How to pronounce Russian consonants

Part 2: Pronunciation guidelines

The 21 consonant letters of the Russian alphabet are б, в, г, д, ж, з, й, к, л, м, н, п, р, с, т, ф, х, ц, ч, ш and щ. Since most of these letters can be pronounced two different ways ("soft" and "hard") they designate almost twice as many consonant sounds. Note that the consonant letter й is sometimes called a semivowel.

How to pronounce "б" - Letter Б
How to pronounce "в" - Letter В
How to pronounce "г" - Letter Г
How to pronounce "д" - Letter Д
How to pronounce "ж"- Letter Ж
How to pronounce "з" - Letter З
How to pronounce "к" - Letter К
How to pronounce "л" - Letter Л
How to pronounce "м" - Letter М
How to pronounce "н" - Letter Н
How to pronounce "п" - Letter П
How to pronounce "р" - Letter Р
How to pronounce "с" - Letter С
How to pronounce "т" - Letter Т
How to pronounce "ф" - Letter Ф
How to pronounce "х" - Letter Х
How to pronounce "ц" - Letter Ц
How to pronounce "ч" - Letter Ч
How to pronounce "ш" - Letter Ш
How to pronounce "щ" - Letter Щ
How to pronounce "й" - Letter й

Letter combination ГК: sound /хк/ -- (e.g. мягко, легко)
Letter combination ЛНЦ: sound /нц/ -- (e.g. солнце)
Letter combination ЧТ: sound /шт/ -- (e.g. что, чтобы)
Letter combination ЧН: sound /шн/ -- (e.g. скучно, конечно)

Note: // encloses a sound,
' marks a "soft" sound

How to pronounce "б"

The sounds /б/ and /б'/ are designated by the letter Б. The sound /б/ is the same as the English b in but. Its "soft" version /б'/ is close to the English b in bee. The letter Б is pronounced "soft" when it is followed by "soft" vowels or a soft sign. Practice these words:

hard /б/

soft /б'/

бык оба бочка берег обязан
bik o-bah boch-kah bye-ryek a-bya-zan
bull both barrel shore obliged


How to pronounce "в"

The "hard" /в/ is pronounced as v in voice. Its "soft" counterpart /в'/ is close to the English v in view. The letter В is "soft" when followed by "soft" vowels or a soft sign, and it is "hard" otherwise. Practice these words:

hard /в/

soft /в'/

воcк вот вода вечер вирус
vosk vot vah-dah vye-cheer vee-roos
wax so water evening virus


How to pronounce "г"

The letter Г designates the "hard" sound /г/ when followed by "hard" vowels, and the "soft" sound /г'/ otherwise. /г/ sounds like the English g in go. You should arch your tongue against the palate to get the /г'/ sound, which is close to the English g in girl. Practice these words:

hard /г/

soft /г'/

год голова гул долги гид
got gah-lah-vah gool dahl-gee geet
year head hum debts guide


How to pronounce "д"

The sound /д/ is pronounced like d in dial.   In order to pronounce /д'/ you should arch your tongue against the palate. Practice these words:

hard /д/

soft /д'/

год да дом дед дядя
got dah dom dyed dya-dya
year yes house grand-dad uncle



How to pronounce "ж"

The sound /ж/ is similar to s in leisure. The "soft" /ж'/ is very rare (can be found in приезжать) and is not explained here. Practice these words:

hard /ж/

жест жаба может
zhest zhah-bah mo-zhet
gesture toad can


How to pronounce "з"

The sound /з/ is pronounced like z in zoom. Its "soft" counterpart /з'/ should be palatalised like the English z in zeal. Practice these words:

hard /з/

soft /з'/

золото зуб ваза визит взял
zo-lah-to zoop vah-zah vee-zeet vzyal
gold tooth vase visit took


How to pronounce "к"

The sound /к/ is similar to the English c in clock, or ck in nock. The palatalised sound /к'/ is similar to c in cage, or k in okey. These sounds are designated by the letter K in Russian. Practice these words:

hard /к/

soft /к'/

как кот бок кит кедр
kahk kot bok keet kyedr
how cat side whale cedar


How to pronounce "л"

The sound /л/ is pronounced like l in lump, but you should lower the back of your tongue and touch the upper teeth with its tip. In order to get the "soft" counterpart /л'/ you should palatalise the sound as in leak. In writing, these sounds are designated by the letter Л. Practice these words:

hard /л/

soft /л'/

лампа стол лук Лена лист
lahm-pah stol look lye-nah leest
lamp table onion Lena (name) leaf


How to pronounce "м"

The sound /м/ is pronounced like m in monk. The "soft" sound /м'/ is pronounced as if it followed by a short English y sound, and it is similar to the sound of m in muse. Practice these words:

hard /м/

soft /м'/

мост маг Москва миг место
most mahk mahs-kvah meek myes-tah
bridge magician Moscow blink place


How to pronounce "н"

