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Russian alphabet

The Russian alphabet (Russian: русский алфавит, tr. rússkij alfavít, IPA: [ˈruskʲɪj ɐɫfɐˈvʲit]) uses

letters from the Cyrillic script. The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters.

Table of the Russian alphabet

c Approximate
Lett Cursi Itali translit English
er ve cs Name Old name IPA eration equivalent Examples

а азъ два dva
Аа Аа /a/ a father
[a] [as] "two"

бэ буки оба óba
Бб Бб /b/or /bʲ/ b bad
[bɛ] [ˈbukʲɪ] "both"

вэ вѣди вот vot
Вв Вв /v/or /vʲ/ v vine
[vɛ] [ˈvʲedʲɪ] "here"

гэ глаголь год god
Гг Гг /ɡ/or /gʲ/ g go
[ɡɛ] [ɡɫɐˈɡolʲ] "year"

дэ добро да da
Дд Дд /d/or /dʲ/ d do
[dɛ] [dɐˈbro] "yes"
е есть /je/, / ʲe/or  не ne
Ее Ее e yes
[je] [jesʲtʲ] /e/ "not"

ё ёж yozh
Ёё Ёё – /jo/or / ʲo/ ë your
[jo] "hedgehog"

Ж Ж жэ живѣте жук zhuk
/ʐ/ ž pleasure
ж ж [ʐɛ] [ʐɨˈvʲetʲɪ][a] "beetle"

зэ земля зной znoy
Зз Зз /z/or /zʲ/ z zoo
[zɛ] [zʲɪˈmlʲæ] "heat"

И и иже /i/, / ʲi/, или íli

Ии i police
и [i] [ˈiʐɨ] or /ɨ/ "or"

Й ое и съ краткой мой moy
Йй /j/ j toy
й [i [ɪ s ˈkratkəj] "my, mine"

ка како кто kto
Кк Кк /k/or /kʲ/ k kept
[ka] [ˈkakə] "who"

эл or 
Лл эль люди ли li
† Лл /ɫ/or /lʲ/ l feel or lamp
[ɛɫ] o [ˈlʲʉdʲɪ] "whether"
r [ɛlʲ]

М М эм мыслѣте меч mech
/m/or /mʲ/ m map
м м [ɛm] [mɨˈsʲlʲetʲɪ][2] "sword"
Н эн нашъ но no
Нн /n/or /nʲ/ n not
н [ɛn] [naʂ] "but"

О о онъ он on
Оо /o/ o more
о [о] [on] "he"

П пэ покой под pod
Пп /p/or /pʲ/ p pet
п [pɛ] [pɐˈkoj] "under"

эр рцы река reká
Рр Рр /r/or /rʲ/ r rolled r
[ɛr] [rtsɨ] "river"

эс слово если yésli
Сс Сс /s/or /sʲ/ s set
[ɛs] [ˈsɫovə] "if"

Т тэ твердо тот tot
Тт /t/or /tʲ/ t top
т [tɛ] [ˈtvʲerdə] "that"

у укъ уже uzhé
Уу Уу /u/ u tool
[u] [uk] "already"

форма fór
Ф эф фертъ
Фф /f/or /fʲ/ f face ma
ф [ɛf] [fʲert]

ха хѣръ дух dukh
Хх Хх /x/or /xʲ/ x loch
[xa] [xʲer] "spirit"

конец koné
Ц цэ цы
Цц /ts/ c sits ts
ц [tsɛ] [tsɨ]
че червь час chas
Чч Чч /tɕ/ č chat
[tɕe] [tɕerfʲ] "hour"

Ш Ш ша ша ваш vash
/ʂ/ š sharp
ш ш [ʂa] [ʂa] "yours"

sheer (in
some щека shch
Щ Щ ща ща
/ɕɕ/ šč dialects pron eká
щ щ [ɕɕæ] [ɕtɕæ]
ounced as in "cheek"

твёрд (called "hard

ый sign") silent,
объект oby
Ъ знак еръ prevents pala
Ъъ ʺ ékt
ъ [ˈtvʲɵr [jer] talization of
dɨj the preceding
znak ] consonant

Ы Ы ы еры ты ty
[ɨ] y roses, hit
ы ы [ɨ] [jɪˈrɨ] "you"

(called "soft
мягк sign")
ий silent, palatal
знак ерь izes the весь vyes'
Ьь Ьь / ʲ/ '
[ˈmʲæ [jerʲ] preceding "all"
xʲkʲɪj consonant (if
znak ] phonologicall
y possible)

э э оборотное это éto
Ээ Ээ /e/ è met
[ɛ] [ˈɛ ɐbɐˈrotnəjɪ] "this, that"
Ю Ю ю ю юг yug
/ju/or / ʲu/ ju use
ю ю [ju] [ju] "south"

