September 3, 2019 100

Hard and Soft Consonants in Russian

Hard and Soft Consonants in Russian

The Russian sound system is pretty
different from that of English, and in this video let’s talk about one of the
most important differences – that is that most Russian consonants come in pairs:
soft and hard, or, as they’re often called, palatalized and non palatalized. So from
the English speaker’s point of view, it might seem that there are two kinds of N,
two kinds of L, and so on. So what’s the difference between hard
and soft consonants? Let’s look at the position of the tongue in these images.
To articulate a hard Russian [n], I’ll press the tip of my tongue against the
back of my front teeth; you can see how the rest of my tongue is in a fairly
neutral position – it’s not raised up, it’s fairly relaxed. To pronounce a soft [n],
I’ll press the tip of my tongue up against the front teeth, as for the other
one, but at the same time I’ll also raise the blade of my tongue up towards the
roof of my mouth. Some might say it’s a little bit like an
N with a Y or a [y] sound following it, as an English “onion.” But I want to be
clear here that this is not two consecutive sounds – not a [n] followed by a
[y], it’s really just a single sound [n̡]. And in the Russian sound system, this
hard [n] and soft [n̡] are considered two completely separate sounds. And
Russian has two sets of consonants, then: hard (or non palatalized); and soft (or
palatalized), that are pronounced with the tongue raised towards the roof of your
mouth. Again, so we have hard [n] and soft [n̡]; hard [d], soft [d̡]; hard [t], soft [t̡];
hard [l], soft [l̡]; hard [s], soft [s̡]; hard [z], soft [z̡]; and other pairs like these. A there’s
just a handful of exceptions to these: there are three consonants that are
always hard ж, ш, and ц; and there are two more that are always pronounced as
soft consonants: щ and ч. So how do we distinguish in spelling between the
hard and the soft consonants? Russian doesn’t have separate letters for
each of the hard and soft consonants so we’ll need a different kind of system.
Well there’s a letter called the “soft sign” or мягкий знак. It has no sound of
its own – it just shows that the consonant before it is soft. So we’ll use this soft
sign if the soft consonant is at the end of the word – вонь, мать – or if the soft
consonant comes before another consonant – только, свадьба. In these examples we know
that the consonants highlighted in green are soft because they’re followed by the
soft sign. So if we can use the soft sign at the end of a word, or before another
consonant, what about before a vowel? What if the soft consonant is followed by a
vowel? Well there’s an interesting trick here to show that a consonant is soft
before a vowel. We won’t use a special letter for the consonant itself. Instead,
we’ll use one of these five vowel letters. The names of the letters are
я, е, и, ё, and ю, and when you see any of these after a consonant,
they don’t just signify a vowel sound, but they also show that that preceding
consonant is soft. Let’s look at some examples: ня, не, ни, нё, ню. So these
vowel letters show that the [n̡] sounds before them are soft. Now some people
call these letters soft vowels, but I don’t recommend that term because the
vowel sounds themselves are not soft. Rather, these vowel letters show that the
preceding consonant is soft. That’s a really important distinction to to be
clear on from the beginning. And to write a hard consonant before vowel use one of
these vowel letters а, э, ы, о, and у. So here’s how we can
write a hard [n] before these vowel sounds: на, нэ, ны, но, ну. Let’s look at some examples. на няня НЭП нет лыс лис мода мёд лук люблю Let’s review with a little exercise.
Let’s look at some words and see if we can determine which consonants are hard
and which ones are soft. Look carefully at the vowel letters that are following the
consonants, because they’re going to be your clue as to whether that consonant
is hard or soft. Pause the video if you like, and then I’ll add color blue for
hard, green for soft. Let’s begin. волк Well, we know the first letter в must be
hard because of the letter О that follows it. The к is also hard because
it’s at the end of the word and there’s no soft sign following. The л is also
hard, because it’s followed by a consonant but there’s no soft sign that
follows it either. утюг We know the letter т must be soft before the
letter ю, and we know that that г at the end of the word must be hard because
there’s no soft sign that follows it. тюлени – here all the consonants are soft.
The letter ю tells us that that т is soft; the letter е tells us that the л
is soft and the letter и tells us that the н is soft. зеркало – here the letter е tells us that that first consonant is soft; the
letter а tells us that that к is hard; and the letter O
tells us that that л is also hard. говори – the letter O shows that the г and the
в are both hard, and the letter и shows that the р is soft. So why does all
this matter so much? A couple of reasons: first of all, pronunciation. Soft and hard
consonants are distinct sounds in Russian and the meaning of a word may
depend on whether a given consonant is hard or soft. Here’s an example брат,
brother, versus брать, to take. So be sure to distinguish between soft and hard
consonants for a really natural Russian accent. And spelling is another reason to
get comfortable with these concepts, because when you go on to learn about
adding endings, the spelling of an ending will often depend on whether the stem of
the word ends in a soft or a hard consonant. For example, if a word has a
hard stem like студент, an ending that sounds like [a] will be spelled like this,
and for a noun with the soft stem like учитель, that ending will be spelled
with the letter я, because the letter я shows that that proceeding л is
soft. And that’s why you’ll often see endings given in pairs. Usually the one
on the left is for stems that end in a hard consonant like студент, and the
second one for stems ending in a soft consonant like учитель. So this
really is an essential concept. Let’s sum up then. Most Russian consonants come in
hard and soft pairs. Soft consonants are pronounced with the tongue raised
towards the palate (the roof of your mouth). A couple of exceptions: ж, ш, and
ц are always pronounced hard; but ч and щ are always soft. How do you spell a soft consonant at the
end of a word or before another consonant? Use the мягкий знак, the soft
sign. Before a vowel sound, use one of these vowel letters: я, е, и, ё, ю. To write a hard consonant before a vowel sound use one of these vowel
letters а, э, ы, о, or у. And at the end of a word or before a consonant, you
don’t need to do anything just write the consonant and it will be assumed that
it’s hard if there’s no soft sign. Again, this contrast of hard and soft
consonants is a central concept in Russian, so please don’t skip over this
or think “well, it’s a detail of pronunciation that I’ll get back to
later.” You’ll be applying these concepts all the time, so it really is an
essential part of your foundation for learning Russian

