|
Learning Russian Home Page Learning Russian Home Page
  grammar home  

Contents

 Phonetic System: Consonants

There are 21 consonant letters in the Russian alphabet. Almost all of them have their English approximations; but unlike English consonants, Russian ones have no aspiration and are not so energetically articulated.

Table #5

Russian Consonants and Their English Equivalents

Russian Consonant Letters

As occurs in English

     as in bit

     as v in vase

     as g in go

     as d in date

     as s in pleasure

     as z in zero

     as y in May

     as k in key

     as l in lion

     as m in money

     as n in no

     as p in post

     as r in rat

C

     as s in sell

T

     as t in tea

     as f in fat

     as ch in loch

     as ts in its

     as ch in cherry

     as sh in shop

     as shch in fresh cheese

21 consonant letters can represent 36 sounds in writing. This is because the Russian alphabet does not represent soft consonants with separate consonant letters.
The majority of Russian consonants can be pronounced hard(non-palatalized) or soft(palatalized). To palatalize a hard consonant, you should lift the middle part of your tongue toward the hard palate while pronouncing the sound. You can determine where your hard palate is by pronouncing the sound [j] like in "yes": it is where your tongue touches the upper jaw (cf sounds [n] and [n'] ( ' denotes palatalization).

The distribution of soft and hard Russian consonants is shown in the table below.

Table #6

Hard and Soft Consonants

Hard

                            

  

 

Soft

' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' ' '

 

' ' '

, , always sound hard and have no soft pair; , , always sound soft and have no hard pair. We'll tell you about these letters a bit later.


The softness of consonants is marked in writing with the help of the following letters: , , , , , - consonants are soft before them. Before the letters , , , , , consonants are always pronounced hard.

Table #7

Rules for Reading Hard-Soft Consonants

 

Letters

Pronunciation
of consonants

Examples

before

, , , , , 

hard

(friendship), (water),
(lips), (volume)

, , , , , 

soft

(forest), (aunt),
((I) love), (nine)

A learner must manage to pronounce every Russian consonant in both hard (which is easy) and soft (more difficult) forms correctly because the meaning of a word often depends on it: e.g.

(nose) - (he was carrying)
(onion) - (hatch)
(mother) - (to crumple)
((he)eats) - (to eat, to be)



There are 6 consonant letters that can sound only hard or only soft: , , , , , . Basic rules of their reading and writing are presented in the following tables.

Table #8

Rules for Reading Always Hard Consonants before Vowels

 

  

  

[]

[]

[]

[]

[]

[]

- -

note

-

[]

[]

[]

[]

[]

[]

- -

note

-

[]

[]

-

[]

[]

[]

[]

- - -

Table #9

Rules for Reading Always Soft Consonants before Vowels

 

  

  

  

[']

[']

[']

[']

[']

[']

- - - -

[']

[']

[']

[']

[']

[']

- - - -

-

[]

- -

[]

- - - -

[]

Note that consonant (also called semivowel) occurs only in combinations with vowels:
     a) + vowel: (iodine), (yoga);
     b) vowel + : (my), (tea), (blue), (white).


So, Russian consonants can be hard or soft. The majority of the consonants have both hard and soft variants of pronunciation and some of them are always hard or always soft. Table #10 sums up basic reading rules of hard and soft consonants.

Table #10

Rules for Reading Hard and Soft Consonants

Consonants

Hard

Soft



before 

before 

   (was)

   ((he) beat)

   (earth wall)

   (faded, flabby)

   (august)

   (money

   (lifting)

   (uncle)

   (roses)

   (winter adj.)

   (pharmacy)

   (cinema)

   (onion)

   (hatch)

   (mayor)

   (chalk)

   (new)

   (sky)

   (coat)

   (song)

   -(in Russian)

   ((I) speak)

   (congress)

   (sisters)

   (there)

   (to love)

   (wardrobes)

   (physics)

   (cold adv.)

   (verses)

 

   (magazine)
   (yellow)

------

   (hat),
    (silk)

   (street),
   (number)

------

   (hour)
   (to read)

   (pike)
   (still, yet)

   (iodine)
   (paranoia)

In addition to the "hard-soft" distinction, Russian consonants can be voiced or unvoiced as in English.

Table #11

Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants

Voiced

       

Unvoiced

         

There are quite a few pairs of voiced/unvoiced consonants in Russian, some unvoiced consonants have no voiced pair and some voiced ones have no unvoiced pair.

Let's consider the paired consonants first. There are twelve of them falling into six pairs:

-
-
-
-
-
-

Voiced English consonants stay voiced in the final position, while Russian consonants become devoiced at the end of a word, for example in ""(bread) the last voiced consonant is pronounced as unvoiced []. Sometimes it happens that words with different spelling sound alike: e.g.

[](clan) - [](mouth)
[](meadow) - [](onion)
[](eye) - [](vioce)

That is why, to distinguish the sense of words, it's important to know whether a voiced or an unvoiced consonant is used: e.g.

(bar)- (steam),
(year) - (cat),
(heat)- (ball),
(tooth) - (soup).

A voiced consonant may become devoiced also in the middle of a word if it is followed by a voiceless consonant, for example in ""(narrow) the voiced consonant sounds as devoiced [] because of the next unvoiced .
You can find the examples of devocalization (when a consonant is written voiced but pronounced voiceless) and vocalization (when a consonant is written voiceless but pronounced voiced) in the table below.

Table #12

Pronunciation of Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants

At the end of a word
and before unvoiced consonants

Before voiced consonants

Letter

Sound

Example

Letter

Sound

Example

[]

(mushroom)
(female dove)

[]

(soup was)

[]

(disposition)
(tomorrow)

[]

(Afghanistan)

[]

(syllable)
(claws n.)

[]

p(rucksack)

[]

(garden)
(boat)

[]

(football)

[]

(husband)
(spoon)

[]

(our home)

[]

(frost)
(narrow)

[]

c(shortening)


There are some combinations of consonants in Russian, which are pronounced not the same as written. One should know the words containing such combinations:

Table #13

How to Read Some Combinations of Consonants

Combination

Pronunciation

Examples

Combinations
with
unpronounceable
consonant

[]

   (holiday)

[]

   (heart)

[]

   (sun)

[]

   (stairs)

[]

   (feeling)

Other
combinations

[']

   (man)

   (cabman)

   (happiness)

[]

   (what)

[]

   (of course)

[]

   (in brief)

   (twenty)

[']

   (pilot, flyer)

   (reporter)

[]

   ((he) studies)

   (to study)

 

next    

grammar home

Learn Russian by E-mail

Copyright © 2000-2003, OK Network Laboratory
webmaster@learningrussian.com





Rambler's Top100