Master the Russian Alphabet Pronunciation

The Cyrillic script won’t be so scary after you get to know it. Here’s how to pronounce the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet.

Master the Russian Alphabet Pronunciation

Although it may seem a bit daunting in the beginning, the Russian alphabet is not the hardest alphabet in existence (I’m looking at you, Japanese). Consisting of 33 letters – just 7 more than the Latin alphabet – it uses the Cyrillic script to write the Russian language. And you know what’s the best thing about it? Almost all the words in Russian can be pronounced the same way they are written.

To put it simply, once you master the Russian alphabet, you’ll know how to pronounce the majority of the Russian words. So let’s uncover the mysteries of this alphabet together so you can move on to more important things like… learning Russian with Mondly.

A short history of the Russian language and the Russian alphabet

As you already know, Russian is an East Slavic language and one of the world’s major languages: it is one of the six official United Nations languages and the 8th most spoken language in the world with a total of 260 million speakers. Moreover, Russian the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and the unofficial lingua franca in Ukraine and many other former Soviet countries.

Russian and the other East Slavic languages (Ukrainian, Belarusian) were not very different from each other until the Middle Russian period (late 13th century to the 16th century). As a matter of fact, the term “Old Russian” is generally used to describe the East Slavic languages in use before the Middle Russian period.

Russian has been greatly influenced by Old Church Slavonic and – since the westernizing policies of Tsar Peter I the Great in the 18 century – by the languages of western Europe. Then, the 19th-century poet Aleksandr Pushkin determined the further development of the Russian language we know today. His writings, in which he combined the colloquial and Church Slavonic styles, were decisive in establishing the best style for literary use.

The Cyrillic script

The Cyrillic script is the national script in various Slavic-, Turkic- and Iranic-speaking countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Northern Asia.

The Early Cyrillic script was commissioned by the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I the Great in the 9th century AD to replace the Glagolitic script and became official shortly after, in 893. It is derived from the Greek uncial script, augmented with letters from the older Glagolitic alphabet and was named in honor of the two brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Glagolitic alphabet.

The Cyrillic script used in Russia was heavily reformed in the early 18 century by Peter the Great. Several archaic letters were completely removed and others were personally designed by Peter the Great himself. Thus, the updated letters became closer to those of the Latin alphabet.

russian letters
“Red Square, Moscow, Russia” by Aurelien Romain©

Understand how to pronounce the Russian alphabet

There are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet. 10 vowels (а, э, ы, у, о, я, е, ё, ю, и), 21 consonants (б, в, г, д, ж, з, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ, and the consonant й which is sometimes a semivowel) and 2 pronunciation signs (the “soft sign” ь and the “hard sign” ъ).

This is the dictionary order of the Russian alphabet: А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я.

If we were to compare the Russian alphabet to the English alphabet, we would have four groups of letters: letters that look and sound (almost) the same as in English, letters that sound the same but look different, letters that look the same but sound different and letters that have no English equivalent whatsoever.

Russian letters that are (almost) the same as in English

  • А а sounds like “a” in “father” or “after”,
  • Е е sounds like “ye” in “yes”,
  • К к sounds like “k“ in “kept”, “kite” or “like”,
  • М м sounds like “m” in “mother” or “mobile”,
  • О о sounds like “o” in “bore” or “more” (without the ‘r’ sound),
  • Т т sounds like “t” in “top” or “task”.

Russian letters that sound the same as in English (but look different)

  • Б б sounds like “b” in “bad” or “blue”,
  • Г г sounds like “g“ in “go” or “guard”,
  • Д д sounds like “d” in “done” or “double”,
  • Ё ё sounds like “yo” in “your”,
  • Ж ж sounds like “s” in “usual”, “pleasure”, “measure” or “treasure”,
  • П п sounds like “p” in “potato” or “compassion”,
  • Ф ф sounds like “f” in “face” or “fact”,
  • И и sounds like “ee” in “see”, “free” or “meet”,
  • Й й sounds like “y” in “toy” or “oyster”,
  • Л л sounds like “l” in “lamp” or “chill”,
  • Ц ц sounds like “ts” in “sits” or “that’s”,
  • Ш ш sounds like “sh” in “shrimp”,
  • Щ щ is a softer version of Ш and it sounds like “sh” in “shoes”,
  • Э э sounds like “e” in “met” or “edit”,
  • Ю ю sounds like “you” or “use”,
  • Я я sounds like “yu” in yummy or “ya” in “yard”.

Russian letters that look the same as in English (but sound different)

  • В в sounds like “v” in “van” or “voice”,
  • З з sounds like “z” in “zoo” or “zodiac”,
  • Н н sounds like “n” in “no” or “noon”,
  • Р р sounds like “r” in “run” or “rest” (but rolled).
  • С с sounds like “s” in “stone” or “sale”,
  • У у sounds like “oo” in “tool”,
  • Ч ч sounds like “ch” in “chat” or “church“,
  • Х х sounds like “ch” in “loch”,
  • Ы ы sounds like “i” in “ill” but with a “rounder” pronunciation (said with your tongue slightly back in your mouth).

