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Vowels In Depth

Now let's review the vowels!! Russian has the concept of Hard vowels and Soft vowels.

A hard vowel is a regular vowel sound. It is also called a "palatalized" vowel because pronouncing it requires your tongue to be near your palette (the roof of your mouth).

The Soft vowels all start with a "Y" sound (except for one).

Hard Vowels
The 5 Hard vowels are:

А а, Э э, Ы ы, О о, У у

А а

This is always pronounced like English 'ah'

Э э

Ы ы
'Y y'

No English equivalent. Try to say 'OY' but with lips rounded and somewhat tensed.

О о

Like English 'O', but round the lips to sound almost like English 'AW' in one syllable. If the syllable it occurs in is unstressed, then it 'O' is pronounced like 'A' , (AH).

У у

This is a vowel sound, resembling English 'OOH'

Soft Vowels
The 5 Soft vowels are:

Я я, Е е, Ё ё, Ю ю, И и,

Except for the last one these are all known as "Iotized" vowels (that's pronounced "yotized" with a "y") since they all start with the English "Y" sound.

Я я

The last letter of the Russian alphabet and also the first person pronoun "I".

Е е
'YE' as in English "Yes"

Ё ё
'YO', but remember the Russian O sound is not exactly like English O.

Ю ю
'YOO' Like English "you"

И и

The exact pronunciation of this vowel is kind of in flux in Russian. It is the only soft vowel that is usually not Iotized.

Usually: English long e sound, as in "Eat"

Sometimes: The й variant of и only occurs after consonants and other vowels; never at the beginning of a word. It is not pronounced at all after u and ы, but just lengthens the vowel sound before it.

A minor exception: the first letter of the pronouns им, ими and их is pronounced with the й sound.