Russian alphabet

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Russian Cyrillic
Russian Cyrillic alphabet.svg
Script type
Time period
10th century (Old East Slavic) to present; modern orthography: 1918
Related scripts
Parent systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Cyrl (220), ​Cyrillic
Unicode alias
subset of Cyrillic (U+0400...U+04F0)
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

The Russian alphabet (ру́сский алфави́т, russkiy alfavit,[a] or ру́сская а́збука, russkaya azbuka,[b] more traditionally) is used to write Russian words. It comes from the Cyrillic script, which was devised in the 9th century for the first Slavic literary language, Old Slavonic. Initially an old variant of the Bulgarian alphabet,[2] it became used in the Kievan Rus' since the 10th century to write what would become the Russian language.

The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters: twenty consonants (⟨б⟩, ⟨в⟩, ⟨г⟩, ⟨д⟩, ⟨ж⟩, ⟨з⟩, ⟨к⟩, ⟨л⟩, ⟨м⟩, ⟨н⟩, ⟨п⟩, ⟨р⟩, ⟨с⟩, ⟨т⟩, ⟨ф⟩, ⟨х⟩, ⟨ц⟩, ⟨ч⟩, ⟨ш⟩, ⟨щ⟩), ten vowels (⟨а⟩, ⟨е⟩, ⟨ё⟩, ⟨и⟩, ⟨о⟩, ⟨у⟩, ⟨ы⟩, ⟨э⟩, ⟨ю⟩, ⟨я⟩), a semivowel / consonant (⟨й⟩), and two modifier letters or "signs" (⟨ь⟩, ⟨ъ⟩) that alter pronunciation of a preceding consonant or a following vowel.