The letter Н makes the sound /н/ when it goes after "hard" consonants or a hard sign. It is pronounced like n in noon. When followed by "soft" consonants or a soft sign, the letter H makes the "soft" sound /н'/ which is close the English n in need. Practice these words:

hard /н/

soft /н'/

надо нос сон нет низко
nah-dah nos son nyet nees-kah
need nose dream no low


How to pronounce "п"

The sound /п/ is pronounced like p in pot or mop. Its "soft" counterpart /п'/ is close to p in pew because it is palatalised by arching the tongue against the palate. However, you will need to palatalise it more to the Russian /п'/. These sounds are designated by the letter П in writing. Practice these words:

hard /п/

soft /п'/

пост стоп пака писк выпь
post stop pah-kah peesk vip'
post stop bye-bye squeak bittern


How to pronounce "р"

The sounds /р/ and /р'/ are both rolled. The difference between them is that the sound /р'/ is palatilised by arching the tongue against the soft palate while the "hard" sound /р/ is not. Practice these words:

hard /р/

soft /р'/

рад кора метр ряд река
raht kah-rah myetr ryat ree-kah
glad bark meter row river


How to pronounce "с"

The "hard" /c/ is close to the English s in soup. In order to get "soft" /c'/ you should palatalise it by adding to it a short English y sound. You should get a sound close   to the English s in seed. Practice these words:

hard /с/

soft /с'/

сад сын пост сено сито
saht sin post sye-nah see-tah
garden son post hay sieve


How to pronounce "т"

The sound /т/ is close to the English t in ten, but you should touch the upper teeth with the tip of your tongue. The sound /т'/ is palatalised as t in stew. These sounds are designated by the letter T in writing. Practice these words:

hard /т/

soft /т'/

ток вата пост кость тётя
tok vah-tah post kost' tyo-tya
current cotton post bone aunt


How to pronounce "ф"

The sound /ф/ is pronounced like f in fault. Its "soft" counterpart /ф'/ sounds more like f in few. These sounds are designated by the letter Ф in writing. Practice these words:

hard /ф/

soft /ф'/

фаза флот фосфор физика фен
fah-zah flot fos-fahr fee-zee-kah fyen
phase fleet phosphorus physics drying fan


How to pronounce "х"

The sound /x/ is close to the English h in host. The "soft" /x'/ is similar to h in huge. These sounds are designated by the letter X in writing. Practice these words:

hard /x/

soft /x'/

хохот хлеб химия орехи
kho-khaht khlyep khee-mee-ya ah-rye-khee
laughter bread chemistry a nut (in plural)


How to pronounce "ц"

This sound is similar to the sound produced by the letters ts in what's up. It is designatd by the letter Ц in writing. Practice these words:

always hard /ц/

цапля лица
tsahp-lya lee-tsah
heron faces


How to pronounce "ч"

The consonant letter Ч can sound both "hard" and "soft". However, in the majority of cases it is "soft" (even if followed by "hard" vowels) and sounds like ch in church. Practice these words:

soft /ч'/

часто мечта
chahs-tah meech-tah
oftne dream


How to pronounce "ш"

This sound is similar to the English sh in shake. It is designated by the letter Ш in writing and /ш/ in phonetic transcription. Practice these words:

hard /ш/

шум ваш
shoom vahsh
noise yours


How to pronounce "щ"

This sound is designated by the letter Щ in writing and /ш'/ in phonetic transcription. There is no exact equivalent of the sound /ш'/ in English, but it is close to the sound made by combining sh and ch. The main idea is to make the sound /ш/ palatilised by arching your tongue against the soft palate. Practice these words:

soft /ш'/

щука щека
shchoo-kah shchee-kah
jackfish cheek

How to pronounce "й"

The sound of letter й is represented by /j/. When the consonant й is the first letter in a syllable, the sound is like "y" in "yes". When it terminates a syllable, the sound is like "y" in "may". This sound is always "soft". It is also used to form "soft" vowels. You can find it in the letters е, ё, и, ю, я. Refer to the lesson on Russian vowels for more information.

Quick reference on Russian consonants

Russian letter Symbol Pronounced as
Б (soft) b b in bee
Б (hard) b b in but
В (soft) v v in view
В (hard) v v in voice
Г (soft) g g in girl
Г (hard) g g in go
Д (soft) d d in dew
Д (hard) d d in dial
З (soft) z z in zeal
З (hard) z z in zoom
К (soft) k k in okey
К (hard) k c in clock
Л (soft) l l in leak
Л (hard) l l in lump
М (soft) m m in muse
М (hard) m m in monk
Н (soft) n n in need
Н (hard) n n in noon
П (soft) p p in pew
П (hard) p p in mop
Р (soft) r no equivalent
Р (hard) r no equivalent
С (soft) s s in seed, sew
С (hard) s s in soup
Т (soft) t t in stew
Т (hard) t t in ten
Ф (soft) f f in few
Ф (hard) f f in fault
Х (soft) kh h in huge
Х (hard) kh h in host
Ц (always hard) ts ts in what's up
Ч (mostly soft) ch ch in church
Ш (hard) sh sh in shield
Щ (soft) shch no equivalent
й (soft) j y in yes or may


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