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Russian Vowels

All vowels in Russian words, except for the stressed vowel, are reduced and otherwise altered. When you read and memorize Russian words and expressions, be aware of the way the vowels behave.

Let's take a look at some examples to see how this reduction rule works. When an unstressed a or o appears in the syllable just before the stressed vowel or at the beginning of the word, they are reduced to a kind of short [ah]; in all other positions, the unstressed a and o are pronounced as [ə]. For example, the word молоко́ (milk) has three o’s but all three are pronounced differently: the first o precedes the stress by more than one syllable, so it is pronounced as a [ə]; the second o is located right before the stressed syllable, therefore it is pronounced as a shorter a [ah]; and only the final o is pronounced fully because it is stressed –[mə-lah-KOH]. Compare the way the underlined vowels sound in the following words:

господи́н [gəs-pah-DEEN]
спаси́бо [spah-SEE-bə]
америка́нка [ah-mi-ri-KAHN-kə]
до свида́ния [dəs-vi-DAH-ni-yə]
добро́ пожа́ловать [dah-BRAW pah-ZHAH-lə-vət’]
госпожа́ [gəs-pah-ZHAH]

The unstressed e and я are also reduced to a shorter version of an и [i] (apart from when they appear in some grammatical endings, where they would be pronounced as a [ə]). For example, in the word телефо́н (telephone) the first and second е are pronounced as [i], although the first e/[i] is slightly shorter because it precedes the stress by more than one syllable—[ti-li-FAWN]. Compare the way the underlined vowels sound in the following words:

до свида́ния [də-svi-DAH-ni-yə]
здра́вствуйте [ZDRAH-stvəi-ti]
америка́нец [ah-mi-ri-KAH-nits]
о́чень прия́тно [AW-chin’ pri-YAT-nə]
приве́т [pri-ViET]