Russian alphabet

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Russian alphabet in capital letters
Russian alphabet in capital letters

The modern Russian alphabet (русский алфавит rússkij alfavít) is a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet and contains 33 letters.



The Russian alphabet is as follows:

Capital Small Handwriting Name Old name IPA English example Numerical value Unicode (Hex)
А а Image:01-Russian alphabet-А а.png азъ
/a/ a in father 1 U+0410 / U+0430
Б б Image:02-Russian alphabet-Б б.png буки
/b/ or /bʲ/ b in bit - U+0411 / U+0431
В в Image:03-Russian alphabet-В в.png вѣди
/v/ or /vʲ/ v in vine 2 U+0412 / U+0432
Г г Image:04-Russian alphabet-Г г.png глаголь
/ɡ/ g in go 3 U+0413 / U+0433
Д д Image:05-Russian alphabet-Д д.png добро
/d/ or /dʲ/ d in do 4 U+0414 / U+0434
Е е Image:06-Russian alphabet-Е е.png есть
/je/ or / ʲe/ ye in yet 5 U+0415 / U+0435
Ё ё Image:07-Russian alphabet-Ё ё.png - /jo/ or / ʲo/ yo in yolk - U+0401 / U+0451
Ж ж Image:08-Russian alphabet-Ж ж.png живѣте
/ʐ/ s in pleasure - U+0416 / U+0436
З з Image:09-Russian alphabet-З з.png земля
/z/ or /zʲ/ z in zoo 7 U+0417 / U+0437
И и Image:10-Russian alphabet-И и.png иже
/i/ or / ʲi/ e in me 8 U+0418 / U+0438
Й й Image:11-Russian alphabet-Й й.png и съ краткой
[ɪ s ˈkratkəj]
/j/ y in yes - U+0419 / U+0439
К к Image:12-Russian alphabet-К к.png како
/k/ or /kʲ/ k in kitten 20 U+041A / U+043A
Л л Image:13-Russian alphabet-Л л.png or elʲ| люди
/l/ or /lʲ/ l in lamp 30 U+041B / U+043B
М м Image:14-Russian alphabet-М м.png мыслѣте
/m/ or /mʲ/}} m in map 40 U+041C / U+043C
Н н Image:15-Russian alphabet-Н н.png нашъ
/n/ or /nʲ/ n in not 50 U+041D / U+043D
О о Image:16-Russian alphabet-О о.png онъ
/o/ o in more 70 U+041E / U+043E
П п Image:17-Russian alphabet-П п.png покой
/p/ or /pʲ/ p in pet 80 U+041F / U+043F
Р р Image:18-Russian alphabet-Р р.png рцы
/r/ or /rʲ/ rolled r 100 U+0420 / U+0440
С с Image:19-Russian alphabet-С с.png слово
/s/ or /sʲ/ s in see 200 U+0421 / U+0441
Т т Image:20-Russian alphabet-Т т.png твердо
/t/ or /tʲ/ t in tip 300 U+0422 / U+0442
У у Image:21-Russian alphabet-У у.png укъ
/u/ oo in boot 400 U+0423 / U+0443
Ф ф Image:22-Russian alphabet-Ф ф.png фертъ
/f/ or /fʲ/ f in face 500 U+0424 / U+0444
Х х Image:23-Russian alphabet-Х х.png хѣръ
/x/ Ugh (voiceless velar fricative) 600 U+0425 / U+0445
Ц ц Image:24-Russian alphabet-Ц ц.png цы
/t͡s/ ts in sits 900 U+0426 / U+0446
Ч ч Image:25-Russian alphabet-Ч ч.png червь
/t͡ɕ/ ch in chip 90 U+0427 / U+0447
Ш ш Image:26-Russian alphabet-Ш ш.png ша
/ʂ/ similar to the sh in shut (voiceless retroflex fricative) - U+0428 / U+0448
Щ щ Image:27-Russian alphabet-Щ щ.png ща
/ɕː/ similar to the "sh" in sheer (but with a slightly more "y" sound)
(sometimes followed by
a sound similar to the "ch" in chip such as the phrase "Welsh cheese") (voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative)
- U+0429 / U+0449
Ъ ъ Image:28-Russian alphabet-ъ.png еръ
a sign which, placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent back vowel"; puts a distinct /j/ sound in front of the following iotified vowels with no palatalisation of the preceding consonant - U+042A / U+044A
Ы ы Image:29-Russian alphabet-ы.png еры
[ɨ] like e in roses or the i in silly (close central unrounded vowel) - U+042B / U+044B
Ь ь Image:30-Russian alphabet-ь.png ерь
/ ʲ/ a sign which, placed after a consonant, acts as a "silent front vowel", slightly palatalises the preceding consonant - U+042C / U+044C
Э э Image:31-Russian alphabet-Э э.png э оборотное
[ˈɛ əbɐˈrotnəɪ]
/e/ e in met - U+042D / U+044D
Ю ю Image:32-Russian alphabet-Ю ю.png ю
/ju/ or / ʲu/ u in use - U+042E / U+044E
Я я Image:33-Russian alphabet-Я я.png я
/ja/ or / ʲa/ ya in yard - U+042F / U+044F
letters eliminated in 1918
І і - - /i/ or / ʲi/ Like и 10
Ѳ ѳ - - /f/ or /fʲ/ Like ф 9
Ѣ ѣ - - /je/ or / ʲe/ Like е -
Ѵ ѵ - - /i/ or / ʲi/ Like и or, sometimes, в -
letters in disuse by the 18th century
Ѕ ѕ - - [] /dz/, /z/ or /zʲ/ Like з 6
Ѯ ѯ - - /ks/ or /ksʲ/ Like кс 60
Ѱ ѱ - - /ps/ or /psʲ/ Like пс 700
Ѡ ѡ - - /o/ Like о 800
Ѫ ѫ - - /u/, /ju/ or / ʲu/ Like у or ю -
Ѧ ѧ - - /ja/ or / ʲa/ Like я -
Ѭ ѭ - - /ju/ or / ʲu/ Like ю -
Ѩ ѩ - - /ja/ or / ʲa/ Like я -

