е vs и

Can anyone tell me if there is a rule concerning these two letters that are found in words. I seem to mix them up an awful lot and am looking for something to help me remember which to use where. TIA!

November 18, 2015


I do not see a huge problem here if you are a foreign learner. You learn the words from their spelling in the first place.

Е is pronounced similar to "e" in "yes" after a consonant (it also palatalizes the consonant, making your tongue rise). Or, if starts a word or is after a vowel, the letter is pronounced as "ye" in "yes".

И is pronounced as "ee" in "see".

In an unstressed syllable both sound the same, and closer to И than to E (think of "i" in "lip"). So you cannot spell unstressed syllables with И (or А) according to what you hear—on a bright side, У retains "ooh"-like quality even without a stress.

The stem of the word should be memorized anyway. As for the endings, they follow their own pattern which is mostly independent from stresse, i.e. в столе́ and в па́рке both use Prepositional and both have Е evren though the stress is different. читаешь and поёшь are both forms of Е-conjugation (most verbs in personal forms will go either ю(у) - ешь -ет- ем- ете-ют (ут) or ю(у)- ишь - ит - им - ите - ят (ат)).

Spelling is way more complicated for a native speaker who already knows about 5000 words by ear when they start school, and quickly increases their vocabulary to 10-12 thousand by the age of ten. The only advantage is, a native speaker can and will read more in their language, and has a chance to brute-force memorize what correct spelling and punctuation look like when in a published book.

You might want to change the wording here:

Е is pronounced similar to "e" in "yes", or (if it is on its own) "ye" in "yes". И is pronounced as "ee" in "see".

Saying that Е is similar to "e" in "yes" one way and similar to "ye" in "yes" could be confusing. I don't know about other people, but "e" in "yes" indicates the "yeh" sound to me.

"yeh" is one of the pronunciations the letter has. For example, that's what you here in есть.

Right, but the way you said it could indicate that it's always "yeh". That's how I would read it if I didn't know any better.

As someone who grew up in a Russian-speaking family but not in Russia... spelling is really hard because I always mix up и and е, (especially in мы conjugations) and sometimes я can sound like е when not stressed, and it's especially hard when you're just used to the speech sounds (like me) that don't necessarily reflect spelling 100% accurately.

There are probably some rules that I don't know of, but like in English, more practice with the words will help you memorize their spelling, even if they aren't spelled exactly as they're pronounced.

There aren't any clear rules on when to use each one. You'll have to memorize them as you go along.

The difference between е and и is that the first one is "yeh" and the second is "ee", although the Russian letter е can reduce to an "ee" sound if it is not stressed. That's probably what's confusing you.

As you hear the word, try to look at its spelling as well. That is the one thing that helps the most when you have to distinguish between the vowels. But both of them are common, and I'm sure you'll catch on to some patterns eventually if you do this enough.

"although the Russian letter е can reduce to an "ee" sound if it is not stressed. That's probably what's confusing you." This. Exactly. And I am working on learning spelling, just hoped there were already some patterns I could work off of.

There aren't anry. You'll just need to memorize spelling and work out pronunciation from there.

Oh, there are certainly rules for that and other pairs of vowels (and consonants, mind you). I believe in English it is called Apophony or Ablaut. That's what Russian children spend several years on at school.

You should really get some textbook, where the topic is structured nicely, it's not very easy to just type it all here.

The simplest and obvious case: if syllable is stressed, then you write the vowel as you hear it. If it's unstressed - you should know the spelling of the word's base form and some rule that can be applied here. If the syllable is unstressed in the base form, you should check the dictionary.

Thanks! I looked up Russian vowel rules and found this website, that explains a lot about how their vowels work and provides a couple of rules which make spelling a lot more sense.

Your link is rather about the pronunciation. Please, take a look at these:

And just to give you a taste of the rules, as they are given in a Russian reference (THE reference, I think, for it is the best known and most widely used one), here are the rules about vowels in the word root only : Some are pretty simple, but some require a lot of memorizing.