100 Replies to “Hard and Soft Consonants in Russian”

  • armodudegiantfan says:

    Thank you! That was a great video! One question. If "ш" is always a hard consonant, why is there a soft sign after it in the present tense you informal conjugation? For example, ты делаешь, хочешь, живёшь, etc. Is it just a spelling rule? Did it used to not only be a hard consonant? Thank you!

  • sara c says:

    Hi, that's a really good video! Good job 🙂
    But, I have to say that I didn't understand the last part when you talk about why these signs are important, in particular the one about the spelling 🙂 could you please explain me this one? It would be amazing, thanks! 🙂

  • Kelsey B says:

    I'm wondering if anyone would be interested in adding me on skype video/audio so I could get critiqued and advised on my pronunciation for with some phrases and vocabulary words. The differences seem subtle as mentioned, but I think I understand it (in theory) but I'm not sure if I'm actually differentiating it when I speak… I'm hoping to converse with anyone so I can practice it myself and hear it from whomever! Leave a comment please if you wouldn't mind one or two sessions (or more if you're awesome)!  Thanks

  • Russian grammar says:

    Answering Sara below (youtube isn't showing me a reply button by her comment): Very often we'll need to add various types of endings to Russian nouns. These endings will either be, or start with, vowel sounds; but there are basically two ways to spell each basic vowel sound. One set of vowel letters is used after hard consonants: а, э, ы, о, and у all show that a preceding consonant is hard. Other vowel letters (я, е, и, ё, ю) show that a preceding consonant is soft. For example, how do we add an ending that sounds like 'u' (as in food, suit, rude) to words like студент or учитель?  Студент ends in a hard consonant, so we'll spell the ending with the letter у, which can be used after hard consonants. Учитель ends in a soft consonant, so adding -у won't work; instead, we'll use the letter -ю, which can follow soft consonants: учителю.  Is this what you were wondering about? Feel free to post follow-up questions!

  • dmacdougall61 says:

    Thank you so much. This was super clear and helpful

  • Brian Lewis says:

    Weetje, dit flimpje is heel goed. Dank U wel hiervoor

  • Fastest Sloth says:

    Any tips on how to pronounce the hard and soft consonants? I am still struggling a lot.

  • Red Construct says:

    Ч = palatalized Ц.
    Щ = palatalized Ш.

  • Russian grammar says:

    Responding to Artjom, below: it's true that ч and щ always palatalized, and ц and ш are unpalatalized; but there are other differences between them as well. Ц is closer to 'ts' in English 'hats' – it's been described in Russian as альвеолярная, апикальная (alveolar, apical), and ч is more like 'ch' in English 'cheese' – альвео-палатальная, ламинальная (alveo-palatal, laminal). Ш and щ are more similar to each other (except for palatalization!); many also describe щ as typically held a bit longer than ш.