Letter Cursive Italics Name Old name IPA Common transliteration Approximate English equivalent Examples No. Unicode (Hex)
Аа 01-Russian alphabet-А а.svg А а а
/a/ a father два dva
1 U+0410 / U+0430
Бб 02-Russian alphabet-Б б.svg Б б бэ
/b/ or /bʲ/ b bad оба óba
U+0411 / U+0431
Вв 03-Russian alphabet-В в.svg В в вэ
/v/ or /vʲ/ v vine вода vodá
2 U+0412 / U+0432
Гг 04-Russian alphabet-Г г.svg Г г гэ
/ɡ/ or /gʲ/ g go год god
3 U+0413 / U+0433
Дд 05-Russian alphabet-Д д.svg Д д дэ
/d/ or /dʲ/ d do да da
4 U+0414 / U+0434
Ее 06-Russian alphabet-Е е.svg Е е е
/je/, / ʲe/ or /e/ ye, je, e yes не ne
5 U+0415 / U+0435
Ёё 07-Russian alphabet-Ё ё.svg Ё ё ё
/jo/ or / ʲo/ yo, jo, ë your ёж yozh
U+0401 / U+0451
Жж 08-Russian alphabet-Ж ж.svg Ж ж жэ
[ʐɛ] (listen)
/ʐ/ zh, ž similar to pleasure жук zhuk
U+0416 / U+0436
Зз 09-Russian alphabet-З з.svg З з зэ
/z/ or /zʲ/ z zoo зной znoy
7 U+0417 / U+0437
Ии 10-Russian alphabet-И и.svg И и и
/i/, / ʲi/, or /ɨ/ i police или íli
8 U+0418 / U+0438
Йй 11-Russian alphabet-Й й.svg Й й и краткое
'short i'
[ˈi ˈkratkəjə]
и съ краткой
[ɪ s ˈkratkəj]
/j/ y, i, j toy мой moy
"my, mine"
U+0419 / U+0439
Кк 12-Russian alphabet-К к.svg К к ка
/k/ or /kʲ/ k kept кто kto
20 U+041A / U+043A
Лл 13-Russian alphabet-Л л.svg Л л эль (эл)
[ɛlʲ] ([ɛɫ])
/ɫ/ or /lʲ/ l feel or lamp луч luch
30 U+041B / U+043B
Мм 14-Russian alphabet-М м.svg М м эм
/m/ or /mʲ/ m map меч mech
40 U+041C / U+043C
Нн 15-Russian alphabet-Н н.svg Н н эн
/n/ or /nʲ/ n not но no
50 U+041D / U+043D
Оо 16-Russian alphabet-О о.svg О о о
/o/ o more (may change based on stress) он on
70 U+041E / U+043E
Пп 17-Russian alphabet-П п.svg П п пэ
/p/ or /pʲ/ p pet под pod
80 U+041F / U+043F
Рр 18-Russian alphabet-Р р.svg Р р эр
/r/ or /rʲ/ r rolled r река reká
100 U+0420 / U+0440
Сс 19-Russian alphabet-С с.svg С с эс
/s/ or /sʲ/ s set если yésli
200 U+0421 / U+0441
Тт 20-Russian alphabet-Т т.svg Т т тэ
/t/ or /tʲ/ t top тот tot
300 U+0422 / U+0442
Уу 21-Russian alphabet-У у.svg У у у
/u/ u tool куст kust
400 U+0423 / U+0443
Фф 22-Russian alphabet-Ф ф.svg Ф ф эф
/f/ or /fʲ/ f face фея féya
500 U+0424 / U+0444
Хх 23-Russian alphabet-Х х.svg Х х ха
/x/ or /xʲ/ kh, h like Scottish "loch", ugh дух dukh
600 U+0425 / U+0445
Цц 24-Russian alphabet-Ц ц.svg Ц ц цэ
/ts/ ts, c sits конец konéts
900 U+0426 / U+0446
Чч 25-Russian alphabet-Ч ч.svg Ч ч че
// ch, č check час chas
90 U+0427 / U+0447
Шш 26-Russian alphabet-Ш ш.svg Ш ш ша
/ʂ/ sh, š similar to "sh" in shrimp ваш vash
U+0428 / U+0448
Щщ 27-Russian alphabet-Щ щ.svg Щ щ ща
/ɕː/, /ɕ/ shch, sch, šč similar to a double "sh" as in push ships щека shcheká
U+0429 / U+0449
Ъъ 28-Russian alphabet-ъ.svg Ъ ъ твёрдый знак
'hard sign'
[ˈtvʲɵrdɨj znak] (listen)
ʺ silent, prevents palatalization of the preceding consonant объект obyékt
U+042A / U+044A
Ыы 29-Russian alphabet-ы.svg Ы ы ы
[ɨ] y General American her (rough equivalent) ты ty
U+042B / U+044B
Ьь 30-Russian alphabet-ь.svg Ь ь мягкий знак
'soft sign'
[ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj znak] (listen)
/ ʲ/ ' silent, palatalizes the preceding consonant (if phonologically possible) весь vyes'
U+042C / U+044C
Ээ 31-Russian alphabet-Э э.svg Э э э
э оборотное
'rotated «э»'
[ˈɛ ɐbɐˈrotnəjɪ]
/e/ e, è met это èto
U+042D / U+044D
Юю 32-Russian alphabet-Ю ю.svg Ю ю ю
/ju/ or / ʲu/ yu, ju use юг yug
U+042E / U+044E
Яя 33-Russian alphabet-Я я.svg Я я я
/ja/ or / ʲa/ ya, ja yard ряд ryad
U+042F / U+044F
^† An alternative form of the letter El (Л л) closely resembles the Greek letter lambda (Λ λ).

Historic letters[edit]

Letters eliminated in 1917–18[edit]