я я ряд ryad
Яя Яя /ja/or / ʲa/ ja yard
[ja] [ja] "row"

Lett Cursi Itali c
Name Old name IPA English Examples
er ve cs translit

нія (now
і десятеричное стихотворе
/i/, / ʲi/,
Іі – Іі – [i dʲɪsʲɪtʲɪ i Like и or й ния) stikho
or /j/
ˈrʲitɕnəjə] tvoréniya
(of) poem"

Ѳ ѳита
Ѳѳ – – /f/or /fʲ/ f Like ф я) orfográfi
ѳ [fʲɪˈta]
y, spelling"

Ѣ ять
Ѣѣ – – /e/or / ʲe/ ě Like е Алексей) 
ѣ [jætʲ]

мѵро (now
Ѵ ижица миро) míro
Ѵѵ – – /i/or / ʲi/ i like и,
ѵ [ˈiʐɨtsə] "chrism
see below
Lett Cursi Itali c
Name Old name IPA English Examples
er ve cs translit

sело (now
Ѕѕ – Ѕѕ – /z/or /zʲ/ z Like з очень) 

кси /ks/or /ksʲ
Ѯѯ – Ѯѯ – ks Like кс N/A
[ksʲi] /

Ѱ пси /ps/or /psʲ
Ѱѱ – – ps Like пс N/A
ѱ [psʲi] /

Ѡ Ѡ омега
– – /o/ o Like о N/A
ѡ ѡ [ɐˈmʲeɡə]

Ѫ Ѫ юсъ большой /u/,

– – ǫ Like у or ю N/A
ѫ ѫ [jus bɐlʲˈʂoj] /ju/or / ʲu/

Ѧ юсъ малый
Ѧѧ – – /ja/or / ʲa/ ę Like я N/A
ѧ [jus ˈmaɫɨj]

юсъ большой
Ѭ Ѭ іотированный
– – /ju/or / ʲu/ jǫ Like ю N/A
ѭ ѭ [jus bɐlʲˈʂoj jɪ

юсъ малый
Ѩ Ѩ іотированный
– – /ja/or / ʲa/ ję Like я N/A
ѩ ѩ [jus ˈmaɫɨj jɪ

Lett Cursi Itali Name Old name IPA Scientifi Approximate Examples
er ve cs c English

Consonant letters represent both "soft" (palatalized, represented in the IPA with a ⟨ʲ⟩) and "hard"
consonant phonemes. If consonant letters are followed by vowel letters, the soft/hard quality of the
consonant depends on whether the vowel is meant to follow "hard" consonants ⟨а, о, э, у, ы⟩ or
"soft" consonants ⟨я, ё, е, ю, и⟩; see below. A soft sign indicates ⟨Ь⟩ palatalization of the preceding
consonant without adding a vowel. However, in modern Russian six consonant phonemes do not
have phonemically distinct "soft" and "hard" variants (except in foreign proper names) and do not
change "softness" in the presence of other letters: /ʐ/, /ʂ/ and /ts/ are always hard; /j/, /ɕː/ and /tɕ/ are
always soft. See Russian phonology for details.
^† An alternate form of the letter El (Л л) closely resembles the Greek letter for lambda (Λ λ).

Non-vocalized letters
Hard sign
The hard sign (⟨ъ⟩) acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding "soft vowel" (е, ё, ю,
я, but not и) from a preceding consonant, invoking implicit iotation of the vowel with a distinct /j/
glide. Today it is used mostly to separate a prefix ending with a hard consonant 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]. Until the 1918 reform, no written word could
end in a consonant: those that end in a ("hard") consonant in modern orthography had then a final ъ.
While ⟨и⟩ is also a soft vowel, root-initial /i/ following a hard consonant is typically pronounced as [ɨ].
This is normally spelled ⟨ы⟩ (the hard counterpart to ⟨и⟩) unless this vowel occurs at the beginning of
a word, in which case it remains ⟨и⟩. An alternation between the two letters (but not the sounds) can
be seen with the pair без и́мени ('without name', which is pronounced [bʲɪz ˈɨmʲɪnʲɪ])
and безымя́нный ('nameless', which is pronounced [bʲɪzɨˈmʲænːɨj]). This spelling convention,
however, is not applied with certain loaned prefixes such as in the word панислами́зм– [ˌpanɨsɫɐ
ˈmʲizm], 'Pan-Islamism') and compound (multi-root) words (e.g. госизме́на – [ˌɡosɨˈzmʲenə], 'high
Soft sign
The soft sign (⟨ь⟩) in most positions acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding
consonant is palatalized (except for always-hard ж, ш, ц) and the following vowel (if present) is
iotated (including ьо in loans). This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For
example, брат [brat] ('brother') contrasts with брать [bratʲ] ('to take'). 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 remnants of this ancient reading in modern Russian, e.g.
in the co-existing versions of the same name, read and written differently, such
as Марья and Мария (Mary).[5] When applied after stem-final always-soft (ч, щ, but not й) or always-
hard (ж, ш, but not ц) consonants, the soft sign does not alter pronunciation, but has a grammatical

