Russian Alphabet and Pronunciation

As you may know, Russian alphabet (Cyrillic alphabet) is not the same as the English one (Roman alphabet). That is why if you can’t read it, it may be challenging for you in the beginning. I will explain each letter in alphabetic order.

I have highlighted in green letters that are similar or almost the same as English ones, in orange those which sound (almost) like English ones but look differently, in red those which look like English letters but sound differently and in blue those which don’t exist in English.


Comment Example

А а

Sounds like ar in star


Ангел (Angel)

Б б

Sounds like b is balloon

Бабочка (Butterfly)

В в

Sounds like v in veil

Время (Time)

Г г

Sounds like g in game


Гвоздь (Nail)

Д д

Sounds like d in dark


Дом (House)

Е е

Sounds like ye in yet


Европа (Europe)

Ё ё

Sounds like ya in yacht or like yo in yogurt


This letter is rarely used nowadays, and is almost always replaced by “е” without dots, even though is still pronounced as “ё”

Note that ё is always stressed

Ёлка (Conifer tree)

Ж ж

Sounds like s in measure


Жук (Beetle)

З з

Sounds like z in zoo


Зонтик (Umbrella)

И и

Sounds like ea in meat,


or like i in still

Искра (Spark)


Й й

Sounds like y in yoga or in oyster; it is used to form diphtongs with vowels


Йод (Iodine)

К к

Sounds like k in key


Клей (Glue)

Л л

Sounds like l in love


Лимон (Lemon)

М м

Sounds like m in man


Мука (Flour)

Н н

Sounds like n in night


Ночь (Night)

О о

Sounds like o in oil when stressed


When this letter is not stressed, it sounds like a

Молоко (Milk)

П п

Sounds like p in pay


Понедельник (Monday)

Р р

Sounds like r in rock, but Russian р is rolled


Роль (Role)

С с

Sounds like s in sister


Сестра (Sister)

Т т

Sounds like t in time


Тарелка (Plate)

У у

Sounds like oo in moon, or u in full


Улица (Street)

Ф ф

Sounds like f in frame


Фасоль (Bean)

Х х

Sounds like h in hate


Храм (Temple)

Ц ц

Sounds like ts in its


Царь (Tsar)

Ч ч

Sounds like ch in cheese


Чай (Tea)

Ш ш

Sounds like sh in shoes


Шрам (Scar)

Щ щ

Sounds similar to sh but palatalized one, it means you shoud put your tongue on the roof of your mouth (“soft” ш)


Щетка (Brush)

Ъ ъ

This letter is called the Hard Sign and it has not a proper sound. It is rarely used and serves to separate the prefix and the rest of the word

Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Въезд (Entrance for vehicles)

Ы ы

Sounds like i in ill; It is similar to Russian и but with your tongue put slightly back in your mouth


Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Мышь (Mouse)

Ь ь

This is the Soft Sign. It is called like this because it makes the previous sound ‘softer’.



тwithout the Soft Sign

тьwith the Soft Sign

Never is used as the first letter in a word!

Скамья (Bench)

Basically, when you see the Soft Sign, you should pronounce it as if there was a slight sound [i]  instead of it

Э э

Sounds like a in day


Этаж (Floor)

Ю ю

Sounds like the word you

Юбка (Skirt)

Я я

Sounds like ya in yard


Яма (Hole)

Stress and vowel reduction. Stress in Russian words is not fixed even within the same word – it may depend on the form of the word. It is important to know which syllable is stressed because words may be understood completely differently depending on how we stress them. For example:

  1. Мукá – flour 

    Мýка – agony 

    Vowel reduction. Stress affects the way we pronounce vowels. In Russian stressed position of vowels is called a strong position. Vowels in strong position are pronounced as they are given in the alphabet. Vowels in weak position are shorter and slightly change their sound. For example, letters я and e sound like a short и when unstressed, and the letter о is pronounced like а when unstressed. Quite a brain-teaser, right?
    Stress in Russian is not marked, that’s why it is important to remember which syllable is stressed in a certain word. Don’t be afraid, it will come to you with practice, and soon you will stress syllables naturally even in a new word.

    Some examples of о reduction:

    Корóва – Cow 

    Моркóвь – Carrot 

    Дорóга – Road 

    As you could see from those examples, the first о which is unstressed sounds like а. Before listening to the next example, try to pronounce it yourself first and then see if you did right:

    Мáсло Butter 

    Some examples of я and е reduction:

    Яма – Hole

    Яйцо – Egg

    Мелочь – Pocket money

  2. Consonant Assimilation. Maybe you have noticed that Ж letter in the word ЭТАЖ didn’t sound as it was presented in the alphabet. It happens because some Russian consonants change their sound depending on where they are placed in the word. For example, voiced consonants (Г, Б, В, Д, Ж and З) at the end of the word change its sound and become voiceless consonants. For example, the letter Б (voiced consonant) in front of р is not devoiced:

    Брат — Brother

    But it is devoiced at the end of the word and sounds like its voiceless pair (П):


    It was just a general explanation of pronounciation. Check a separate grammar course for more details.

    At this stage the most important thing is to practice reading by copying Russian speech. Just let your ears, brain and speech apparatus get used to the Russian sounds and to the way Russians pronounce words.


If you struggle with finding Russian letters on your keyboard, that’s what Russian keyboard layout look like:



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