HomeBeginning RussianRussian Alphabet

Learn Russian Alphabet

  • PDF
  • Print
  • E-mail

This lesson will introduce all those strange unreadable Russian characters you may have seen on the TV screen, in the magazines or anywhere else. You will understand that they are quite readable as well as Latin letters. In the following table, all of the 33 letters (both in upper and lower case) which Russian alphabet comprises are presented, along with their rough English equivalents, letter names and transliteration. More detailed consideration of pronunciation rules is explained in further lessons.

Print letter Handwriting Letter name Pronounced as Transliteration
А а Russian letter A а (ah) a in car a
Б б Russian letter B бэ (beh) b in bit b
В в Russian letter V вэ (veh) v in vine v
Г г Russian letter G гэ (geh) g in go g
Д д Russian letter D дэ (deh) d in do d
Е е Russian letter E е (yeh) ye in yet e, je
Ё ё Russian letter YO ё (yo) yo in yolk o, jo
Ж ж Russian letter ZH жэ (zheh) s in pleasure zh
З з Russian letter Z зэ (zeh) z in zoo z
И и Russian letter I и (ee) ee in see i
Й й Russian letter J и краткое (ee kratkoyeh) (short ee) y in boy j, y, i
К к Russian letter K ка (kah) k in kitten k
Л л Russian letter L эль (ehl’) l in lamp l
М м Russian letter M эм (ehm) m in map m
Н н Russian letter N эн (ehn) n in not n
О о Russian letter O o (oh) o in folk o
П п Russian letter P пэ (peh) p in pet p
Р р Russian letter R эр (ehr) r in roll (but rolled) r
С с Russian letter S эс (ehs) s in see s
Т т Russian letter T тэ (teh) t in tip t
У у Russian letter U у (oo) oo in boot u
Ф ф Russian letter F эф (ehf) f in face f
Х х Russian letter KH ха (khah) h in house kh, h
Ц ц Russian letter TS цэ (tseh) ts in sits ts
Ч ч Russian letter CH че (cheh) ch in chip ch
Ш ш Russian letter SH ша (shah) sh in shut sh
Щ щ Russian letter SCH ща (schah) sh in sheep sch, shch
ъ Russian hard sign твёрдый знак (tvyordiy znahk) (hard sign) (no sound) '
ы Russian letter Y ы (i) i in ill i, y
ь Russian soft sign мягкий знак (myagkeey znahk) (soft sign) (no sound) '
Э э Russian letter E э (eh) e in met e
Ю ю Russian letter U ю (yoo) u in use yu, u, ju
Я я Russian letter YA я (yah) ya in yard ya, a, ja

History of the Russian Alphabet

All present-day Russian letters are derived from ancient Cyrillic alphabet by means of excluding some out-of-date letters and simplifying their written form. The first reform of Russian alphabet was undertaken in 1708-1710 by Peter the Great and then in years 1735, 1738 and 1758 by the Russian Academy of Sciences. But three remaining unnecessary letters remained until 1917 when they were finally abolished. Special care should be taken of the letter "Ё", introduced in 1797 by Russian author N.Karamzin, since it is used nowhere except for the teaching aids, you won't see it anywhere in Russian papers, it is even not present on the Russian keyboard, it is always replaced with the letter "Е", and as these letters are pronounced differently it will be difficult for a learner to know which sound to pronounce when seeing the letter "Е" in a word. In fact, all the words with the letter "Ё" should be learned by heart, and there are many of them. So to help learners I will use the letter "Ё" when writing words. By the way, there is no "Ё" letter in Ukrainian, combination "ЬО" is used instead, so there is no such problem as described above in Ukrainian. There a lot of peoples that use Cyrillic alphabet, mainly those living on the territory of the former USSR. Among the Slavic languages, four languages use the Cyrillic alphabet: Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian. However their alphabets are  slightly different from the Russian one.

The Hard and Soft Signs

You probably noticed that letters "Ъ" (hard sign) and "Ь" (soft sign) have no Latin equivalents. That is because these letters are never pronounced in Russian, the former one is used only as a divider letter between the prefix and the root of the word, e.g. съесть (to have eaten), the latter is used as a softening sign telling that the consonant after which it is written must be palatalized (softened), compare мол (particle used in retelling the other person's words) - моль (moth). Soft sign is also used as a divider but mainly in the root of the word, e.g. пьёт ([he] drinks). It is used to underline some grammatical features (feminine gender, imperative mood) as well. The letter "Ы" can never start a word except for the very rare words borrowed from Korean, Kazakh and Siberian languages. The letter "Й" also very rarely starts a word.