Letter Cursive Italics Name Old name IPA Common transliteration Similar Russian letter Examples No. Unicode (Hex)
Іі 1-Imperial Russian-І і.svg І і і десятеричное
[i dʲɪsʲɪtʲɪˈrʲitɕnəjə]
/i/, / ʲi/, or /j/ i Like и or й стихотворенія (now стихотворения) stikhotvoréniya
"poems, (of) poem"
10 U+0406 / U+0456
Ѣѣ 3-Imperial Russian-Ѣ ѣ.svg Ѣ ѣ ять
/e/ or / ʲe/ ě Like е Алексѣй (now Алексей) Aleksěy
U+0462 / U+0463
Ѳѳ 2-Imperial Russian-Ѳ ѳ.svg Ѳ ѳ ѳита
/f/ or /fʲ/ or unvoiced th /θ/ f Like ф орѳографія (now орфография) orfográfiya
"orthography, spelling"
9 U+0472 / U+0473
Ѵѵ 4-Imperial Russian-Ѵ ѵ.svg Ѵ ѵ ижица
/i/ or / ʲi/ í Usually like и, see below мѵро (now миро) míro
"chrism (myrrh)"
400 U+0474 / U+0475
  • і — Identical in pronunciation to ⟨и⟩, was used exclusively immediately before other vowels and the ⟨й⟩ ("Short I") (for example, ⟨патріархъ[pətrʲɪˈarx], 'patriarch') and in the word ⟨міръ[mʲir] ('world') and its derivatives, to distinguish it from the word ⟨миръ[mʲir] ('peace') (the two words are actually etymologically cognate[5][6] and not arbitrarily homonyms).[7]
  • ѣ — Originally had a distinct sound, but by the middle of the eighteenth century had become identical in pronunciation to ⟨е⟩ in the standard language. Since its elimination in 1918, it has remained a political symbol of the old orthography.
  • ѳ — From the Greek theta, was identical to ⟨ф⟩ in pronunciation, but was used etymologically (for example, ⟨Ѳёдоръ⟩ "Theodore" became ⟨Фёдор⟩ "Fyodor").
  • ѵ — From the Greek upsilon, usually identical to ⟨и⟩ in pronunciation, as in Byzantine Greek, was used etymologically for Greek loanwords, like Latin Y (as in synod, myrrh); by 1918, it had become very rare. In spellings of the eighteenth century, it was also used after some vowels, where it has since been replaced with ⟨в⟩ or (rarely) ⟨у⟩. For example, a Greek prefix originally spelled ⟨аѵто-⟩ (equivalent to English auto-) is now spelled ⟨авто⟩ in most cases and ⟨ауто-⟩ as a component in some compound words.

Letters eliminated before 1750[edit]

Letter Cursive Italics Name Old name IPA Common transliteration Similar Russian letter Examples No. Unicode (Hex)
Ѕѕ Ѕ ѕ зѣло
/z/ or /zʲ/ z Like з sѣлѡ (obsolete word)
6 U+0405 / U+0455
Ѯѯ Ѯ ѯ кси
/ks/ or /ksʲ/ ks Like кс 60 U+046e / U+046f
Ѱѱ Ѱ ѱ пси
/ps/ or /psʲ/ ps Like пс 700 U+0470 / U+0471
Ѡѡ Ѡ ѡ омега
/o/ o Like о 800 U+0460 / U+0461
Ѫѫ Большой юс.svg Ѫ ѫ юсъ большой
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj]
/u/, /ju/ or / ʲu/ ǫ Like у U+046a / U+046b
Ѧѧ Малый юс.svg Ѧ ѧ юсъ малый
[jus ˈmaɫɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/ ę Like я 900 U+0466 / U+0467
Ѭѭ Ѭ ѭ юсъ большой іотированный
[jus bɐlʲˈʂoj jɪˈtʲirəvənnɨj]
/ju/ or / ʲu/ Like ю U+046c / U+046d
Ѩѩ Ѩ ѩ юсъ малый іотированный
[jus ˈmaɫɨj jɪˈtʲirəvən.nɨj]
/ja/ or / ʲa/ Like я U+0468 / U+0469
  • ѕ⟩ corresponded to a more archaic /dz/ pronunciation, already absent in East Slavic at the start of the historical period, but kept by tradition in certain words until the eighteenth century in secular writing, and in Church Slavonic and Macedonian to the present day.
  • ѯ⟩ and ⟨ѱ⟩ derived from Greek letters xi and psi, used etymologically though inconsistently in secular writing until the eighteenth century, and more consistently to the present day in Church Slavonic.
  • ѡ⟩ is the Greek letter omega, identical in pronunciation to ⟨о⟩, used in secular writing until the eighteenth century, but to the present day in Church Slavonic, mostly to distinguish inflexional forms otherwise written identically.
  • Two „yuses“, „big“ ⟨ѫ⟩ and „small“ ⟨ѧ⟩, used to stand for nasalized vowels /õ/ and /ẽ/. According to linguistic reconstruction, both become irrelevant for East Slavic phonology at the beginning of the historical period[when?], but were introduced along with the rest of the Cyrillic script. The iotated yuses, ⟨ѭ⟩ and ⟨ѩ⟩, had largely vanished by the twelfth century. The uniotated ⟨ѫ⟩ continued to be used, etymologically, until the sixteenth century. Thereafter it was restricted to being a dominical letter in the Paschal tables. The seventeenth-century usage of ⟨ѫ⟩ and ⟨ѧ⟩ (see next note) survives in contemporary Church Slavonic, and the sounds (but not the letters) in Polish.
  • The letter ⟨ѧ⟩ was adapted to represent the iotated /ja/я⟩ in the middle or end of a word; the modern letter ⟨я⟩ is an adaptation of its cursive form of the seventeenth century, enshrined by the typographical reform of 1708.
  • Until 1708, the iotated /ja/ was written ⟨ꙗ⟩ at the beginning of a word. This distinction between ⟨ѧ⟩ and ⟨ꙗ⟩ survives in Church Slavonic.

