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Is there a rule of thumb for the pronunciation of О?

As in when to pronounce it as O, when as A and when as that weird sound in between the 2.

November 10, 2015



Only one syllable is given stress in any Russian word. If the 'o' is in the stressed position, it sounds like 'oh' (although it's a shorter, more crisp 'oh' with rounded lips, not the long dipthongy 'o-oh' that we tend to do in English). If the 'o' is one stress to the left of the stressed syllable, it sounds like 'ah'. If the 'o' is in any syllable further away from the stressed syllable, or anywhere after the stressed syllable, it sounds like schwa ('uh').

я́блоко = YAH-bluh-kuh

окно́ = ahk-NOH

молоко́ = мuh-lah-KOH


Thanks for clearing it up!


Is the 'o' with an 'ah' sound the same pronunciation as the Russian 'а'? Or is there a slight difference?


A bit different. Look at greenq's answer above for the correct IPA transcriptions. Russian 'а' is usually [a]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_central_unrounded_vowel

Russian 'о' is never [a], only [o], [ɐ], or [ə]. However, the Russian 'а' also reduces in unaccented positions, so in the immediate pre-stress position, both 'о' and 'а' sound like [ɐ] and in other unaccented positions both 'о' and 'а' sound like [ə].

Another example:

голова = [ɡəɫ̪ɐˈva]

Listen to the difference: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Ru-%D0%B3%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0.ogg

Just remember it's vowel reduction. The further away from the stress and anywhere after the stress, the more reduced the sound will be (generally). It happens with all of the vowels to some extent. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_phonology


I believe it only ever sounds like o in the stressed syllable of a word. I'm not sure how it behaves when there is a secondary stress.

It sounds like uh in other positions except in the syllable just before the stress, where it sounds like ah.

Ё always sounds like yo because it is always stressed.


The sound for the Russian letter o is stressed as draquila mentioned. Think of this as if you pronounce the word or. That might help. ;)


Just to let everybody know, stressed "O" is pronounced with subtle "W" at the beginning of the sound. But don't mess with this at the beginning of your russian course lest it should add more complication. If you pronounce words with no vowel reduction at least they will be intelligible all the way.


Oh, thanks. My Russian friend also said that if there's a stressed O, you can kinda omit the rest of the vowels in pronunciation.


There are regions and dialects where every O is pronounced like 'oh'. https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9E%D0%BA%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%8C%D0%B5

But for most it sounds kinda weird and funny.


Pronouncing O like O doesn't sound that unreasonable to me.


Since when reason has anything to do with pronunciation? :)

But seriously this "okanye" is usually perceived as a property of a rural, not-so-well-educated people ("деревенщина").

But on the other hand, if your goal is not to sound like an average Russian, but to simply make yourself understood, you can pretty much just read vowels for what they are, just know when the preceding consonant is softened and when е, ё, ю, я start with j-sound (first letter of the word, after a vowel and after Ь and Ъ) and when not (all other cases), and you're all set up. You will sound a bit unnatural (you will anyway) but you will be perfectly understood.

I, for the life of me, can't tell the difference between English mAn and mEn (mind you, I have good ear!) and I'm fine :)

I think that stresses are much more important than the difference between oh, ah and uh sounds.

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