  • agustinlautaro says:

    ¡Excelente video! Muy bien explicado. Muchas gracias.

  • Ruxxey says:

    This is such a good tutorial!
    Thank you so much!

  • owtena says:

    I'm Russian, what am I doing here? :DDDD
    But it's funny to watch. Never thought about consonants and how to explain correct pronunciation 😀
    Wow! It's looks really complicated :DDD

  • Starfighter9397 says:

    You sir are awesome!! What a great lesson! Thank you!

  • Burak Kaymakci says:

    I appreciate your videos, they helped me a lot! Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • Человек Равнодушный says:

    Забавно посмотреть:-):-) Я из Питера и знаете что? Меня в детстве очень бесило' что во многих местах вместо э мы пишем е: Интернет' тест' аннексия и т' д'

  • Человек Равнодушный says:


  • Kartik Tripathi says:

    This was immensely helpful, none of the instructions in my self-study books were quite as lucid. Thanks for uploading this! 🙂

  • Robert Andersson says:

    Thank you very much for making this video, now I understand hard and soft consonants. Благодарю!

  • AlephNeil says:

    So when you have second person singular endings that look like шь (as in знаешь) do you just pronounce it "знаещ"?

  • Николай Викторович says:

    I like to utter Жюль with soft Ж 🙂 Am I one so queer?

  • Destry Petrov says:

    It is said that Russian isn't aspirated as is English but I can't go one video without hearing a breathy 'T' or 'P' sound at the end of a word. It's not a simple 'T' like Spanish, it is heavily aspirated in Russian. Why can't it be like Ukrainian, where not as many letters are softened? You can't tell me that Russian isn't an aspirated language because I hear it ALL THE TIME.

  • Николай Викторович says:

    Look at this name: Цюрупа (with soft ц)

  • Ted Riggs says:

    A very helpful introduction to soft consonants. I mastered "ль" a long time ago, but never really understood how to make any of the other consonants soft. I didn't realize that the physical movement required to make "ль" is the same for all the others.

  • Mike M says:

    what about the 'p'at 6:00. It has no color?

  • anarxist95 says:

    А вы когда учили русский язык, в одиночку или занимались с кем-то? Вам легко было или трудно? Я вот хочу стать программистом, а без английского никак, я сам человек не богатый, потому пытаюсь выучить в одиночку английский язык, но мне очень трудно и сложно, особенно ваши эти 2 звука TH, ну это чтоб выговаривать..

  • Ladyy Cartman says:

    Fantastic video, so useful! Thank you so much!

  • Sneha Pawar says:

    it was so helpful
    thanku so much for posting it

  • Ekatérina Altagraçia says:

    Dang, брат and брать sound exactly the same to me T_T

    In fact… to me hard "t, s, and z" and soft "t, s, and z" sound exactly the same, while soft "l" sounded like an "i" to me DX

  • Thinking Emoji says:

    Now I know how to say Mayonez correctly

  • Takuro Ioka says:

    Why the ''р'' of the word, ''зеркало'' , is not hard?
    ''p'' does not have soft sign.

  • baller84milw says:

    Soft "n" sounds like a "m."

  • Reaver says:

    I've been trying to learn Russian for over a year but there's just so much to memorise to me it felt like English was so easy but Russian just seems so much more complicated.

  • Ivan Savvine says:

    a number of these statements are incorrect and misleading.

  • Jupiter Light says:

    thanks for the great videos

  • Haohmaru HL says:

    Dunno how I ended up on this part of youtube at 2am watching russian lessons while being russian myself. But I stayed and still had a blast watching your videos because at this point being an adult for me russian language just works and I never think about how or why it works. If people would have asked me why this or why that I would have problems trying to explain it, lol. So you actually helped me remember some rules and other things. You teach very well and your lessons are so comprehensive. Beats me why you don't have much more subs. Nice job!

  • Kurt Pilsen says:

    Wow, this really helped me. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  • Lauren McGrath says:

    if you're able to read russian doesn't a constant being followed by a soft vowel automatically make you say the consonant as soft anyways? for example say the consonant В is followed by 'E' you automatically have to make it sound like ВYE thus making the B sound emphasized/soft anyways?

