Lesson 1: Russian alphabet

About the Russian alphabet

The Russian alphabet, also known as the Cyrillic alphabet, consists of 33 letters (11 vowels, 20 consonants, and 2 pronunciation signs).

Learning the Russian alphabet is your first essential step in learning Russian. Helpfully, learning the Russian alphabet will mean that you will be able to read not only Russian, but also other Slavonic languages, like Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, and Serbian.

What’s more, though of course it’s an initial challenge to pick up a new alphabet, you’ll soon find that the Russian alphabet makes pronouncing the Russian language relatively easy. Russian words almost always sound exactly as they are written. That means your Russian pronunciation will likely be much more advanced than if you were speaking another foreign language.

Complete Russian alphabet table

Here’s the Russian alphabet in its upper and lower case letter pairs:

А, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ё, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т, У, Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ъ, Ы, Ь, Э, Ю, Я

а, б, в, г, д, е, ё, ж, з, и, й, к, л, м, н, о, п, р, с, т, у, ф, х, ц, ч, ш, щ, ъ, ы, ь, э, ю, я

And here’s a complete table of the Russian alphabet with how the letters look and sound:

LetterNameEnglish soundExample
А аa"a" in the word "father" or "car"два = two
Б бbe"b" in "bat"оба = both
В вve"v" in "vet"вот = here
Г гge"g" in "go"год = year
Д дde"d" in "dog"да = yes
Е еye"ye" in "yes"не = not
Ё ёyo"yo" in "yonder"ёж = hedgehog
Ж жzheNo English letter for this sound. Like "s" in "measure" or like "g" in "beige"жук = beetle
З зze"z" in "zoo"зной = heat
И иee"i" in "taxi"или = or
Й йи краткое (short i)Used in diphthongs (two adjacent vowels in one syllable). E.g. "oй" is like "oy" in "boy" or "aй" is like "igh" in "sigh"мой = my
К кka"k" in "kitten"кто = who
Л лel"l" in "love"ли = whether
М мem"m" in manмеч = sword
Н нen"n" in "no"но = no
О оo"o" in "bore"он = he
П пpe"p" in "pot"под = under
Р рer"r" in "run"река = river
С сes"s" in "see"если = if
Т тte"t" in "tap"тот = that
У уoo"oo" in "boot"уже = already
Ф фef"f" in "fat"форма = form
Х хkha"h" in "hello"дух = spirit
Ц цtse"ts" sound in "sits"конец = end
Ч чche"ch" in "church"час = hour
Ш шsha"sh" in shutваш = your
Щ щshchaNo English letter for this sound. щ sounds like щ with your tongue on the roof of your mouth. It sounds like the shch in the words "fresh cheese"щека = cheek
ътвёрдый знак (hard sign)No sound; indicates a slight pause between two syllables. Rarely usedобъект = object
ыih"i" in or "ill". (Your tongue is a bit further back in your mouth than for the standard "ee" - sounds a little like "ui")ты = you
ьмягкий знак (soft sign)No sound; makes the previous letter 'soft.' This is called palatization - the process of pronouncing a consonant in which you move the tongue close to the hard palate (roof of your mouth)весь = all
Э эe"e" in "fed"это = this
Ю юyoo"u" in "universe" (sounds just like the English word, "you")юг = south
Я яya"ya" in "yard"ряд = row

Russian handwriting and cursive

Writing cursive Russian is one of life’s great joys. The way Cyrillic letters line up is really a thing of beauty. That being said, not everyone who learns Russian decides to learn how to write in cursive – and that’s ok. All the same, here’s how to write all the letters in the Russian alphabet in cursive script:

Using a Russian keyboard for typing

As you’d expect, the layout of the computer keyboard is different for the Russian alphabet. There are two main Russian keyboards that you can use: the main Cyrillic “ЙЦУКЕН” keyboard or the phonetic Russian “ЯШЕРТЫ” keyboard.

Main Cyrillic “ЙЦУКЕН” keyboard

 

The main Cyrillic keyboard has the letters “ЙЦУКЕН” in the top left where the US-English keyboard has “QWERTY.” This is the standard keyboard used by Russians. If you use a public computer in Russia, this is the keyboard that will come up. It’s helpful to know this, but often Russian language learners instead opt to use the phonetic Russian “ЯШЕРТЫ” keyboard.

Here are two ways you can set up the main Russian keyboard on your computer:

  • Use it in your browser using https://www.apronus.com/russiankeyboard/
  • On your computer, go to Settings > Time & Language > Language > Preferred languages: Add a language > Then add Russian, selecting for the Russian keyboard. On Windoes you can then toggle between your regular keyboard and new Russian keyboard using Windows + Space Bar.

Phonetic Russian “ЯШЕРТЫ” keyboard

 

To use the Russian phonetic keyboard, type the letters from the standard US-English “QWERTY” keyboard based on how they sound phonetically in Russian.

Here are two ways you can set up the Russian phonetic keyboard on your computer:

  • Use it in your browser using https://russian.typeit.org/
  • On your computer, go to Settings > Time & Language > Language > Preferred languages: Add a language > Then add Russian, selecting for the Russian Mnemonic ЯШЕРТЫ keyboard. On Windoes you can then toggle between your regular keyboard and new Russian keyboard using Windows + Space Bar.

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