Although it is usually stated that the letters in the table above were eliminated in the typographical reform of 1708, reality is somewhat more complex. The letters were indeed originally omitted from the sample alphabet, printed in a western-style serif font, presented in Peter's edict, along with the letters ⟨з⟩ (replaced by ⟨ѕ⟩), ⟨и⟩, and ⟨ф⟩ (the diacriticized letter ⟨й⟩ was also removed), but were reinstated except ⟨ѱ⟩ and ⟨ѡ⟩ under pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church in a later variant of the modern typeface (1710). Nonetheless, since 1735 the Russian Academy of Sciences began to use fonts without ⟨ѕ⟩, ⟨ѯ⟩, and ⟨ѵ⟩; however, ⟨ѵ⟩ was sometimes used again since 1758.

Although praised by Western scholars and philosophers, it was criticized by clergy and many conservative scholars, who found the new standard too "Russified". Some even went as far as to refer to Peter as the Anti-Christ.[9]

Lomonosov also contributed to the Russian standard language, developing a "High Style" with high influence of Church Slavonic, which was to be used in formal situations such as religious texts; as well as "Medium Style" and "Low Style", deemed for less formal events and casual writing. Lomonosov advocated for the "Medium Style", which later became the basis of the modern Russian standard language.[10]


hard (default)
or soft
Б, В, Г,
Д, З, К,
Л, М, Н,
П, Р, С,
Т, Ф, Х
Always hard Ж, Ш, Ц
Always soft Й, Ч, Щ

Most consonants can represent both "soft" (palatalized, represented in the IPA with a ⟨ʲ⟩) and "hard" consonant phonemes.[11] If consonant letters are followed by vowel letters, the soft/hard quality of the consonant depends on whether the vowel is meant to follow "hard" consonants а, о, э, у, ы or "soft" consonants я, ё, е, ю, и; see below. A soft sign indicates ⟨Ь⟩ palatalization of the preceding consonant without adding a vowel.

However, in modern Russian six consonant phonemes do not have phonemically distinct "soft" and "hard" variants (except in foreign proper names) and do not change "softness" in the presence of other letters: /ʐ/, /ʂ/ and /ts/ are always hard; /j/, /tɕ/ and /ɕː/ are always soft. (Before 1950 Russian linguists considered /j/ a semivowel rather then a consonant.)

See Russian phonology for details.


Hard А Э Ы О У
Soft Я Е И Ё Ю
Each row is roughly analogous
to the Latin A, E, I, O, U.

The Russian alphabet contains 10 vowel letters. They are grouped into soft and hard vowels.[12] The soft vowels, ⟨е, ё, и, ю, я⟩, either indicate a preceding palatalized consonant, or (with the exception of ⟨и⟩) are iotated (pronounced with a preceding /j/) in all other cases. The IPA vowels shown are a guideline only and sometimes are realized as different sounds, particularly when unstressed. However, ⟨е⟩ may be used in words of foreign origin without palatalization (/e/), and ⟨я⟩ is often realized as [æ] between soft consonants, such as in мяч ('toy ball').

Details about individual vowels[edit]

ы⟩ is an old Proto-Slavic close central vowel, thought to have been preserved better in modern Russian than in other Slavic languages. It was originally nasalized in certain positions: Old Russian камы [ˈkamɨ̃]; Modern Russian камень [ˈkamʲɪnʲ] ('rock'). Its written form developed as follows: ⟨ъ⟩ + ⟨і⟩ → ⟨⟩ → ⟨ы⟩.