I think there must be some reference like this for foreign students. Have no idea how to find it, though.

I think, to make a similar reference for a foreign student, you first need to throw away everything that requires knowing the language, and assume that said student does not learn words from their pronunciation. I mean, why would anyone write росток with an "а"? Did you ever write "would of" instead of "would have" in English? Well, you should not :)

The resource in Russian contains a mix of useful information and some quick and dirty rules for schoolkids.

The said resource in Russian is a reference, not a teaching material. Obviously it won't be useful for a foreigner who knows just a bit of Russian.

And I don't believe you're absolutely right in presuming that everyone learns the language mostly by looking at words, not by hearing them. In many cases I, myself, had to rely on spoken words to learn some new phrases and even some concepts. On some other sites I see foreigners clearly trying to memorize words by ear (it shows in their spelling).

Anyway, the question, as I understood it, was about phonetic similarity and orthographic difference.

Are you being serious, calling Rosenthal's reference "a mix of useful information and some quick and dirty rules for schoolkids"?

It is important to understand that popular Rozenthal's publications are practical guides aimed primarily at people who have an intuitive grasp of the language and impressive vocabulary (of a kind only an advanced learner can match). Native speakers do not need theoretical information on why the spelling system is built like that: they need what one may call a set of "tricks" to spell most words correctly without consulting a dictionary. In that sense they are a teaching material: a way to learn correct spelling of words you can pronounce with as little effort as possible within the current system.

His guide on stylistics is immensely more useful for a foreigner because it actually concerns language, not just writing. As for spelling itself, I see two primary points that are universal in his reference:

  • spelling rules that always work the same, e.g., writing ша/жа and not шя/жя
  • generalization of spelling of certain words and roots

Anyway, sorry for engaging in this rather heated discussion which now starts to go downhill. I am just all to emotional when native speakers start citing rules they know, especially case questions (кто, кого, кому, кем..) and rules on how to determine a verb's conjugation class. I think I overreacted this time.

You are right in that the spelling reference, though raw, can be used as a base for something a foreign learner can use. It is just a bit difficult to pull off. I am trying to come up with additional information that a native speaker does not need but a foreigner does... there isn't a lot that springs to mind (apart from basic spelling rules covering velar and hush consonants).

Oh, I see. Clearly you misunderstood me. I never meant to tell the original poster to use Rosenthal's rules. Of course I understand that one should already know a lot in order to use them.

The original question was: "Can anyone tell me if there is a rule concerning these two letters". So the natural answer should be - yes there is, actually, there are more than one.

I also said that "I'm just giving a taste of what it looks like for us, native speakers" and mentioned those several years at school that we had learning Russian properly.

So, your emotional response is misplaced with me :) Let's hope the original poster didn't read my answer the same way you did.

е is always an "eh" sound, or "yeh" if it's stressed. и is always "ee".

ok, thanks. However, for example, доброе, is pronounced dob-roee. And I think there are other examples (I'll have to dig them up) where similar things happen.

It is not. There is not such word доброи. It is dob-ro-yeh.

Е can be pronounced close to и when it follows some consonants in an unstressed syllable, e.g. еле (hardly) (can be easily confused with ели (firs or ate)), весна (spring), нести (carry).

I think it can be learned only from experience.

Yes, I see that I didn't have the audio of доброе, so was getting confused with добрый which does have a distinctive ee sound at the end.

Agree with Alex, доброе is decidedly not pronounced with an ee sound at the end.

I agree with both of you.

another example is "где мoи дети?" is pronounced g'deh mаhyee diteh. дети does not have the same ending sound as мои here.

Maybe writing down the words/sentences you hear on Duo and studying them along w/ the audio would help. Treat the tough words just like "spelling words" at school--write them out several times and memorize them. FWIW, that's what I did at first and still do for particularly difficult words. Eventually you'll reach a "critical mass" of words/proficiency and then things will get easier.

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