Like з 6
Ѯ ѯ12 - - кси
/ks/ or /ksʲ/ Like кс 60
Ѱ ѱ12 - - пси
/ps/ or /psʲ/ Like пс 700
Ѡ ѡ13 - - омега
/o/ Like о 800
Ѫ ѫ - - юсъ большой
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj]
/u/,/ju/ or / ʲu/15 Like у or ю -
Ѧ15 ѧ15 - - юсъ малый
[jus ˈmɑ.lɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/16 Like я -
Ѭ ѭ - - юсъ большой іотированный
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj jɪˈtʲi.rə.vən.nɨj]
/ju/ or / ʲu/15 Like ю -
Ѩ ѩ - - юсъ малый іотированный
[jus ˈmɑ.lɨj jɪˈtʲi.rə.vən.nɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/15 Like я -
Some variants of letter Ж

Letter Ж, ж (zh) has more variants of writing than any other Russian letter.

The consonant letters represent both “hard” and “soft” (palatalised, represented in the IPA with a ‹ ʲ›) phonemes, depending (with some exceptions) on whether the iotated or softening vowel letters follow. The transcriptions of the names of the letters attempt to reflect the reduction of non-stressed vowels. See Russian phonology for details.

Letter Л, л is commonly called эл [el] in modern Russian; эль [elʲ] is also used but is considered a little obsolete.

Non-vocalized letters

  • hard sign (<ъ>), when put after a consonant, acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding iotated vowel from the consonant, making that sound with a distinct /j/ glide. Today is used mostly to separate a prefix from the following root. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short middle schwa-like sound, /ŭ/ but likely pronounced [ə] or [ɯ]
  • soft sign (<ь>) acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For example, брат [brat] ('brother') contrasts with брать [bratʲ] ('to take')[Ref. 3]. The original pronunciation of the soft sign, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short fronted reduced vowel /ĭ/ but likely pronounced [ɪ] or [jɪ]. There are still some remains of this ancient reading in modern Russian, in the co-existing versions of the same name, read differently, such as in Марья and Мария (Mary).


The vowels ‹е, ё, и, ю, я› indicate a preceding palatal consonant and with the exception of ‹и› are iotated (pronounced with a preceding /j/) when written at the beginning of a word or following another vowel (initial ‹и› was iotated until the nineteenth century). The IPA vowels shown are a guideline only and sometimes are realized as different sounds, particularly when unstressed. However, ‹е› is used in words of foreign origin without palatalization and indicate /e/. Which words this applies to must be learned (generally to avoid using ‹э› after a consonant), and ‹я› is often realized as [æ] between soft consonants, such as in мяч ("toy ball").

‹ы› is an old Common Slavonic tense intermediate vowel, thought to have been preserved better in modern Russian than in other Slavic languages. It was originally nasalized in certain positions: камы [ˈka.mɨ̃]; камень [ˈka.mʲɪnʲ] ("rock"). Its written form developed as follows: ‹ъ› + ‹і› → ‹ъı› → ‹ы›.

‹э› was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing /e/ from the iotated/palatalizing one. The original usage had been ‹е› for the uniotated /e/, ‹ѥ› or ‹ѣ› for the iotated, but ‹ѥ› had dropped out of use by the sixteenth century. In native Russian words, ‹э› is found only at the beginnings of words, but otherwise it may be found elsewhere, such as when spelling out English or other foreign names, or in words of foreign origin such as the brand-name Aeroflot (Аэрофлοτ).

‹ё›, introduced by Karamzin in 1797, marks a /jo/ sound that has historically developed from /je/ under stress, a process that continues today. The letter ‹ё› is optional (in writing, not in pronunciation): it is formally correct to write ‹e› for both /je/ and /jo/. None of the several attempts in the twentieth century to mandate the use of ‹ё› have stuck.

Letters eliminated in 1918
Grapheme Name Description
і Decimal I identical in pronunciation to ‹и›, was used exclusively immediately in front of other vowels and the ‹й› ("Short I") (for example, ‹патріархъ› [pətrʲɪˈarx], 'patriarch') and in the word ‹міръ› [mʲir] ('world') and its derivatives, to distinguish it from the word ‹миръ› [mʲir] ('peace') (the two words are actually etymologically cognate[Ref. 2] and not arbitrarily homonyms).[Ref. 1]
ѳ Fita from the Greek theta, was identical to ‹ф› in pronunciation, but was used etymologically (for example, ‹Ѳёдор› "Theodore").
ѣ Yat originally had a distinct sound, but by the middle of the eighteenth century had become identical in pronunciation to ‹е› in the standard language. Since its elimination in 1918, it has remained a political symbol of the old orthography.
ѵ Izhitsa from the Greek upsilon, was identical to ‹и› in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, but was used etymologically; though by 1918 it had become very rare.