э⟩ was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing /e/ from the iotated/palatalizing one. The original usage had been ⟨е⟩ for the uniotated /e/, ⟨ѥ⟩ or ⟨ѣ⟩ for the iotated, but ⟨ѥ⟩ had dropped out of use by the sixteenth century. In native Russian words, ⟨э⟩ is found only at the beginnings of a few words э́тот/э́та/э́то 'this (is) (m./f./n.)', э́ти 'these', э́кий 'what a', э́дак/э́так 'that way', э́дакий/э́такий 'sort of', and interjections like эй 'hey') or in compound words (e.g. поэ́тому 'therefore' = по + этому, where этому is the dative case of этот). In words that come from foreign languages in which iotated /e/ is uncommon or nonexistent (such as English), ⟨э⟩ is usually written in the beginning of words and after vowels except ⟨и⟩ (e.g. поэ́т, 'poet'), and ⟨е⟩ after ⟨и⟩ and consonants. However, the pronunciation is inconsistent. Many of these borrowed words, especially monosyllables, words ending in ⟨е⟩ and many words where ⟨е⟩ follows ⟨т⟩, ⟨д⟩, ⟨н⟩, ⟨с⟩, ⟨з⟩ or ⟨р⟩, are pronounced with /e/ without palatalization or iotation: секс (seks — 'sex'), моде́ль (model' — 'model'), кафе́ (kafe — 'café'), прое́кт (proekt — 'project'; here, the spelling is etymological: German Projekt was adopted from Latin proiectum, so the word is spelled with ⟨е⟩ to reflect the original /je/ and not with ⟨э⟩ as usual after vowels; but the pronunciation is counter-etymological: a hypercorrection that has become standard). But many other words are pronounced with /ʲe/: се́кта (syekta — 'sect'), дебю́т (dyebyut — 'debut'). Proper names are sometimes written with ⟨э⟩ after consonants: Сэм — 'Sam', Пэме́ла — 'Pamela', Мэ́ри — 'Mary', Ма́о Цзэду́н — 'Mao Zedong'; the use of ⟨э⟩ after consonants is common in East Asian names and in English names with the sounds /æ/ and /ɛər/, with some exceptions such as Джек ('Jack') and Ше́ннон ('Shannon'), since both ⟨э⟩ and ⟨е⟩, in cases of же ("zhe"), ше ("she") and це ("tse"), follow consonants that are always hard (non-palatalized), yet ⟨е⟩ usually prevails in writing. However, English names with the sounds /ɛ/, /ə/ (if spelled ⟨e⟩ in English), and // after consonants are normally spelled with ⟨е⟩ in Russian: Бе́тти — 'Betty', Пи́тер — 'Peter', Лейк-Плэ́сид — 'Lake Placid'. Pronunciation mostly remains unpalatalized, so Пи́тер [ˈpʲitɛr] — Russian rendering of the English name 'Peter' is pronounced differently from Пи́тер [ˈpʲitʲɪr] — colloquial Russian name of Saint Petersburg.

ё⟩, introduced by Karamzin in 1797 and made official in 1943 by the Soviet Ministry of Education,[13] marks a /jo/ sound that historically developed from stressed /je/. The written letter ⟨ё⟩ is optional; it is formally correct to write ⟨e⟩ for both /je/ and /jo/. None of the several attempts in the twentieth century to mandate the use of ⟨ё⟩ have stuck.

Non-vocalized letters[edit]

Hard sign[edit]

The hard sign (⟨ъ⟩) acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding "soft vowel" (⟨е, ё, ю, я⟩, but not ⟨и⟩) from a preceding consonant, invoking implicit iotation of the vowel with a distinct /j/ glide. Today it is used mostly to separate a prefix ending with a hard consonant from the following root. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short middle schwa-like sound, likely pronounced [ə] or [ɯ]. Until the 1918 reform, no written word could end in a consonant: those that end in a "hard" consonant in modern orthography then had a final ⟨ъ⟩.