thumb|left|250px|Some variants of letter Ж Letter Ж, ж (zh) has more variants of writing than any other Russian letter.

The consonant letters represent both "soft" (palatalised, represented in the IPA with a ‹ ʲ›) and "hard" phonemes, depending (with some exceptions) on whether the iotated or softening vowel letters follow. The transcriptions of the names of the letters attempt to reflect the reduction of non-stressed vowels. See Russian phonology for details.

Letters names

Until approximately 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". But 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.

Here is one such attempt to "decode" the message:

аз буки веди I know letters
глаголь добро есть "To speak is a beneficence" or "The word is property"
живете зело, земля, и иже и како люди "Live, while working heartily, people of the Earth, in the manner people should obey"
мыслете наш он покой "try to understand the Universe (the world that is around)"
рцы слово твердо "carry the knowledge ("word" here refers to "knowledge") firmly"
ук ферт хер "The knowledge is fertilized by the Creator, knowledge is the gift of God"
цы червь ша ер ять ю "Try harder, to understand the Light of the Creator"

In this attempt words only in two first lines 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") doesn't mean "the Universe", and "ферт" doesn't have any meaning in Russian or other Slavonic languages (there are no words of Slavonic origin beginning with "f" at all). The last line contains only one translatable word - "червь" ("worm"), which, however, was not included in the "translation".

Another version of "the message", incorporating the letters phased out by mid-1750s, reads:

"А(в)се буквы ведая глаголить - добро есть. Живет зло (на) земле вечно и каждому людину мыслить надо о покаянии, речью (и) словом твердить учение веры Христовой (в) Царствие Божие, чаще шептать, щтоб (все буквы) (вз)ятием этим усвоить и по законам божьим стремиться писать слова и жить"


A(v)sye bukvy vyedaya glagolit' - dobro yest'. Zhivyet zlo (na) zyemlye vyechno i kazhdomu lyudinu myslit' nado o pokayaniyi, ryech'yu (i) slovom tverdit' uchyeniye vyery Khristovoy (v) Tsarstviye Bozhiye, chashchye sheptat', shchtob (vsye bukvy) (vz)yatiyem etim usvoyit' i po zakonam bozh'im stremit'sya pisat' slova i zhit')

Which can be translated as:

"Knowing all these letters renders speech a virtue. Evil lives on Earth eternally, and each person must think of repentance, with speech and word making firm in their mind the faith in Christ and the Kingdom of God. Whisper [the letters] frequently to make them yours by this repetition in order to write and live according to laws of God".

