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Lesson 3 - "Soft" and "hard" consonants


The basic rule is that consonants are "soft" if they are followed by soft-indicating vowels or the soft sign.


Soft-Indicating Vowels

The basic rule to make a "soft-indicating" Russian vowel is to combine a

sound of English “y” with corresponding "hard-indicating" vowel.

For example, to get Russian “я” you should say “y + a” as if they are one

whole (ya).

There are two forms of a vowel, hard and soft:

Hard Vowel      Soft Vowel

А ("a")               Я ("ya")

Э ("e")               Е ("ye")

У ("oo")             Ю ("yoo")

О ("o")               Ё ("yo")

Ы                      И ("eeh")


So, there are five "soft" vowels of the Russian language:

я, е, ё, и, ю.


Я as in “yahoo”:

This vowel is pronounced like English “ya” in “yahoo”.

Practice these words:

Яма       ряд       яхта       мясо

ya-ma    ryad     yakh-ta   mya-sa

hole       row      yacht      meat


E as in “yes”

The Russian sound of “e” is easy, because it is close to “ye” in English yes.

Do not confuse it with the sound of English letter “e”, which most of times

sounds like Russian “э”.


Practice these words:

место       лето       песня          весело

myes-ta   lye-ta      pyes-nya     veh-seh-la

place       summer   song           merrily


Ё as in “yonder”

This letter is pronounced like “yo” in “yonder”. As you can see, “ё” is

formed from “y” sound and vowel “o”: y + o = ё.


Now practice these words:

ёж                      ёлка                плёнка

yozh                   yol-ka              plyon-ka

hedgehog           fir-tree film       tape



The letter Ё is always stressed in Russian words.


И as in “meet”

This letter is pronounced like “ee” in “meet”.


Practice these exercises:

Игла           Индия           пикник           лист

eeg-lah       een-dee-ya    peek-neek       leest

needle        India             picnic               leaf


Ю as in “you”

The letter “ю” denotes the same sound as the English word “you”.


Practice these words:

Юг           Юпитер                плюс

yoog        yoh-peeh-tehr       plyoos

south      Jupiter                   plus sign


Consonants are "hard" when hard-indicating vowels or the hard sign follows


The concepts of "soft" and "hard" consonants are familiar to you from

English. The word "soft" here means that your tongue should be arched against the roof of your mouth (called the soft palate) so that it "softens" the sound.


The following example roughly shows that the letters m and l can be both

"hard" and "soft" in English.

Hard           Soft

moot          mute

lip               leap

Hard-Indicating Vowels

If you really want to learn Russian vowels, you should practice. Here are some guidelines on pronunciation of five "hard-indicating" Russian vowels.

They are accompanied with exercises so that you could practice them with

real Russian words.

A as in Ah

This vowel is pronounced in two different ways depending on stress. When

stressed, it is close to the sound of the English word Ah, but shorter. When

unstressed, it is pronounced like u in the word nut.


Practice these words:

мама             папа        вата         вода           масло

mah-ma       pah-pa      vah-ta      va-dah        mahs-la

mother         dad           cotton      water          butter


You've probably noticed that the letter o is pronounced like unstressed a in

the words вода and масло. This is an important rule of the Russian




In unstressed positions, Russian letter O is pronounced like unstressed

Russian A. But when stressed, it sounds like "Oh" in law.


O as in law

Practice these words:

кот      точка        молоко      стон         окна

kot      toch-ka     ma-la-ko    ston         ok-na

cat      dot            milk           groan       windows



This vowel does not have an equivalent in English. Try to invest some time

in learning it and differentiating from other sounds. To get Russian sound ы,

you should place your tongue in the position right between the positions of

English sounds i in kit and u in sugar. Then make a new sound of ы. Note

that this sound is different form the English i in bit.

Now practice these words:

Дым      быт                  был      мыло        мы

dim       bit                    bil         mi-luh      mi

fog        everyday life     was      soap          we


У as in wood

The letter у sounds like oo in wood. In unstressed positions, it is pronounced

a little bit quicker than in stressed positions.

Practice these exercises:

стул       губа          музыка          звук

stool      goo-bah     moo-zi-ka       zvook

chair      lip              music            sound


Э as in net

This sound is close to e in pet.

Practice these words:

этот        интернет           темп         шест

e-tat       een-ter-net        temp         shest

this         internet             tempo       pole


Quick reference on "hard-indicating" vowels:

Russian letter               Symbol                                      Pronunciation

A (stressed)                   ah                                as “аh”, but shorter

A (unstressed)                a                                  as “u”, in “but”,

O (stressed)                   o                                 as “аw” in “lаw”

O (unstressed)                a                                 as “u” in “but”

Ы                            no English equivalent            no English equivalent

У                                oo                                 as “oo” in “wood”

Э                                e                                  as “e” in “pet”



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