Friendly Russian: Learning How to Read & Write in Russian

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Chapter 1: Lesson 2

The Alphabet: Russian Vowels

So far, we have dealt with the letters common for both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. Before getting to letters which are different from Latin, we’ll take a step aside and look exclusively at the vowels. We need to learn them sooner rather than later because no words in Russian can be formed without them. 

ListenListen and repeat

А-Я

О-Ё

Э-Е

У-Ю

Ы-И

|    |
|    |
|    |
|    |
|    |
aa   ja
o   jo
e   je
u   ju
i   ee

There are 10 vowels in Russian, which can be neatly divided into 2 groups of 5. Click on the letter!

Listen

Hard Vowels

 

А

О

Э

У

Ы

 
|
|
|
|
|

Soft Vowels

 

Я

Ё

Е

Ю

И

The upper and lower vowels form natural couplets: Each of the lower vowels (except for the last "И" ) begins with a ‘j-slide’ and is a kind of ‘diphthong reflection’ of its upper counterpart. If you sing or drawl a lower vowel (except "И"), you wil end up singing its corresponding vowel above.

Notice the "y-slide" quality of four vowels above -- Я, Ё, Ю, Е:

  Я
-
y-А-А-А...
  Ё
-
y-О-О-О...
  Ю
-
y-У-У-У...
  Е
-
y-Э-Э-Э...

This division of all vowels into couplets is very important for good pronunciation, spelling, and some grammar choices (as you will see later).

Any of the upper level vowels makes a preceding consonant sound hard; any of the lower level vowels makes it sound soft.

Listen Listen and repeat after the speaker. Practice the words with hard-soft vowels.
ма́ма (mama)
-
мя́со (meat)
|
сок
-
Сёма (Semeon)
       
|
         
мэр (mayor)
-
ме́сто (place, seat)
|
тот урок (that lesson)
-
тё́тя (aunt)
       
|
     

 

 

мы (we)
-
мир (peace; world)
|
рука́ (hand; arm)
-
рюкза́к (backpack)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consonants can also be softened by the soft sign - "Ь" -- (we'll deal with it at the end of Chapter 1 in Lesson 7).

It's worth knowing that:

  1. The vowel ë is always stressed and for that reason you will never see a stress mark above it.
  2. There are no words beginning with the vowel Ы.

Meaningful vowels:

     
Я
I
a personal pronoun which is never capitalized in Russian unless it begins a sentence
И
and
a conjunction
А
and, but
a conjunction which usually expresses some degree of contrasting (can also be used at the beginning of a sentence to make it easier to start the phrase)
О

about

a preposition
У
at, by, etc
a preposition
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