Language Information

Russian is written using a modern version of the Cyrillic alphabet, consisting of 33 letters:


Cyrillic alphabet for Russian


The language possesses five vowels, which are given separate letters depending on whether or not they palatalize a preceding consonant:




After , and

After and

After all other consonants

At the beginning of a word and after , or a vowel

/ɛ/ /je/ or / ʲe/

[ ɛ ]

[ e ]

[ ʲe ]

[ je ]


/o/ /jo/ or / ʲo/

[ o ] (not used after )

[ o ]

[ ʲo ]

[ jo ]

/u/ /ju/ or / ʲu/

[ u ]

not used

[ ʲu ]

[ ju ]

/a/ /ja/ or / ʲa/

not used

not used

[ ʲa ]

[ ja ]

/ɨ/ or /ɪ/ / ʲi/ or /i/






The second letter in each row (with the exception of ʲi/ /i/) denotes the sound produced by iotation (when initial) or softening (when preceded by a consonant). The vowels and ( /ɪ/ and /i/) are considered allophonic. Their isolated pronunciation is distinct. The vowel /ɪ/ is more tense than the /i/, and the position of the tongue differs: neutrally flat for /ɪ/, slightly raised (without tension) for /i/. However, the two sounds tend to merge when unstressed or when following the sibilant consonants /ʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʆ/, /ʦ/, /tʆ/.

The pronunciation of Russian vowels greatly depends on the dialect. Standard speech pronounces vowels clearly only under stress. In the unstressed (weak) position, vowels are reduced to a neutral vowel, more or less a schwa /ə/. This reduction is least evident in the syllable immediately before the one stressed.

Russian possesses one semi-vowel: /j/, equivalent to the English <y> in yes. The /j/ always immediately precedes or follows a vowel. If it follows, as in , it is denoted in writing with . If it precedes, it is incorporated in writing with the following vowel sound in the softening series of vowels given above: . In some foreign words, however, the is also written before the vowel: . If the /j/ immediately follows a consonant and precedes a vowel sound, it is separated from the consonant in writing by the hard sign (after a prefix, the sole remaining usage for the letter in Russian), or by the soft sign (in all other cases): .

The soft (palatalization) sign after , , and does not affect their pronunciation.

The vowels , , and normally palatalize the previous consonant. When a hard sign () separates a consonant and one of these vowels, the consonant is pronounced without palatalization. Example: (porch) [pad'jest].

If a consonant is the final letter it is always unvoiced.

The pronunciation of unstressed vowels depends on the region. In the Central European part of Russia the unstressed and are pronounced as [ i ] and unstressed is pronounced as [ a ]. Example: (milk) [mala'ko].

The letter is often written as except in cases of possible ambiguity: (sky) and (palate).

The consonants typically come in pairs, hard and soft. The hard pronunciation is the basic one, and is achieved in general by keeping the tongue as low as possible. For the soft pronunciation or palatalization, the mouth is slightly more open in a horizontal slit, and the tongue is drawn slightly back, almost as though to pronounce an /i:/ that is not there.


The standard language, based on the Moscow dialect, possesses heavy stress and moderate modulation in pitch (which is not a lexical differentiator). Stressed vowels are somewhat drawled, while unstressed vowels tend to be reduced to an unclear schwa [ə]. Consonant clusters tend to be simplified.

There are six cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and locative or prepositional), in two numbers (singular and plural), and obeying absolutely grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter). In Russian there are three declension types. The first declension is used for masculine and neuter nouns. The second declension is used for most feminine nouns. The third declension is used for feminine nouns ending in and for neuter nouns ending in .

There are no articles in the Russian language, definite or indefinite. The sense of a noun is determined from the context in which it appears.

Russian has on hand a set of prefixes, prepositional and adverbial in nature, as well as diminutive, augmentative, and frequentative suffixes and infixes. All of these can be stacked one upon the other, to produce multiple derivatives of a given word.

The basic word order, both in conversation and the written language, is Subject-Verb-Object. However, because the relations are marked by inflexion, considerable latitude in word order is allowed, and all the permutations can be used. Primary emphasis tends to be initial, with a slightly weaker emphasis at the end.

Unlike English, Latin, and various other languages, Russian allows multiple negatives.

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