Russian stress patterns are tricky. If you ask, “Are there any rules for putting stress on the words in the Russian language?” then, actually, the simple answer is “No, there aren't.” As a native speaker, I find it fascinating how many strange, complicated and even irregular ways we have to decide stress positions. Normally, when Russians are faced with issue of choosing the right way to say the word, we just use the special dictionary. No one, except linguistic experts, refers to the rules in this respect. We just keep it in mind.
If we look at other languages, we can see how Russian compares.
- In French language, the stress is always on the last syllable.
- In English language, there are few rules about where to put the stress.
- In Russian language, there are plenty of rules and the stress can be everywhere.
In Russian, the stress can change the meaning of the word.
Different nouns - alternative stresses
- замОк (padlock) and зАмок (castle)
- вИна (wines) and винА (guilt)
- дУхи (ghosts) and духИ (perfume)
- гвоздИки (carnations) and гвОздики (small nails)
- крУжки (small circles) and кружкИ (mugs)
- стрEлки (arrows) and стрелкИ (shooters)
Different verbs - alternative stresses
- пИли (we drank) and пилИ (saw)
- пАрить (steam) парИть (soar)
Plural forms vs. genitive case
- рУки (hands) and Он не подал мне рукИ (He didn't shake my hand)
- гОры (mountains) and Там нет ни одной горЫ (There are no mountains)
- стрАны (countries) and Патриот странЫ (The patriot of the country)
- рEки (rivers) and Здесь нет рекИ (No river here)
Different forms of one verb
- Как часто вы его бУдите? (How often you wake him up?) and будИте его! (Wake him up now!)
- Вы Учите русский язык? (Do you learn Russian?) and учИте русский язык (Learn Russian)
You can find more examples of homographs in the Russian Wikipedia.
Another five general notes about Russian stress place
- The stress can take place on different syllables: мОкрый, весЁлый, проходнОй
- The position within the word is also flexible and depends on the word form and type: начАть (verb), нАчал, началА and начАло (noun).
- Some of the words in modern Russian have two ways of putting the stress, both are correct: творОг и твОрог, бАржа и баржА
- Sometimes the stress is moved upon the professional way of usage: каталОг и катАлог, кОмпас и компАс, шприцЫ и шпрИцы — (The first is correct, the second is 'professional')
- There are variations based on official or literary usage in comparison with colloquial speech: Он занялсЯ своей работой — (norm of literary language); Он зАнялся своей работой — (popular language)
Not to bother you with the specifics, but to give you a feel for the complexity of Russian stress patterns, I'll tell you the numbers: there are around 30 different rules with the exception for nouns, twenty for adjectives, eighteen for verbs, twenty for adverbs and participles, and so on.
If you wish to learn these rules for Russian stress patterns anyway, please find more information in The Rosental Phonetic Guide. It's by Dietmar Elyashevich Rosenthal—the guru of the modern Russian language!
One piece of advice
Remember stress when you learn the word and listen more to native speakers.
If you want to learn more, feel free to check my blog!
Hero image by neiljs (CC BY 2.0)