Russian pronunciation rules

Some letters in the Russian language change the way they sound depending on their position in words and the surrounding letters.

Pronunciation of Russian vowels

  1. Russian О, when in unstressed position, tends to sound closer to A:
    молоко́ [ma-la-kó] milk Two first Оs are unstressed and sound like А.
    очки́ [ach-kée] glasses О is unstressed and sounds like А.
  2. The letters Я and Е, when in unstressed position and in the middle of a word, tend to sound closer to И.
    When Я is at the very beginning of a word, it sounds closer to Е.
    When Е is at the very beginning of a word, you are most likely to hear its original sound.
    When Я and Е are at the very end of a word, they keep their original sound.

    мечта́ [meech-tá] dream E is unstressed and sounds like И.
    е́хать [yé-hat’] to go (by vehicle) E stressed and keeps its original sound.
    ерунда́ [ye-run-dá] nonsense E is unstressed but at the beginning of a word, so it keeps its original sound.
    безу́мие [bee-zú-mee-ye] madness The first E is unstressed and sounds like И.
    The last E is unstressed but at the end of a word, so it keeps it original sound.
    я́щик [yá-scheek] box Я is stressed and keeps its original sound.
    вяза́ть [vee-zát’] to knit Я is unstressed and sounds like И.
    язы́к [ye-zýk] language, tongue Я is unstressed and at the beginning of a word, so it sounds like Е.
    ситуа́ция [see-tu-á-tsee-ya] situation Я is unstressed and at the end of a word, so it keeps its original sound.
  3. If you see the letter Ё, you can be sure that it is the one that’s stressed. (Although Russians have a habit of using Е instead of Ё, so if you don’t know the word, it might be tricky.)
    ёлка [yól-ka] fir tree Ё is always stressed.
    зелёный [zee-lyó-nyî] green Ё is always stressed.
    Е is unstressed and sounds like И.

Pronunciation of Russian consonants

  1. When a consonant is followed by one of soft Russian vowels, it becomes soft itself.
    но́та [nó-ta] (musical) note Н is hard because the following О is not soft.
    нет [nyet] no Н is soft because the following Е is soft.
  2. Russian voiced consonants, when at the very end of a word, are pronounced as their voiceless counterparts:
    обе́́д [a-byét] lunch Д at the end of a word sounds like Т.
    муж [mush] husband Ж at the end of a word sounds like Ш.
  3. Voiced consonants become voiceless when they are followed by other voiceless consonants.
    ю́́бка [yúp-ka] skirt Б followed by voiceless К sounds like П.
  4. Voiceless consonants sound as their voiced counterparts when they are followed by the voiced consonants Б, Г, Д, Ж, З.
    футбо́́лка [fud-ból-ka] t-shirt Т followed by Б sounds like Д.
  5. Ending -ГО (-ОГО/ЕГО) becomes -ВО (or -ВА if unstressed). But be careful, this rule only applies to the endings! When Г is a part of a word’s stem, it keeps its original sound.
    ничего́ плохо́го [nee-chee-vó pla-hó-va] nothing bad Stressed -ГО becomes -ВО.
    Unstressed -ГО becomes -ВА.
    Unstressed Е becomes И.
    Unstressed О becomes А.
    мно́го [mnó-ga] many, a lot Г is a part of the stem (мног), so it keeps its original sound.
    Unstressed О becomes А.
  6. If several consonants go together, some of them can be omitted to facilitate the pronunciation.
    со́лнце [són-tse] sun Л is omitted.
    чу́вство [chú-stva] feeling В is omitted.
    Unstressed О becomes А.
    здра́вствуйте [zdrást-vuî-tye] hello В is omitted.
    аге́нтство [a-gyénst-va] agency The first Т is omitted.
    Unstressed О becomes А.
  7. -ТЬСЯ and -ТСЯ are pronounced as -ЦА.
    -ТЬСЯ is the ending of reflexive verbs in the infinitive.
    -ТСЯ is the ending of the verbs in the Present tense, 3d person.

    улыба́ться [u-ly-bá-tsa] to smile -ТЬСЯ becomes -ЦА.
    улыба́ется [u-ly-bá-ee-tsa] (he/she) smiles -ТЬСЯ becomes -ЦА.
    Unstressed Е becomes И.