While ⟨и⟩ is also a soft vowel, root-initial /i/ following a hard consonant is typically pronounced as [ɨ]. This is normally spelled ⟨ы⟩ (the hard counterpart to ⟨и⟩) unless this vowel occurs at the beginning of a word, in which case it remains ⟨и⟩. An alternation between the two letters (but not the sounds) can be seen with the pair без и́мени ('without name', which is pronounced [bʲɪz ˈɨmʲɪnʲɪ]) and безымя́нный ('nameless', which is pronounced [bʲɪˈmʲænːɨj]). This spelling convention, however, is not applied with certain loaned prefixes such as in the word панислами́зм[ˌpanɨsɫɐˈmʲizm], 'Pan-Islamism') and compound (multi-root) words (e.g. госизме́на[ˌɡosɨˈzmʲenə], 'high treason').

Soft sign[edit]

The soft sign (⟨ь⟩) in most positions acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding consonant is palatalized (except for always-hard ж, ш, ц) and the following vowel (if present) is iotated (including ⟨ьо⟩ in loans). This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For example, брат [brat] ('brother') contrasts with брать [bratʲ] ('to take'). The original pronunciation of the soft sign, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short fronted reduced vowel /ĭ/ but likely pronounced [ɪ] or [jɪ]. There are still some remnants of this ancient reading in modern Russian, e.g. in co-existing versions of the same name, read and written differently, such as Марья and Мария ('Mary').[14]

When applied after stem-final always-soft (ч, щ, but not й) or always-hard (ж, ш, but not ц) consonants, the soft sign does not alter pronunciation, but has grammatical significance:[15]

  • the feminine marker for singular nouns in the nominative and accusative; e.g. тушь ('India ink', feminine) cf. туш ('flourish after a toast', masculine) – both pronounced [tuʂ];
  • the imperative mood for some verbs;
  • the infinitives of some verbs (with -чь ending);
  • the second person for non-past verbs (with -шь ending);
  • some adverbs and particles.

Treatment of foreign sounds[edit]

Because Russian borrows terms from other languages, there are various conventions for sounds not present in Russian.

For example, while Russian has no [h], there are a number of common words (particularly proper nouns) borrowed from languages like English and German that contain such a sound in the original language. In well-established terms, such as галлюцинация [ɡəlʲʊtsɨˈnatsɨjə] ('hallucination'), this is written with ⟨г⟩ and pronounced with /ɡ/, while newer terms use ⟨х⟩, pronounced with /x/, such as хобби [ˈxobʲɪ] ('hobby').[16]

Similarly, words originally with [θ] in their source language are either pronounced with /t(ʲ)/, as in the name Тельма ('Thelma') or, if borrowed early enough, with /f(ʲ)/ or /v(ʲ)/, as in the names Фёдор ('Theodore') and Матве́й ('Matthew').

For the [d͡ʒ] affricate, which is common in the Asian countries that were part of the Russian Empire and the USSR, the letter combination ⟨дж⟩ is used: this is often transliterated into English either as ⟨dzh⟩ or the Dutch form ⟨dj⟩.

Numeric values[edit]

The numerical values correspond to the Greek numerals, with ⟨ѕ⟩ being used for digamma, ⟨ч⟩ for koppa, and ⟨ц⟩ for sampi. The system was abandoned for secular purposes in 1708, after a transitional period of a century or so; it continues to be used in Church Slavonic, while general Russian texts use Indo-Arabic numerals and Roman numerals.


Russian spelling uses fewer diacritics than those used for most European languages. The only diacritic, in the proper sense, is the acute accent ⟨◌́⟩ (Russian: знак ударения 'mark of stress'), which marks stress on a vowel, as it is done in Spanish and Greek. (Unicode has no code points for the accented letters; they are instead produced by suffixing the unaccented letter with U+0301 ◌́ COMBINING ACUTE ACCENT.) Although Russian word stress is often unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word, the diacritic accent is used only in dictionaries, children's books, resources for foreign-language learners, the defining entry (in bold) in articles on Russian Wikipedia, or on minimal pairs distinguished only by stress (for instance, за́мок 'castle' vs. замо́к 'lock'). Rarely, it is also used to specify the stress in uncommon foreign words, and in poems with unusual stress used to fit the meter.

The letter ⟨ё⟩ is a special variant of the letter ⟨е⟩, which is not always distinguished in written Russian, but the umlaut-like sign has no other uses. Stress on this letter is never marked with a diacritic, as it is always stressed (except in some compounds and loanwords).

