The Russian alphabet ( rus, ру́сский алфави́т, russkiy alfavit, ˈruskʲɪj ɐlfɐˈvʲit or, more traditionally, rus, ру́сская а́збука, russkaya azbuka, ˈruskəjə ˈazbʊkə) was derived from Cyrillic script for Old Church Slavonic language. Initially an old variant of the Bulgarian alphabet, 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. It has twenty consonants (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ), ten vowels (, , , , , , , , , ), a semivowel (), and two modifier letters ("signs": and ) that alter pronunciation of a preceding consonant and/or a following vowel.


: An alternative form of the El (Cyrillic)#Allography, letter El (Л л) closely resembles the Greek letter lambda (Λ λ). Consonant letters represent both "soft" (Palatalization (phonetics), palatalized, represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet, IPA with a ) and "hard" consonant phonemes. 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 } or "soft" consonants }; see #Vowels, below. A soft sign indicates 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: are always hard; are always soft. See Russian phonology for details.


The frequency of characters in a Text corpus, corpus of written Russian was found to be as follows:

Non-vocalized letters

Hard sign

The hard sign () acts like a "silent back vowel" that separates a succeeding "soft vowel" (, but not ) from a preceding consonant, invoking implicit iotation#Iotified vowels, iotation of the vowel with a distinct glide. Today it is used mostly to separate a prefix ending with a hard consonant from the following Root (linguistics), root. Its original pronunciation, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short middle schwa-like sound, likely pronounced or . Until Reforms of Russian orthography, 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 . While is also a soft vowel, root-initial following a hard consonant is typically pronounced as . This is normally spelled (the hard counterpart to ) unless this vowel occurs at the beginning of a word, in which case it remains . An alternation between the two letters (but not the sounds) can be seen with the pair ('without name', which is pronounced ) and ('nameless', which is pronounced ). This spelling convention, however, is not applied with certain loaned prefixes such as in the word – , 'Pan-Islamism') and compound (multi-root) words (e.g. – , 'high treason').

Soft sign

The soft sign () in most positions acts like a "silent front vowel" and indicates that the preceding consonant is Palatalization (phonetics), palatalized (except for always-hard ) and the following vowel (if present) is iotated (including in loans). This is important as palatalization is phonemic in Russian. For example, ('brother') contrasts with ('to take'). The original pronunciation of the soft sign, lost by 1400 at the latest, was that of a very short fronted reduced vowel but likely pronounced or . 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 and ('Mary'). When applied after Stem (linguistics), stem-final always-soft (, but not ) or always-hard (, but not ) consonants, the soft sign does not alter pronunciation, but has grammatical significance: *the feminine marker for singular nouns in the nominative and accusative; e.g. ('India ink', feminine) cf. ('flourish after a toast', masculine) – both pronounced ; *the imperative mood for some verbs; *the infinitives of some verbs (with ending); *the second person for non-past verbs (with ending); *some adverbs and particles.


Some of the vowels, , indicate a preceding Palatalization (phonetics), palatalized consonant and with the exception of are iotated (pronounced with a preceding ) when written at the beginning of a word or following another vowel (initial was iotated until the nineteenth century). The IPA vowels shown are a guideline only and sometimes are realized as different sounds, particularly when unstressed. However, may be used in words of foreign origin without palatalization (), and is often realized as between soft consonants, such as in ('toy ball'). 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 ; Modern Russian ('rock'). Its written form developed as follows: + → → . was introduced in 1708 to distinguish the non-iotated/non-palatalizing from the iotated/palatalizing one. The original usage had been for the un-iotated , or for the iotated, but had dropped out of use by the sixteenth century. In native Russian words, is found only at the beginnings of a few words 'this (is) (m./f./n.)', 'these', 'what a', 'that way', 'sort of', and interjections like 'hey') or in compound words (e.g. 'therefore' = + , where is the dative case of ). In words that come from foreign languages in which iotated is uncommon or nonexistent (such as English), is usually written in the beginning of words and after vowels except (e.g. , 'poet'), and after and consonants. However, the pronunciation is inconsistent. Many of these borrowed words, especially monosyllables, words ending in and many words where follows , , , , or , are pronounced with without palatalization or iotation: (''seks'' — 'sex'), (''proekt'' — 'project'; in this example, the spelling is etymological but the pronunciation is counter-etymological). But many other words are pronounced with : (''syekta'' — 'sect'), (''dyebyut'' — 'debut'). Proper names are sometimes written with after consonants: — 'Sam', — 'Pamela', — 'Mao Zedong'; the use of after consonants is common in East Asian names and in English names with the sounds and , with some exceptions such as ('Jack') and ('Shannon'), since both and , in cases of ("zhe"), ("she") and ("tse"), follow consonants that are always hard (non-palatalized), yet usually prevails in writing. , introduced by Nikolay Karamzin, Karamzin in 1797 and made official in 1943 by the Ministry of Education (Soviet Union), Soviet Ministry of Education, marks a sound that historically developed from stressed . The written letter is optional; it is formally correct to write for both and . None of the several attempts in the twentieth century to mandate the use of have stuck.