  • Ameretat Reith says:

    thanks! that was very helpful. do you know a document, video or picture depicting shape of tongue in all softened consonants? the one you showed here is current for N but judging by other videos and common sense it looks many other consonants should be pronounced in another way.

  • Mr.Dave1980 says:

    exellent! really helpfull!

  • Vladimirs S says:

    And another tricky part is with some double consonants.
    In "ст", "сд", "зд", "нт", "нд", "нч" and "нщ" first consonant always follows the second in softness/hardness (as it was said "ч" and "щ" are always soft):
    стяг [с'т'яг] – стог [стог]
    сдать [сдат'] – сделать [с'д'елат']
    здесь [з'д'ес'] – здание [здан'ие]
    квинта [кв'инта] – квинтет[кв'ин'т'ет]
    кандалы [кандалы] – кандидат [кан'д'идат]
    пончик [пон'ч'ик]
    гонщик [гон'щ'ик]

  • shiv Itwaru says:

    Прямая и косвенная речь, I am guessing alot of people would be happy if u made a video on this topic.

  • Ynysmitwr says:

    Very interesting video. Just one problem, however. The way you say "hard [n]" makes it sound like "hard [m]" (to my ear, at least)!

  • abcaines says:

    Mind. Blown.

  • Diebolt Myriam says:

    Can you explain what is a : stressed syllable?

  • _casual_bookworm_ says:

    Finally!! I'm planning on studying abroad in a year or two, and I could not get an understandable explanation of the hard and soft deal. Thank you!!

  • jopo2122 says:

    I still have a lot of trouble with the soft sign especially in words that have "ль" in it.. Please, more tips on how to pronounce it clearly and be able to recognize the difference?

  • Ирина Смирнова says:

    Прекрасный учитель! Очень хорошее объяснение!

  • Oscar Tártalo says:

    Very useful. I understood many things. Thank you very much!.

  • Paul E. says:


  • Ange vdw says:

    I think I've watched too many clips. I'm so confused 😕 I know the Alphabet and I can count to ten 🤣 but I'm lost on the rest. Should I just start building a vocabulary or do I need to start with grammar now because it's confusing!

  • figvlogs says:

    I'm having difficulty pronouncing the difference between ест and есть. I've nailed ест but I still have a lot of trouble saying есть. It sounds like Russian speakers sort of say the "ch" sound at the end of есть.

  • J Ro says:

    I'm really interested in Russian, but what are people who don't even like grammar in their native language supposed to do!? I get by with English because the grammar comes naturally and I don't really have to know all of the different names for everything. Russian grammar is crazy! Are there two sets of vowels?

  • Patrick Edgington says:

    how do you know if the o is an oa sound or an aw sound example given at 5:58

  • Bennimus Netzer says:

    Я учу русский язык, но я хочу говорить с другими студентами. Как дела?

  • Learn Russian Online With Eugene says:

    Отличное видео. Для тех, кто говорит по-английски, подходит идеально.

  • Learn Russian Online With Eugene says:

    Very good video, by the way. Almost every English speaking student faces the problem of hard /soft consonants, at least in my teaching experience. Although there are plenty of exercises, it's still hard for them to master this phonetic aspect. I showed this video to one of my students and he was like, ' oh, right, I know this stuff, but I still CAN'T do that!'. I am convinced that to some extent the knowledge can help, but only everyday practice will help them to overcome the difficulty. Anyway, thanks for such a useful content.

  • neks says:

    What happened to the example "зеркало", what happened to the r letter? Isn't it consonant, hard one?

  • Y Shal says:

    Could you possibly make a video about the nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative and vocative (if the Russian language has these) noun and adjective forms and give examples like you did at 7:36 for each case?

  • Robert Andersson says:

    Thank you!

  • Notna Никип says:

    You have not pronounced ль сь at all

  • Eve Dov says:

    What a great resource! Thank you so much!

  • Zachary Montana says:

    Очень хорошо! 😁 Спасибо!

  • Anne-Marie T'Sas says:

    Very clear!!! Thank you!

  • Shadowrealmbeast says:

    How do you tell if the "О" letter makes the "О sound" or the "А sound"?

  • Lttl Mx says:

    I. Dont. Underatand. Anything. OMG im so slow lol

  • Fresh FR says:

    My favorite letter is Чч

  • Elma Mirdan says:

    I would like to check the full courses for basic learner then work my way up. What’s the website?

  • shaddyhacker says:

    This is an exceptional video!