Both ⟨ё⟩ and the letter ⟨й⟩ have completely separated from ⟨е⟩ and ⟨и⟩. ⟨Й⟩ has been used since the 16th century (except that it was removed in 1708, but reinstated in 1735). Since then, its usage has been mandatory. It was formerly considered a diacriticized letter, but in the 20th century, it came to be considered a separate letter of the Russian alphabet. It was classified as a "semivowel" by 19th- and 20th-century grammarians but since the 1970s, it has been considered a consonant letter.


The frequency of characters in a corpus of written Russian was found to be as follows:[17]

Rank Letter Frequency Other information English comparison
1 О 11.18% By comparison, 'e' in English appears about 13% in texts.
2 Е 8.75% Foreign words sometimes use Е rather than Э, even if it is pronounced e instead of ye.
In addition, Ё is often replaced by Е; this makes Е even more common.
(For more information, see Vowels.)
'T' appears about 9.1%
3 А 7.64% 'A' appears about 8.2%
4 И 7.09% 'O' appears 7.5%
5 Н 6.78% The most common consonant in the Russian alphabet. 'I' : 7%
6 Т 6.09%
7 С 4.97%
8 Л 4.96%
9 В 4.38%
10 Р 4.23%
11 К 3.30%
12 М 3.17%
13 Д 3.09%
14 П 2.47%
15 Ы 2.36%
16 У 2.22%
17 Б 2.01%
18 Я 1.96%
19 Ь 1.84%
20 Г 1.72%
21 З 1.48%
22 Ч 1.40%
23 Й 1.21%
24 Ж 1.01%
25 Х 0.95%
26 Ш 0.72%
27 Ю 0.47%
28 Ц 0.39%
29 Э 0.36% Foreign words sometimes use Е rather than Э, even if it is pronounced e instead of ye.
In addition, Ё is often replaced by Е; this makes Е even more common.
(For more information, see Vowels.)
K : 0.77%
30 Щ 0.30% J : 0.15%
31 Ф 0.21% The least common consonant in the Russian alphabet. X : 0.15%
32 Ё 0.20% In written Russian, ⟨ё⟩ is often replaced by ⟨е⟩.
(For more information, see Vowels.)
Q : 0.095%
33 Ъ 0.02% ⟨Ъ⟩ used to be a very common letter in the Russian alphabet. This is because before the 1918 reform, any word ending with a non-palatalized consonant was written with a final Ъ - e.g., pre-1918 вотъ vs. post-reform вот. The reform eliminated the use of Ъ in this context, leaving it the least common letter in the Russian alphabet.
(For more information, see Non-vocalized letters.)
'Z' : 0.074%

Keyboard layout[edit]

The standard Russian keyboard layout for personal computers is as follows:

Russian keyboard layout

However, there are several variations of so-called "phonetic keyboards" that are often used by non-Russians, where, as far as is possible, pressing an English letter key will type the Russian letter with a similar sound (A → А, S → С, D → Д, F → Ф, etc.).

Letter names[edit]

Until approximately the year 1900, mnemonic names inherited from Church Slavonic were used for the letters. They are given here in the pre-1918 orthography of the post-1708 civil alphabet.

The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote: "The [names of the] letters that make up the Slavonic alphabet don't represent a meaning at all. Аз, буки, веди, глаголь, добро etc. are individual words, chosen just for their initial sound". However, since the names of the first few letters of the Slavonic alphabet seem to form readable text, attempts have been made to compose meaningful snippets of text from groups of consecutive letters for the rest of the alphabet.[18][19]

Here is one such attempt to "decode" the message:

аз буки веди az buki vedi "I know letters"[20]
глаголь добро есть glagol' dobro yest' "To speak is a beneficence" or "The word is property"[21]
живете зело, земля, и иже и како люди zhivyete zelo, zyemlya, i izhe, i kako lyudi "Live, while working heartily, people of Earth, in the manner people should obey"
мыслете наш он покой myslete nash on pokoy "try to understand the Universe (the world that is around)"
рцы слово твердо rtsy slovo tvyerdo "be committed to your word"[22]
ук ферт хер uk fert kher "The knowledge is fertilized by the Creator, knowledge is the gift of God"
цы червь ша ер ять ю tsy cherv' sha yet yat' yu "Try harder, to understand the Light of the Creator"