Russian letter with no English equivalent

  • Ь – this is called the “soft sign” and it is used to modify the pronunciation of the preceding consonant by making it soft (palatalized),
  • Ъ – this is called the “hard sign” and it prevents palatalization* of the preceding consonant or acts like a “silent back vowel” that separates a succeeding “soft vowel” (е, ё, ю, я, but not и) from a preceding consonant

*palatalization – pronouncing a consonant in a way in which part of the tongue is moved close to the hard palate.

Phew! That may seem a bit overwhelming right now, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it. To help you even more, we put together a table so you can have all this information “at a glance”. Here’s the pronunciation of the Russian alphabet in a nutshell:

russian alphabet pronunciation
Russian alphabet pronunciation

Russian lesson no. 1: rules

Russian is definitely not the hardest language you can study. As you already saw, once you get to know it, the Russian alphabet seems quite friendly. Languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Arabic, on the other hand, are way harder to master. Besides, once you learn the alphabet, you will already be able to read in Russian – a great boost for your motivation!

So let’s see what are some general rules and characteristics of the Russian language to help you get started:

  • there are three tenses in Russian – past, present, and future;
  • each verb has two aspects: perfective and imperfective;
  • Russian has three genders – feminine, masculine, or neuter – indicated by the spelling at the end of the word;
  • Russian has six cases: nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental and prepositional
  • Russians don’t capitalize the names of the days of the week (or months) or words indicating nationality;
  • the standard sentence structure is subject-verb-object, but the word order may vary;
  • Russian is mainly phonetic and it is only the complex stress system complicates the pronunciation of Russian words;
  • however, the stress system is not very strict and stress is movable.

Study Russian in just 10 minutes a day

It can be really tricky to master Russian pronunciation if you don’t actively live in Russia. But with Mondly, the award-winning language learning app, you’ll teach yourself Russian using a unique, fast and highly efficient learning method.

Using a conversation-focused curriculum organized into bite-sized lessons and advanced technologies like chatbots with speech recognition, Mondly helps you make the connections yourself and speak like a true Russian fast.

Get Mondly now and speak your first Russian words today!

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

32 comments on “Master the Russian Alphabet Pronunciation

    1. Hi Robert 👋
      How do you write that using the Cyrillic script?
      If you are interested in learning how to count in Russian, you can check out our article on Russian numbers.
      Happy learning!

  1. How would the combination OE be pronounced in Russian? Would it be different in Ukrainian? My ancestors lived in what is now Ukraine for many generations, and now our name is pronounced in a strange way. I’m wondering if it is a result of the time they spent living there.

    1. Hi Jordan 👋
      It depends if the ‘o’ is stressed or not. If it’s stressed, it is closer to /oye/. If it’s not, it is closer to /aye/ or even /’ye/.
      If you ask me, I’m sure that living there must have had an influence on the pronunciation of your name.

  2. Thanks Diana. This was quite helpful. Our current pronunciation is similar to /aye/. Toews becomes Taves. The v comes from the German roots. The a sound must come from the Ukrainian/Russian influence.

  3. Am very happy to come across with Mondly,am an international student from Gambia. I came to study in Belarus whereby I have to study the Russian language first,
    So I believe this app will really help me throughout my studies.

  4. In German when 2 vowels are together, the second vowel speaks. OE sounds like an A.. adding the W with the V sound after it as you said, is German influence.

  5. Thanks to Mondly, I’ve now learnt Russian
    благодаря mondly, теперь я выучил русский!

  6. Wow thank you for your information this time I’m the learner’s in Russian language so that I need the to once again thank you

  7. When I took Russian in high school MANY years ago (late 1960s) I could swear we were taught to put a bar diacritic over a cursive “m” but I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere. Is it my feeble memory from aging or maybe a regional variant or other Slavic language? Pozhalsta, reply to my email so don’t miss a response. Spaseebo Bolshoi,
    Ken Kenovich

    1. Hi Ken, I think that’s still the case, but only in handwritten Russian. It is *another* way to write the small letter “t”.

    2. Hi, as you’ve menshioned it was in 1960’s and it’s not the thing that should always be used. So it’s rarely used in written russian nowadays and not every russian even knows about it.

  8. I am staring out with Mondly but want to learn Russian with the Russian alaphabet. So far I have only seen the words spelled in the american alphabet

    1. Hi there 👋
      You can switch to the Russian alphabet by tapping on the button in the upper right corner.
      I hope this helps!

    2. Hi, if you mean tank “Т 34”, it’s pronounced as “Te tridtsat chetyre” or “тэ тридцать четыре”.

  9. how about these characters?;


  10. Hi.

    Any chance you have that alphabet image in higher resolution ? I want to print this as a gift for my friend who wants to learn Russian. Заранее спасибо.

    1. Hi Mikhail,
      I just sent you an e-mail with the image at a higher resolution.
      Happy learning!

  11. Hey!! i am from India & its completely different language for me to learn could you please suggest from where should i start as the alphabets & pronunciation is different from normal English

  12. Great explanation of the alphabet and pronunciation. Thank you!!
    May I please have that alphabet image in a higher resolution?


  13. Hello, please can you email me the alphabet images in a higher resolution. Thank you. Pia

  14. Hello please can I have a copy of the Russian alphabet in higher resolution. Many thanks, Pia

  15. I’d like to learn RU jist bc I wanna go to “Republika Moldova” next summer. Do they speak Russian or can I go well woth my main language (Romanian) anyway?

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