 feminine gender for singular nouns in nominative and accusative cases; e.g. тушь ('India
ink', feminine) cf. туш ('flourish after a toast', masculine) – both pronounced [tuʂ];
 imperative mood for some verbs;
 infinitive form of some verbs (with -чь ending);
 second person for non-past verbs (with -шь ending);
 some adverbs and particles.
The vowels ⟨е, ё, и, ю, я⟩ indicate a preceding palatalized 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⟩ may be used in words of foreign origin without palatalization (/e/), and ⟨я⟩ is often
realized as [æ] between soft consonants, such as in мяч ("toy ball").
⟨ы⟩ is an old Proto-Slavic close central vowel, thought to have been preserved better in modern
Russian than in other Slavic languages. It was originally nasalized in certain
positions: камы [ˈkamɨ]; камень [ˈkamʲɪnʲ] ("rock").
̃ Its written form developed as follows: ⟨ъ⟩ + ⟨і⟩ →
⟨ꙑ⟩ → ⟨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 or in compound words (e.g. поэтому "therefore"
= по + этому). In words that come from foreign languages in which iotated /e/ is uncommon or
nonexistent (such as English, for example), ⟨э⟩ is usually written in the beginning of words and after
vowels except ⟨и⟩ (e.g. поэт, poet), and ⟨е⟩ after ⟨и⟩ and consonants. However, the pronunciation is
inconsistent. Many words, especially monosyllables, words ending in ⟨е⟩ and many words where ⟨е⟩
follows ⟨т⟩, ⟨д⟩, ⟨н⟩, ⟨с⟩, ⟨з⟩ or ⟨р⟩ are pronounced with /e/ without palatalization or
iotation: секс (seks — "sex"), проект (proekt — "project") (in this example, the spelling is
etymological but the pronunciation is counteretymological). But many other words are pronounced
with /ʲe/: секта (syekta — "sect"), дебют (dyebyut — "debut"). Proper names are usually not
concerned by the rule (Сэм — "Sam", Пэмела — "Pamela", Мао Цзэдун — "Mao Zedong"); the use
of ⟨э⟩ after consonants is common in East Asian names and in English names with the
sounds /æ/ and /ɛər/, with some exceptions such as Джек ("Jack") or Шепард("Shepard"), since
both ⟨э⟩ and ⟨е⟩ are following always hard (non-palatalized) consonants in cases
of же ("zhe"), ше ("she") and це ("tse"), yet in writing ⟨е⟩ usually prevails.
⟨ё⟩, introduced by Karamzin in 1797 and made official in 1943 by the Soviet Ministry of Education,
 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 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
⟨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 and Macedonian to the present day.
The yuses ⟨ѫ⟩ and ⟨ѧ⟩, letters that originally used to stand for nasalized 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 script. 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, and the sounds (but not the letters) in Polish.
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 letters ⟨з⟩ (replaced by ⟨ѕ⟩), ⟨и⟩, and ⟨ф⟩
(the diacriticized letter ⟨й⟩ was also removed), but were reinstated except ⟨ѱ⟩ and ⟨ѡ⟩ under pressure
from the Russian Orthodox Church in a later variant of the modern typeface (1710). Nonetheless,
since 1735 the Russian Academy of Sciences began to use fonts without ⟨ѕ⟩, ⟨ѯ⟩, and ⟨ѵ⟩; however,
⟨ѵ⟩ was sometimes used again since 1758.

Letters eliminated in 1918

Name Description

Identical in pronunciation to ⟨и⟩, was used exclusively immediately in front of

other vowels and the ⟨й⟩ ("Short I") (for example, ⟨патріархъ⟩ [pətrʲɪˈarx],
і '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[8][9] and not arbitrarily homonyms).[10]

From the Greek theta, was identical to ⟨ф⟩ in pronunciation, but was used

ѳ Fita etymologically (for example, ⟨Ѳёдоръ⟩ "Theodore" became ⟨Фёдор⟩

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
ѣ Yat
its elimination in 1918, it has remained a political symbol of the old

ѵ Izhitsa From the Greek upsilon, usually identical to ⟨и⟩ in pronunciation, as in

Byzantine Greek, was used etymologically for Greek loanwords, like
Latin Y (as in synod, myrrh); by 1918, it had become very rare. In spellings of
the eighteenth century, it was also used after some vowels, where it has since
been replaced with ⟨в⟩ or (rarely) ⟨у⟩. For example, a Greek prefix originally
spelled ⟨аѵто-⟩ (equivalent to English auto-) is now spelled ⟨авто⟩ in most
cases and ⟨ауто-⟩ as a component in some compound words.