In this attempt only lines 1, 2 and 5 somewhat correspond to real meanings of the letters' names, while "translations" in other lines seem to be fabrications or fantasies. For example, "покой" ("rest" or "apartment") does not mean "the Universe", and "ферт" does not have any meaning in Russian or other Slavic languages (there are no words of Slavic origin beginning with "f" at all). The last line contains only one translatable word – "червь" ("worm"), which, however, was not included in the "translation".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IPA: [ˈruskʲɪj ɐlfɐˈvʲit]
  2. ^ IPA: [ˈruskəjə ˈazbʊkə]
  3. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "живете", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова [Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language] (article) (in Russian), RU: Yandex, archived from the original on 22 July 2012; the dictionary makes difference between е and ё.[3]


  1. ^ Himelfarb, Elizabeth J. "First Alphabet Found in Egypt", Archaeology 53, Issue 1 (Jan./Feb. 2000): 21.
  2. ^ Crampton, R. J.; Crampton, B. J. (12 March 1987). A Short History of Modern Bulgaria. CUP Archive. ISBN 978-0-521-27323-7.
  3. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "ёлка", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова (in Russian), RU: Yandex, archived from the original on 22 July 2012.
  4. ^ Ushakov, Dmitry, "мыслете", Толковый словарь русского языка Ушакова [Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language] (article) (in Russian), RU: Yandex, archived from the original on 16 July 2012.
  5. ^ Vasmer 1979.
  6. ^ Vasmer, "мир", Dictionary (etymology) (in Russian) (online ed.), retrieved 16 October 2005.
  7. ^ Smirnovskiy 1915, p. 4.
  8. ^ ФЭБ,
  9. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Russian Spelling Reform of 1917/18 - Part I (History)". YouTube. 1 October 2019.
  10. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The Russian Language". YouTube. 25 June 2016.
  11. ^ Russian language course "Russo Sem Mestre" (Portuguese for Russian without Master), by Custódio Gomes Sobrinho
  12. ^ Russian language course "Russo Sem Mestre" (Portuguese for Russian without Master), by Custódio Gomes Sobrinho
  13. ^ Benson 1960, p. 271.
  14. ^ See Polish Maria as a given name but Maryja in context of the Virgin Mary.
  15. ^ "Буквы Ъ и Ь - "Грамота.ру" – справочно-информационный Интернет-портал "Русский язык"". Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  16. ^ Dunn & Khairov 2009, pp. 17–8.
  17. ^ Stefan Trost Media, Character Frequency: Russian. "Basis of this list were some Russian texts with together 1.351.370 characters (210.844 words), 1.086.255 characters were used for the counting. The texts consist of a good mix of different literary genres."
  18. ^ Maksimovic M.A. (1839). История древней русской словесности. Киев: Университетская типография. p. 215.
  19. ^ Pavskij G.P. (1850). Филологическия наблюдения над составом русскаго языка: О буквах и слогах. Первое разсуждение. p. 35.
  20. ^ Р. Байбурова (2002). Как появилась письменность у древних славян (in Russian). Наука и Жизнь. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
  21. ^ Vasilʹev A. (1838). О древнейшей истории северных славян до времён Рюрика. Главный штаб Его Императорского Величества по военно-учебным заведениям. p. 159.
  22. ^ Толковый словарь живого великорусского языка. Vol. 4. ОЛМА Медиа Групп. p. 91. ISBN 9785224024384.


  • Ivan G. Iliev. Kurze Geschichte des kyrillischen Alphabets. Plovdiv. 2015. [1]
  • Ivan G. Iliev. Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet. [2]
  • Benson, Morton (1960), "Review of The Russian Alphabet by Thomas F. Magner", The Slavic and East European Journal, 4 (3): 271–72, doi:10.2307/304189, JSTOR 304189
  • Dunn, John; Khairov, Shamil (2009), Modern Russian Grammar, Modern Grammars, Routledge
  • Halle, Morris (1959), Sound Pattern of Russian, MIT Press
  • Smirnovskiy, P (1915), A Textbook in Russian Grammar, vol. Part I. Etymology (26th ed.), CA: Shaw
  • Vasmer, Max (1979), Russian Etymological Dictionary, Winter