  • Samuel M says:

    Actually d, l, n and t differ the most in the pronunciation, all the others are mostly in a formal way and in writing. This palatelisation appears in many other languages, mostly Slavic, but present for example in Hungarian or Latvian as well. It's really difficult to learn for someone who doesn't have it in his maternal language. I swear it's not the same as in english words like "duke, luge, nuke, tune.." or in some Italian or Portuguese words.


    Thanks for the video!😁

  • Adam Shirey says:

    I really needed this breakdown because I was having trouble understanding this concept in class. Thanks!

  • Neil Clay says:

    Excellent, thanks. That really cleared it up for me.

  • James Tucker says:

    Краткая, простая и прямая. Просто так, как мне нравится!

  • Latest Lindsey says:

    Question! Are you Russian or an English speaker? I honestly cannot tell, because I've never met someone with such an excellent grasp of both languages . These videos are absolutely fantastic and clear! I love the way you explain things! Ps I actually was so stressed trying to learn the verbs of motion I smacked myself in the face one day. My Russian tutor finally sent me your videos and now it all makes so much more sense! СПАСИБО!!!

  • Ashay Dwivedi says:

    What about the 3rd letter?

  • dʒeɪms says:

    Thanks luv you made it really clear
    From Australia 🇦🇺

  • Peter Holden says:

    I think this is as clear as it gets for the "standard" Russian explanation, but is it not possible, with a little soul searching, that you have been duped by generations of Russian teachers into believing that it's the consonant which changes, when in fact it's just the vowels which have different pronunciations? Isn't it possible that there's an easier way of explaining this?
    Many thanks for your videos, which I think could only benefit from some on-screen translations.

  • Antonios Balogiannis says:

    great video and explanation,you are the best! !thank you for posting this video!everything is clear now!!

  • Jeffrey D says:

    A Russian teacher here in Ukraine said in 8 years, she never had one student who can properly understand/pronounce soft and hard. Its a fruitless endeavour to try and master as a learner. Acccept that your accent willl be strong, and concentrate on other parts of the process.

  • Alfredo Quiñones says:

    No body has explained it better.

  • Eleonora says:

    Thank you so much! In 3 years of Russian lessons at university I didn't ear a word about this topic by my teachers! That's a shame.

  • Fiksik Piksel says:

    как только дяденька сказал -" мягкий знак", я сразу понял что дяденька наш.

  • Kiri Lmax says:

    This has helped me so much. I am from Russia but grew up in the states, I was taught some Russian, but I am not very good and my relatives make fun of my pronouncing of Russian words. As my new year’s resolution I am trying to get better at russian. Hopefully I will get better m

  • Йордан Григоров says:

    I am Bulgarian and we don't have the soft – hard Consonants distinction but unlike native English speakers I have no problem hearing and pronouncing the hard – soft consonants in russian. I have no idea why.

  • Tiago Castro says:

    Why the fuck didn’t he talk about the hard sign ъ???

  • kalawin13- says:

    I am just starting to learn Russian, or rather picking up on it again. I am a beginner and this is really difficult but listing to Russian songs have helped me in a way, thanks for this video!

  • gabriel galleguillos says:

    Finally i got it!!! thanks a loooot!

  • Alex says:

    Amazing video, you are the best explaining.

  • Sheorajek says:

    That helped a lot. Спасибо!

  • Ferg Heinman says:

    1:09 nya 😺

  • Daniel says:

    What about the hard r?

  • mireazma says:

    But how about the hard sign?

  • Matthew Peters says:

    When in Russian do you use ъ

  • TheYee ToMyHaw says:

    Did this make me think Russian will be hard to learn?


    Do i wanna learn Russian even more now?


  • Gin M says:

    I fell in love with his voice😭😭

  • maryam mohamed says:

    Good but you urgently need to improve graphics

  • Maiio alemdar says:

    Thanks , dear ♡♥

  • abakalidis says:

    Большое спаcибо! This was really helpful, I was searching for a clear and concise explanation like this. I even put the main points down in my notepad for later reference. Just for completeness shake, where does the Russian hard sign "ъ" come into play in all that?

  • Noor Pimpoyo says:

    Thanks for uploading your video, it was SO helpful! However, I do have a question: why is it that the word "компьютер" is written with the soft sign if there's a "ю"? Doesn't it make the "п" softer? Thanks so much!

  • Adde 2019 says:

    IT'S Волк! I have missed you!!!

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