Letters in disuse by 1750

and derived from Greek letters Xi (letter), xi and Psi (letter), psi, used etymologically though inconsistently in secular writing until the eighteenth century, and more consistently to the present day in Church Slavonic. is the Greek letter omega, identical in pronunciation to , used in secular writing until the eighteenth century, but to the present day in Church Slavonic, mostly to distinguish inflexional forms otherwise written identically. corresponded to a more archaic 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 language, Macedonian to the present day. The yuses and , letters that originally used to stand for nasalized vowels and , had become, according to linguistic reconstruction, irrelevant for East Slavic phonology already at the beginning of the historical period, but were introduced along with the rest of the Cyrillic script. The letters and had largely vanished by the twelfth century. The uniotated continued to be used, etymologically, until the sixteenth century. Thereafter it was restricted to being a dominical letter in the Easter, Paschal tables. The seventeenth-century usage of and (see next note) survives in contemporary Church Slavonic, and the sounds (but not the letters) in Polish language, Polish. The letter was adapted to represent the iotated in the middle or end of a word; the modern letter is an adaptation of its cursive form of the seventeenth century, enshrined by the Reforms of Russian orthography, typographical reform of 1708. Until 1708, the iotated was written Iotified A, at the beginning of a word. This distinction between and survives in Church Slavonic. Although it is usually stated that the letters labelled "fallen into disuse by the eighteenth century" 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 I of Russia, Peter's edict, along with the letters (replaced by ), , and (the diacriticized letter was also removed), but were reinstated except and 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 , , and ; however, 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 the Great, Peter as the Anti-Christ. 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 "Low Style" and "Medium 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.

Letters eliminated in 1918

Treatment of foreign sounds

Because Russian borrows terms from other languages, there are various conventions for sounds not present in Russian. For example, while Russian has no , there are a number of common words (particularly proper nouns) borrowed from languages like English language, English and German language, German that contain such a sound in the original language. In well-established terms, such as ('hallucination'), this is written with and pronounced with , while newer terms use , pronounced with , such as ('hobby'). Similarly, words originally with in their source language are either pronounced with , as in the name ('Thelma') or, if borrowed early enough, with or , as in the names ('Theodore (name), Theodore') and ('Matthew (name), Matthew'). For the affricate, which is common in the Asian countries that were part of the Russian Empire and the USSR, the letter combination is used: this is often transliterated into English either as or the Dutch language, Dutch form .

Numeric values

The numerical values correspond to the Greek numerals, with being used for digamma, for qoppa, koppa, and 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 Arabic numerals#Adoption in Russia, Hindu-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: 'mark of stress'), which marks stress (linguistics), stress on a vowel, as it is done in Spanish and Greek. Although Russian word stress is often unpredictable and can fall on different syllables in different forms of the same word, the diacritic 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, 'castle' vs. 'lock'). Rarely, it is used to specify the stress in uncommon foreign words and in poems with unusual stress used to fit the meter. Unicode has no code points for the accented letters; they are instead produced by suffixing the unaccented letter with . The letter is a special variant of the letter , which is not always distinguished in written Russian, but the diaeresis (diacritic), umlaut-like sign has no other uses. Stress on this letter is never marked, as it is always stressed except in some loanwords. Unlike the case of , the letter has completely separated from . It 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.

Keyboard layout

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

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. ', ', ', ', ' 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. Here is one such attempt to "decode" the message: 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, "" ("rest" or "apartment") does not mean "the Universe", and "" 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 – "" ("worm"), which, however, was not included in the "translation".

See also

*Bulgarian alphabet *Computer russification *Cyrillic alphabets *Cyrillic script *Euro-Ukrainian alphabet *Greek alphabet *Montenegrin alphabet *List of Cyrillic digraphs and trigraphs *Reforms of Russian orthography *Romanization of Belarusian *Romanization of Bulgarian *Romanization of Greek *Romanization of Macedonian *Romanization of Russian *Romanization of Ukrainian *Russian Braille *Russian cursive (handwritten letters) *Russian manual alphabet *Russian Morse code *Russian orthography *Russian phonology *Scientific transliteration of Cyrillic *Serbian Cyrillic alphabet *Yoficator




*Ivan G. Iliev. Kurze Geschichte des kyrillischen Alphabets. Plovdiv. 2015

*Ivan G. Iliev. Short History of the Cyrillic Alphabet

* * * * * {{DEFAULTSORT:Russian Alphabet Russian language, Alphabet Cyrillic alphabets Russian-language computing, Alphabet de:Kyrillisches Alphabet#Russisch