A Guide to Russian - The Russian alphabet

What's the Russian alphabet like?

The Russian alphabet has 33 letters.
You may well have to spell out your name and perhaps your address in Russian. Here is the alphabet and how to pronounce it

Download mp3 - right click and choose 'save target as'

What's significant about the Russian alphabet?

  • Made by Saints

    Russian is written in the Cyrillic script. It was created in the 9th century by the Saints Cyril and Methodius, two brothers born in Thessaloniki. The alphabet originally contained 43 letters - 24 of them based on the Greek alphabet.

    Written Russian grew out of the Slavonic writings of the Church. Today the Russian alphabet has 33 letters.

  • Strange sounds

    One of the main difficulties for people learning Russian as a foreign language is the pronunciation of some letters that don't exist in other languages. The hard ones are  ы (a "grunted" kind of i, as in "pill"),  щ (a sharp double sh-sound) and  й (y as in "yes").

    The letters ъ and ь might also cause problems as the first one is never pronounced and the second just softens the previous consonants.

    Learners of the Russian language should be grateful to the Bolsheviks for abandoning a few other letters from the Cyrillic alphabet.

  • Standard Russian

    Something that helps is that some Russian letters are identical to Latin ones:
    A, E, K, M, O and T. No problems here.

    Something that doesn't help is that some Russian letters look like Latin ones, but sound completely different: B is V, H is N, P is R, C is S, Y is U and X is H.

    So if you're hungry, look for a PECTOPAH - it's a RESTORAN, restaurant. And if you're thirsty, look for a БAP - a BAR, where you can always find a TYAЛЕT, TUALET, or toilet.

    The name Bиктор is as popular in England as it is in Russia - it's Viktor. As is Bарвара, Varvara - Barbara.

  • More consonants!

    Another odd thing in Russian is that there often seem to be more consonants in a word than vowels, eg.
     мгла, haze
     взвод, platoon
     Иркутск, Irkutsk, Siberian city

    You might be unable and unwilling to pronounce the name of the small Russian town  Дмитриев-Льгoвский, Dmitriyev-Lgovsky, but if you're still going to invest in Russia you must teach yourself the family name of  Стржалковский, Strzhalkovsky, CEO of Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel producer, and  Росприроднадзор, Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s environmental watchdog.
    Being able to roll the r helps a lot, but don't worry if you can't - Lenin didn't manage to either.

  • Email and website conventions

    When giving an email or website address the conventions are:
     @ собака / собачка, dog / little dog
     . точкa, dot
     / слеш, slash

Facts about Russian

Facts about Russian

10 things to know about the Russian language

Russian key phrases

Russian key phrases

Get started with 20 audio phrases

Russian soap opera

Russian soap

Read the story of English ex-pat Chris and Russian beauty, Irina

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.