Letters in disuse by 1750

‹ѯ› and ‹ѱ› derived from Greek letters xi and psi, used etymologically though inconsistently in secular writing until the eighteenth century, and more consistently to the present day in Church Slavonic.

‹ѡ› is the Greek letter omega, identical in pronunciation to ‹о›, used in secular writing until the eighteenth century, but to the present day in Church Slavonic, mostly to distinguish inflexional forms otherwise written identically.

‹ѕ› corresponded to a more archaic /dz/ pronunciation, already absent in East Slavic at the start of the historical period, but kept by tradition in certain words until the eighteenth century in secular writing, and in Church Slavonic to the present day.

The yuses ‹ѫ› and ‹ѧ›, letters that originally used to stand for nasalised vowels /õ/ and /ẽ/, had become, according to linguistic reconstruction, irrelevant for East Slavic phonology already at the beginning of the historical period, but were introduced along with the rest of the Cyrillic alphabet. The letters ‹ѭ› and ‹ѩ› had largely vanished by the twelfth century. The uniotated ‹ѫ› continued to be used, etymologically, until the sixteenth century. Thereafter it was restricted to being a dominical letter in the Paschal tables. The seventeenth-century usage of ‹ѫ› and ‹ѧ› (see next note) survives in contemporary Church Slavonic.

The letter ‹ѧ› was adapted to represent the iotated /ja/ ‹я› in the middle or end of a word; the modern letter ‹я› is an adaptation of its cursive form of the seventeenth century, enshrined by the typographical reform of 1708.

Until 1708, the iotated /ja/ was written ‹ıa› at the beginning of a word. This distinction between ‹ѧ› and ‹ıa› survives in Church Slavonic.

Although it is usually stated that the letters labelled "fallen into disuse by the eighteenth century" in the table above were eliminated in the typographical reform of 1708, reality is somewhat more complex. The letters were indeed originally omitted from the sample alphabet, printed in a western-style serif font, presented in Peter's edict, along with the modern letter ‹й›, but were reinstated under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church in a later variant of the modern typeface. Nonetheless, they fell completely out of use in secular writing by 1750.

Numeric values

19. The numerical values correspond to the Greek numerals, with ‹ѕ› being used for digamma, ‹ч› for koppa, and ‹ц› for sampi. The system was abandoned for secular purposes in 1708, after a transitional period of a century or so; it continues to be used in Church Slavonic.

Stress indication

In Russian, the word stress is occasionally indicated with an acute accent ‹ ́› on a syllable's vowel (called "знак ударения" znak udareniya in Russian), with the Unicode value of U+0301. The symbol is inserted after the stressed vowel but it appears above it.

Although the word stress in Russian is mostly unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word or on the ending, it's generally not used but can be used for disambiguation: e.g. "за́мок" (castle) and "замо́к" (lock), on rare or foreign words, poems where stress is different from standard but is used in order to fit the meter, to indicate foreign or unusual pronunciation, also in certain educational texts for foreign learners or children as a pronunciation guide.

The majority of bilingual or monolingual dictionaries use this notation. Stress is not indicated in a text with word stress indicated over letter "ё", as it is always stressed, with a small number of exceptions (loanwords).

Keyboard layout

Russian keyboard layout for Microsoft Windows computers:

Russian keyboard layout

See also


  1. ^ Article живете from "Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова" ("Ushakov's Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language"; the dictionary makes difference between е and ё, cf.: ёлка).
  2. ^ Russian phonology#Consonants
  3. ^ Article мыслете from “Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова” (“Ushakov's Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language”).
  4. ^ ФЭБ


  1. ^  (Russian) P. Smirnovskiy. A Textbook in Russian Grammar. Part I. Etymology 26th edition, ca. 1915. (In Russian. П. Смирновскій. Учебникъ русской грамматики. Часть І. Этимологія 26 изд. (A Djvu file.) — Rule 4 for writing і on p. 4.
  2. ^  (Russian) Max Vasmer's Russian Etymological Dictionary — the etymology of the Russian word мир ("world", "peace"), found in the query result for мир at an online version of the Russian translation of the dictionary (retr. 16 October 2005).
  3. ^ Learn the Russian alphabet

External links


Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity


Introduction to the Russian Cyrillic alphabet

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

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

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

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

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


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:



Russian alphabet

  1. The 33-letter alphabet of the Modern Russian language, consisting of the following letters (presented in upper case (majuscule) and lower case (minuscule) pairs):
    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 ъ, Ы ы, Ь ь, Э э, Ю ю, Я я
  2. The Russian alphabet used before 1918, consisting of the above letters plus the following four:
    І і, Ѳ ѳ, Ѣ ѣ, Ѵ ѵ

See also


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