Non-vocalized letters

  • hard sign (<ъ>), when put after a consonant, acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding iotated vowel from the consonant, making that sound with a distinct /j/ glide. Today it is used mostly to separate a prefix 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 {{IPAblink|ə or {{IPAblink|ɯ
  • soft sign (<ь>) acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized. 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 {{IPAblink|ɪ or [jɪ]. There are still some remains of this ancient reading in modern Russian, in the co-existing versions of the same name, read differently, such as in Марья and Мария (Mary).


The vowels ‹е, ё, и, ю, я› indicate a preceding palatal 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› is used in words of foreign origin without palatalization and indicate /e/. Which words this applies to must be learned (generally to avoid using ‹э› after a consonant), and ‹я› is often realized as {{IPAblink|æ between soft consonants, such as in мяч ("toy ball").

‹ы› is an old Common Slavonic tense intermediate vowel, thought to have been preserved better in modern Russian than in other Slavic languages. It was originally nasalized in certain positions: камы [ˈka.mɨ̃]; камень [ˈka.mʲɪnʲ] ("rock"). Its written form developed as follows: ‹ъ› + ‹і› → ‹ъı› → ‹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, but otherwise it may be found elsewhere, such as when spelling out English or other foreign names, or in words of foreign origin such as the brand-name Aeroflot (Аэрофлοτ).

‹ё›, introduced by Karamzin in 1797 and made official in 1943 by the Soviet Ministry of Education,<ref>{{Harvcoltxt|Benson|1960|p=271</ref> 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 eliminated in 1918
Grapheme Name Description
і Decimal I identical in pronunciation to ‹и›, was used exclusively immediately in front of other vowels and the ‹й› ("Short I") (for example, ‹патріархъ› [pətrʲɪˈarx], '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<ref>{{Harvcoltxt|Vasmer|1979; see the etymology of the Russian word мир at here, an online version of the Russian translation of the dictionary. (retr. 16 October 2005)</ref> and not arbitrarily homonyms).<ref>{{Harvcoltxt|Smirnovskiy|1915|p=4</ref>
ѳ Fita from the Greek theta, was identical to ‹ф› in pronunciation, but was used etymologically (for example, ‹Ѳёдор› "Theodore").
ѣ Yat 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 its elimination in 1918, it has remained a political symbol of the old orthography.
ѵ Izhitsa from the Greek upsilon, was identical to ‹и› in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, but was used etymologically; though by 1918 it had become very rare.

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 Slavonic.

‹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 to the present day.

The yuses ‹ѫ› and ‹ѧ›, letters that originally used to stand for nasalised 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 alphabet. 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.

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 modern letter ‹й›, but were reinstated under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church in a later variant of the modern typeface. Nonetheless, they fell completely out of use in secular writing by 1750.

Numeric values

19. 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.

Stress indication

In Russian, the word stress is occasionally indicated with an acute accent ‹ ́› on a syllable's vowel (called "знак ударения" znak udareniya in Russian), with the Unicode value of U+0301. The symbol is inserted after the stressed vowel but it appears above it.

Although the word stress in Russian is mostly unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word or on the ending, it's generally not used but can be used for disambiguation: e.g. "за́мок" (castle) and "замо́к" (lock), on rare or foreign words, poems where stress is different from standard but is used in order to fit the meter, to indicate foreign or unusual pronunciation, also in certain educational texts for foreign learners or children as a pronunciation guide.

The majority of bilingual or monolingual dictionaries use this notation. Stress is not indicated in a text with word stress indicated over letter "ё", as it is always stressed, with a small number of exceptions (loanwords).

Keyboard layout

The Russian keyboard layout for Microsoft Windows computers is as follows:

Image:KB Russian.svg

See also



External links

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