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Russian spelling is going to be hard!

I have always been good at spelling. My native danish plus english, german and french never really posed any problem for me. Russian on the other hand ... Oh dear! That is going to be a tough one! But I guess there's nothing wrong with a challenge :-)

Any of you seasoned russian learners who can give a little insight into this? Does it suddenly click or is it just a matter of seeing a lot of russian words again and again?

November 3, 2015



I learned by doing Memrise courses that required typing (you could also use their app, which is easier because it lets you tap them out and gives you the letters you need for that word). It does become intuitive quickly.

Some of the courses I used: http://www.memrise.com/course/78454/learn-basic-russian/


http://www.memrise.com/course/378212/duolingo-russian-full-audio/ (my own course, still in progress)


You see a pattern after a few days and it isn't too hard afterwards


Spelling is relatively intuitive with a few exceptions:

ь shows up a lot and until you get the hang of where it goes and in which words, it can be tricky...it's a bit like the silent "e" in English for first time English learners.

Between two vowels (and there are probably restrictions about which vowels, but I don't know that yet) г sounds more like "v" then "g". For example, его is more like "yeVOH" than "eGO"

(please correct me if I got any of this wrong!)


I think "г" sounds like "v" mostly in the endings (-ого, -его). E.g: Большого, синего, ничего, его. In other cases it is pronounced like "g": Огород, Егор, негодование. There is also a frequently used word - сегодня (today), which is pronounced with "v" (actually it came from the expression "сего дня", and "-его" was an ending).


The way o sounds like a is going to take a while to get used to!


In most dialects of Russian, <о> and <а> sound the same unless in a stressed syllable.

What I was taught:

  • stressed syllable: <о> → /o/, <а> → /a/

  • unstressed syllable, first in the word: <о>, <а> → /ʌ/

  • unstressed syllable, one before the stressed one: <о>, <а> → /ʌ/

  • any other unstressed syllable: <о>, <а> → /ə/


But how do you know if it should be stressed or not? Are there general rules? I've been studying Russian for months and I'm just memorizing how an "о" should be pronounced for each word.


There is a finite number of patterns. Which, by the way, why a dictionary (like the one at GRAMOTA.RU ) only shows you a stress for a small number of forms.

Adjectives and verbs are the easiest. Actually, full-form adjectives just never change stress at all. Verbs... In present tense only three options are there for a normal verb. Which boil down to two:

  • the stress is fixed on the stem or on the ending
  • 1st person singular is ending-stressed. Stress falls on the stem elsewhere. (люблю/любишь, любят...)

The past tense is more complicated: generally the stress is either on the stem or on the ending but quite a lot of verbs belong to small subtypes when the stress moves.


Welcome to Russian :)

Stress can shift from one syllable to another just when putting a noun into a different case....


Not just different cases, even when you conjugate a word like Я могу to Ты можешь, the O changes. Or sometimes when you make it plural like from стол to столы.


Yes, that's a tricky one.


Russian spelling is MUCH easier than English spelling. Keep at it and it will probably click in a few days. If you like, look around for lessons online. Chapter 1 of this book presents more than you need to know at this point (it's easier to read if you download it). Or go through the beginning of one of these courses FAST Russian, Peace Corps Kazahstan Russian (lesson 2). In any case, it is not hard at all, with a little work.


If you mean simply learning Cyrillic it will only take 1-2 weeks to have a basic competency with the alphabet, as long as you practice writing (and I suggest you practice the cursive forms since this is how Russians write and it can be hard to read at first).

Russian spelling is not as phonetic as some say but if French and English give you no trouble then Russian certainly won't.


Just a matter of getting used to it. Writing a crapload in Russian will help a lot.


I'm going to state the obvious here and say that reading a lot of text is key at helping you learn the spelling. Writing is of course a no-brainer, but it is challenging. You can learn to write in beautiful Russian cursive using this (animated): http://www.russianforeveryone.com/RufeA/Lessons/Introduction/Alphabet/Alphabet.htm


Once you get used to the alphabet Russian is actually easier than English, most words are spelt how they sound in Russian. Some exemptions are 'ого' when found in a word this usually sounds like 'ovo' instead of 'ogo'

If you are stuck on spelling a particular word I find st hand writing it several times makes it easier to remember. I just write in printed form, not in Russian handwriting form which is different. And even when writing printed form some of the letters change slightly to make it easier to write. I couldn't find a picture, but the letters that are slightly different when you write them are ш щ ц д ж л

Л for example can be drawn as just a triangle with missing bottom. Д as a triangle with little legs Ш like a w with a tail pointing upwards Щ like a w with the tail going down Ц like a u with a tail up and down (hard to explain)

The rest are written in printed form exactly the same as they appear on the keyboard, and Russian handwriting (cursive) is completely different :D


What you mentioned about -ого/-его only affects adjectival endings (the adjectival pattern is also followed by participles, some pronouns and numbers), form его and the word сегодня. You may consider it a traditional spelling: it is hard to justify the spelling in modern Russian.

For Л and Д it is pretty natural to have a pointy top because it is their default shape (they come from Λ and Δ). Some of the old-fashioned fonts do have it. In some of them the tops are even shaped a bit different, though in modern fonts they'll mostly match.

К might be a little different from the Latin one to be a more suitable base for the design of Ж. Given that an LCD display is "ЖК-монитор", I think it is wise to make these two letters look good together ;)


Yeah, I have the same problem. I'm doing each lesson like 4-5 times to get the spelling to engrave into my brain.

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