Treatment of foreign sounds

Because Russian borrows terms from other languages, there are various conventions for sounds not
present in Russian.
For example, while Russian has no [h], there are a number of common words (particularly proper
nouns) borrowed from languages like Englishand German that contain such a sound in the original
language. In well-established terms, such as галлюцинация [ɡəlʲutsɨˈnatsɨjə]('hallucination'), this is
written with ⟨г⟩ and pronounced with /ɡ/, while newer terms use ⟨х⟩, pronounced with /x/, such
as хобби [ˈxobʲɪ]('hobby').[11]
Similarly, words originally with [θ] in their source language are either pronounced with /t(ʲ)/), as in the
name Тельма ('Thelma') or, if borrowed early enough, with /f(ʲ)/ or /v(ʲ)/, as in the
names Фёдор ('Theodore') and Матве́й ('Matthew').
For the [d͡ʒ] affricate, which is common in the Asian countries that were parts of the Russian
Empire and USSR, the letter combination ⟨дж⟩ is used: this is often transliterated into English either
as ⟨dzh⟩ or the Dutch form ⟨dj⟩.

Numeric values
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, while general
Russian texts use Hindu-Arabic numerals and Roman numerals.

Russian spelling uses fewer diacritics than those used for most European languages. The only
diacritic, in the proper sense, is the acute accent ⟨◌́⟩ (Russian: знак ударения 'mark of stress'),
which marks stress on a vowel, as it is done in Spanish and Greek. Although Russian word stress is
often unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word, the
diacritic is used only in dictionaries, children's books, resources for foreign-language learners, the
defining entry (in bold) in articles on the Russian Wikipedia, or on minimal pairsdistinguished only by
stress (for instance, за́мок 'castle' vs. замо́к 'lock'). Rarely, it is used to specify the stress in
uncommon foreign words and in poems with unusual stress used to fit the meter. Unicode has
no code points for the accented letters; they are instead produced by suffixing the unaccented letter
The letter ⟨ё⟩ is a special variant of the letter ⟨е⟩, which is not always distinguished in written
Russian, but the umlaut-like sign has no other uses. Stress on this letter is never marked, as it is
always stressed except in some loanwords.
Unlike the case of ⟨ё⟩, the letter ⟨й⟩ has completely separated from ⟨и⟩. It has been used since the
16th century except that it was removed in 1708 but reinstated in 1735. Since then, its usage has
been mandatory. It was formerly considered a diacriticized letter, but in the 20th century, it came to
be considered a separate letter of the Russian alphabet. It was classified as a "semivowel" by 19th-
and 20th-century grammarians but since the 1970s, it has been considered a consonant letter.

The Russian Keyboard

The standard Russian keyboard layout for personal computers is as follows:

However, there are several choices of so-called "phonetic keyboards" that one may use on a PC that
are often used by non-Russians. For example, typing an English (Latin) letter on a keyboard will
actually type a Russian letter with a similar sound (A=А, S=С, D=Д, F=Ф, etc.).

Letter names
Until approximately the year 1900, mnemonic names inherited from Church Slavonic were used for
the letters. They are given here in the pre-1918 orthography of the post-1708 civil alphabet.
The great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote: "The letters constituting the Slavonic alphabet do
not produce any sense. Аз, буки, веди, глаголь, добро etc. are separate words, chosen just for
their initial sound". However, since the names of the first letters of the Slavonic alphabet seem to
form text, attempts were made to compose sensible text from all letters of the alphabet.[12][13]
Here is one such attempt to "decode" the message:

аз буки веди az buki vedi I know letters[14]

"To speak is a beneficence" or "The word is
глаголь добро есть glagol' dobro yest'
живете зело, земля, и zhivyete zelo, zyemlya, i "Live, while working heartily, people of Earth, in
иже и како люди izhe, i kako lyudi the manner people should obey"
"try to understand the Universe (the world that is
мыслете наш он покой myslete nash on pokoy
рцы слово твердо rtsy slovo tvyerdo "be committed to your word"[16]
"The knowledge is fertilized by the Creator,
ук ферт хер uk fert kher
knowledge is the gift of God"
цы червь ша ер ять ю tsy cherv' sha yet yat' yu "Try harder, to understand the Light of the Creator"

In this attempt only lines 1, 2 and 5 somewhat correspond to real meanings of the letters' names,
while "translations" in other lines seem to be fabrications or fantasies. For example, "покой" ("rest"
or "apartment") does not mean "the Universe", and "ферт" does not have any meaning in Russian or
other Slavic languages (there are no words of Slavic origin beginning with "f" at all). The last line
contains only one translatable word – "червь" ("worm"), which, however, was not included in the

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