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Russian Alphabet

In this lesson we're going to familiarize ourselves with the most basic part of the Russian language, the Russian alphabet.

Are you ready to begin your Russian language journey? Let's jump right in!

Resources for further reading:

The Russian alphabet uses the Cyrillic writing system, named after the Greek missionary St. Cyril and his brother St. Methodius, the creators of the first Slavonic alphabet. Some letters in this system are derived from the Latin alphabet, while others come from the Greek alphabet. Apart from Russian, the Cyrillic alphabet is also used in some other Slavonic languages, such as Serbian, Bulgarian and others.

Once you have mastered the letters and their corresponding sounds, it will be easy for you to read Russian as the letters don’t usually change in format or pronunciation. In this sense the Russian language is much easier to follow than the English language!

Now on to the letters: there are 33 letters in the Russian alphabet two of which are silent. Let’s start with the letters that are similar to their English equivalents:

Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record

Rocket Record lets you perfect your Russian pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!

А а

Азия

Aziya

Asia

М м

мама

mama

Mom

К к

кот

kot

cat

С с

маска

maska

mask

О о

космос

kosmas

cosmos

Т т

тост

tost

toast

Е е

комета

kameta

comet

Beware of these next five letters! They look just like the English ones but sound completely different. Sometimes they are called "false friends."

В в

Москва

Maskva

Moscow

Н н

нет

net

no

Р р

ракета

raketa

rocket

Х х

характер

kharakter

character

У у

тур

toor

tour

The following letters are all foreign to the English alphabet. Some of them are similar to Greek letters, but most of them only exist in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Д д

да

da

yes

П п

папа

papa

Dad

Л л

лампа

lampa

lamp

Б б

бар

bar

bar

И и

Ирина

Irina

Irina

Г г

грамм

gram

gram

Й й

Йорк

York

York

Ё ё

ёлка

yolka

Christmas tree

З з

зоопарк

zaapark

Zoo

Ы ы

вы

vy

you

Ф ф

фото

fota

photo

Ж ж

жираф

zhyraf

giraffe

Э э

это

eta

this

Ш ш

шоколад

shykalat

chocolate

Щ щ

борщ

borshch

borshch

Ц ц

центр

tsentr

center

Ч ч

чемпион

chimpion

champion

Я я

яблоко

yablaka

apple

Ю ю

Югославия

Yugaslavia

Yugoslavia

Now for the last two letters that are always silent:

Ь – the soft sign

The soft sign changes the sound of the preceding consonant, making it sound softer.

Ь

Рубль

rubl'

ruble

Ъ – the hard sign

The hard sign, as the name suggests, does exactly the opposite, it separates two letters and prevents certain vowels from making preceding consonants soft. You will not see this letter very often.

Ъ

объект

ab’’yekt

object

Check out the quick cheat sheet below for the whole alphabet:

Standard Pronounced as in English
А a car
Б б book
В в verge
Г г go
Д д dog
Е е Yell
Ё ё your
Ж ж measure
З з Zoo
И и street
Й й boy
К к take
Л л long
М м much
Н н none
О о for
П п pork
Р р rise
С с set
Т т tin
У у spoon
Ф ф fish
Х х his
Ц ц rats
Ч ч bench
Ш ш ship
Щ щ dish chips
Ъ ъ hard sign
Ы ы pig
Ь ь soft sign
Э э get
Ю ю you
Я я yarn

Now that you are familiar with the Russian alphabet, it won't be a problem for you to write or read (just make sure you invest some time into checking the next few lessons on pronunciation rules). However, there is one more thing to learn if you truly want to master Russian writing, handwriting.

Nowadays, as people widely use smartphones, tablets or computers for written communication, many students of foreign languages choose not to pay much attention to handwriting. But unlike in English, where handwritten letters look very similar to printed letters, Russian handwriting is very different from typed fonts.

Some handwritten letters are completely different from their typed counterparts. Furthermore, handwritten messages are still commonly used in Russia between friends, relatives or colleagues who wish to exchanging notes, cards, etc.

If you would like to find out more about the differences between the handwritten and typed alphabets and wish to practice your Russian handwriting, check out the sample "Writing Lessons" in the Rocket Russian free trial.

Action replay

  • Russian has two silent letters; one of them (the soft sign - Ь) softens the pronunciation of the preceding consonant; the other (the hard sign - Ъ) prevents certain vowels from making the letter preceding them soft.
  • Some Russian consonants look similar to English and are pronounced similarly as well.
  • Some Russian consonants are "false friends" so be especially careful with them.
  • Russian handwriting looks a little bit different from the typed alphabet used in this lesson, so check the "Writing Lessons" section in the free trial of Rocket Russian to find out more about it.

Culture: Money and Purchases

The national currency of Russia is the ruble. There are various ways you can exchange foreign currency into rubles. The most popular options are at an exchange point or at a bank; however банкомат (bankamat) "cash machine" or "ATM" might be also an option. The most reliable way of getting cash is at a bank using your credit or debit card or traveler’s checks, and producing your passport as ID.

US dollars and euros are the most common foreign currencies to exchange. However, in some large major branches of Sberbank you can also exchange British pounds or Swiss francs and some other currencies. Sberbank has the best exchange rates and you can always exchange money at their branches or ATM in the airports. Just make sure your banknotes are clean and not torn otherwise you might not be able to exchange them.

It is worth checking if there is any комиссия (kamissiya) "commission" for currency exchanges, because in some cases higher rates may be charged. Also check the difference between покупка (pakupka) "purchase" and продажа (pradazha) "sale" price.

In Russia you will be able to use your credit or debit cards in larger shops and supermarkets, however you should check out the fees for that with your bank. The use of credit / debit cards is not widespread in Russia at the moment, although authorities are introducing new rules and customers are being encouraged to pay by credit / debit cards rather than cash.

Language in action

банкомат

bankamat

ATM

комиссия

kamissiya

commission

покупка

pakupka

purchase

продажа

pradazha

sale

обмен валюты

abmen valyuty

currency exchange

обменный пункт

abmennyi punkt

exchange point

Где можно поменять деньги?

Gde mozhna paminyat' den'gi?

Where can I change my money?

Сколько рублей за доллар?

Skol'ka rublei za dollar?

How many rubles for a dollar?

Сколько рублей за евро?

Skol'ka rublei za evra?

How many rubles for a euro?

Сколько рублей за фунт стерлингов?

Skol'ka rublei za funt sterlingaf?

How many roubles for a pound?

Какая комиссия в вашем банке?

Kakaya kamissiya v vashem banke?

What is the commission in your bank?

Извините, где здесь есть банк?

Izvinite, gde zdes' yest' bank?

Excuse me, where is the nearest bank?

Где здесь ближайший банкомат?

Gde zdes' blizhaishyi bankamat?

Where is the nearest ATM?

Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement

Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities!