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The Russian Alphabet: A Guide to Cyrillic Letters and Their Pronunciation

Before learning how to read, write or speak Russian, you must first understand the Russian alphabet.

This alphabet uses Cyrillic script and consists of 33 letters, some of which are the same as and some of which are different from the Roman alphabet. 

This straightforward guide will show you each Russian letter and its pronunciation as well as give you some tips for learning the alphabet thoroughly. 

Contents

The Russian Alphabet

Overall, the Russian alphabet contains:

  • 20 consonants (б, в, г, д, ж, з, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш and щ)
  • 10 vowels (а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю and и)
  • 1 semi-vowel (й) 
  • 2 letters that don’t make a sound, but modify the letter in front of them (ъ and ь).

Here are all 33 of the Russian letters with their names (how you would say them if you’re just talking about the letters themselves) and an example of how each would sound using similar English sounds. 

LetterNamePronunciation
A aAhCar
Б бBehBig
В вVehVery
Г гGehRag
Д дDehDinosaur
Е еYehYes
Ё ёYoYodel
Ж жZhePleasure
З зZehZebra
И иEeBee
Й йEe kratkoyeh (short ee)Boy
К кKahKing
Л лEhlLove
М мEhmMouse
Н нEhnNever
О оOhOriginal
П пPehPerfect
Р рEhrRun
С сEhsSome
Т тTehTime
У уOoYou
Ф фEhfFamily
Х хKhahLoch
Ц цTseBits
Ч чCheCheck
Ш шShahShut
Щ щShchahSheep
Ъ ъTvyordeey znahk (hard sign)Letter before is hard
Ы ыIhGuttural "ee" in the back of the throat
Ь ьMyagkeey znahk (soft sign)Consonant before is soft
Э эEhBet
Ю юYooUniverse
Я яYahYard

The Russian Alphabet in Cursive

It is important to note that Russian cursive can be very useful to know, yet tricky to learn. Here is a chart that should help you start learning what Russian cursive looks like.

russian alphabet

What You Need to Know About Cyrillic

While you now know what the letters of the Russian alphabet are, some need further explanation as they are very different from English:

  • Л: You may sometimes see л looking like just a two-sided triangle—kind of like an “A” without the horizontal bar.
  • ж: We don’t have a letter quite like ж in the English alphabet, but this video will give you a good example of how it sounds.
  • Й: As opposed to the letter И, which is a vowel, Й has more of a “y” sound when used in a word and acts like a consonant. It might help to watch a video like this helpful guide.
  • P: This letter is usually rolled. If you have trouble with this, this video offers some useful assistance.
  • Х: X is sort of like the Russian equivalent of the English letter “h,” but it comes more from the throat, making it sort of part way between an “h” and a “k.” Watch this YouTube video for more pronunciation guidance.
  • Щ: This is one of the trickiest letters for native English speakers. The sound is like a long “sh” sound, but it’s palatalized, meaning the middle of your tongue should go towards your hard palate when you say it. Here’s a helpful video.
  • Ъ: On its own, ъ has no particular sound. However, as a part of words, it means that the letter before it is hard. This video focuses on ъ and how it affects the pronunciation of a word.
  • Ы: The English language does not really have any sounds quite like ы. It’s sort of a guttural “ee” sound made in the back of your throat. Some non-native speakers replace it with an “i” sound, like in “hit.”
  • Ь: Ь indicates that the consonant that precedes it is soft. Much like ъ, ь itself has no real sound. These letters are tricky, so you might want to refer to this helpful explanation.

Tips for Learning the Russian Alphabet 

  • Pay attention to letters that are the same in English and Russian. There are several letters that are identical, such as “A.” Noting which letters are the same between languages will make them easier to remember.
  • Associate letters with similar-looking letters. There are Russian letters that look like English ones, but have different sounds. For instance, the Russian “Р” looks like the English “P,” but the Russian letter is actually pronounced like the English letter “R.” These letters may seem confusing at first, but their similar appearances will make them easier to remember.
  • Try to think of each unfamiliar letter as an image. When you’re starting out, it’s helpful to look at the unfamiliar letters and think of what image they remind you of. This will make them easier to remember. For instance, ю looks a little bit like a fish.

Additional Resources to Help You Learn Cyrillic

If you need a little more help learning the Russian alphabet, YouTube channels are an excellent resource to help you see and hear each letter. Here are some great resources to help get you started. 

Russian Language Guide

This YouTube video aims to teach you the Russian alphabet in just ten minutes.

It starts off with easy letters that are the same in both English and Russian, and then gets more complex. The video also uses real Russian vocabulary to help teach you the sounds in context.

RussianLessons.net

RussianLessons.net offers a slow, clear video that lists each letter in alphabetical order, followed by several Russian words that use that letter.

FluentU

While this is not a YouTube channel, FluentU is a virtual immersion program that makes for a great learning resource.

 

Now that you know the 33 Russian letters, you’ll be able to take the next step in your Russian learning journey!

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