Orthography notes

Updated 22 April, 2024

This page brings together basic information about the Cyrillic script and its use for the Russian language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Russian using Unicode.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, Russian Orthography Notes, 22-Apr-2024,


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details.
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Статья 1 Все люди рождаются свободными и равными в своем достоинстве и правах. Они наделены разумом и совестью и должны поступать в отношении друг друга в духе братства.

Статья 2 Каждый человек должен обладать всеми правами и всеми свободами, провозглашенными настоящей Декларацией, без какого бы то ни было различия, как-то в отношении расы, цвета кожи, пола, языка, религии, политических или иных убеждений, национального или социального происхождения, имущественного, сословного или иного положения. Кроме того, не должно проводиться никакого различия на основе политического, правового или международного статуса страны или территории, к которой человек принадлежит, независимо от того, является ли эта территория независимой, подопечной, несамоуправляющейся или как-либо иначе ограниченной в своем суверенитете.

Source: Unicode UDHR, articles 1 & 2

Usage & history

Origins of the Latin script, 7thC – today.


└ Greek

└ Old Italic

└ Cyrillic

+ Glagolitic

+ Latin

+ Armenian

+ Georgian

+ Coptic

+ Runes

The Cyrillic script has traditionally been used for writing the Slavic languages, of which Russian is the most widely spoken. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly under Soviet rule, it was extended to write over 50 languages throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007, Cyrillic became the third official script of the European Union, As of 2011, around 252 million people in Eurasia use it as the official alphabet for their national languages, with Russia accounting for about half of them.

ру́сский алфави́т rússkiy alfavít ˈruskʲɪj ɐlfɐˈvʲit Russian alphabet ру́сская а́збука rússkajᵃ ázbuka ˈruskəjə ˈazbʊkə ditto

The script is named in honor of the two Byzantine brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the earlier Glagolitic alphabet. Modern scholars believe that Cyrillic was developed and formalized by early disciples of Cyril and Methodius.

Cyrillic is derived from the Greek uncial script, augmented by letters from the older Glagolitic alphabet, including some ligatures. These additional letters were used for Old Church Slavonic sounds not found in Greek, and the Cyrillic script was initially used for writing Old Church Slavonic (also called Old Bulgarian), The script has changed over the intervening centuries to the point that Old Church Slavonic is sometimes considered a separate script.

An orthographic reform implemented by the Russian tsar Peter the Great in 1708 removed a number of obsolete letters to make Russian writing highly phonetic.

More information: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.

Basic features

Cyrillic is an alphabet. Letters typically represent a consonant or vowel sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Russian language.

Of the 441 characters in the Unicode Cyrillic blocks, 177 are historic (33%) and 2 are for Lithuanian dialectology. The remaining 262 are just letters – no punctuation, digits, or combining characters. These are all bicameral, which brings the number of distinct modern letters to 131. Although modern Cyrillic text tends to use precomposed forms, rather than combining diacritics separately with base letters, many extended characters are formed by slightly tweaking a set of basic shapes.

Russian text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines. Words are separated by spaces. The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

The script is bicameral. The shapes of the upper and lowercase forms are typically the same. There can be a significant difference, however, between regular and cursive/italic shapes for the same character.

❯ consonantSummary

Modern Russian has 23 basic consonant letters, including the hard sign and soft sign, and й, which is a semivowel used to write Russian diphthongs.

In the absence of an indicator vowel, the soft sign can be used to indicate palatalisation of a consonant.

❯ basicV

This orthography is an alphabet, where vowels are written using 10 dedicated vowel letters, half of which usually indicate palatalisation of the previous consonant. They may, however, sometimes be used after one of the few consonants that is always hard, and е is commonly used after non-palatalised consonants in loan words.

There are no special mechanisms to represent standalone vowels. Combining marks are normally not used, and only occur in decomposed text.

Numbers use ASCII digits.

The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.

Character index









Not used for modern Russian


To be investigated


Combining marks






To be investigated




To be investigated

Items to show in lists


These are sounds for the Russian language.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

Plain vowels

i ɨ ɨ u ɪ ʊ e ɵ ɵ o ə ə ɛ ʌ ʌ æ a


Russian diphthongs all end in the sound , however they can be analysed either as diphthongs or as vowels followed by j.wp Here, for simplicity, we will take the latter line.

Consonant sounds

labial alveolar post-
retroflex palatal velar
stops p b t d       k ɡ
palatalised       ɡʲ
affricates   t͡s t͡ɕ      
palatalised   t͡sʲ        
fricatives f v s z ɕː ʑː ʂ ʐ   x ɣ
nasals m n        
approximants   ɫ     j  
trills/flaps   r    


Russian is not a tonal language.




Click on the characters to find where they are mentioned in this page.

The Russian alphabet has 31 letters. CLDR§ lists the following 'index' characters. Each has upper and lowercase forms; shown above and below, respectively.



Vowel summary table

The following table summarises the main vowel to character assigments.

Vowels preceded by ʲ cause the preceding consonant to be palatalised. Where 2 transcriptions are given for a symbol they show stressed and unstressed pronunciations. Diphones typically occur for standalone vowel sounds. The bottom row shows the glides/semivowels used to make diphthongs.

и␣ы␣у␣ ␣ю
И␣Ы␣У␣ ␣Ю
е␣ё␣о␣ ␣е
Е␣Ё␣О␣ ␣Е
а␣ ␣я
А␣ ␣Я
е␣ ␣я
Е␣ ␣Я

For additional details see vowel_mappings.

Here is the set of characters described in this section, grouped by general category.


Post-consonant vowels

Vowels following a consonant are written using 10 dedicated vowel letters, half of which usually indicate palatalisation of the previous consonant.

Vowel letters

Standard Russian uses 10 basic vowel letters (20 characters), and one other letter is used for glides in diphthongs.

This set of plain vowels is normally used after a 'hard' consonant (ie. one that isn't palatalised).


The other vowels usually indicate a preceding palatalized (soft) consonant and with the exception of и are iotated (pronounced with a preceding j) when written at the beginning of a word or following another vowel.

However, they may (and particularly е in words of foreign origin) sometimes also be used after non-palatalised consonants.wa,#Vowels


The phonetic sound of the letters varies, particularly between stressed and unstressed vowels (where, for example, о, pronounced o in stressed syllables, is pronounced ʌ or ə). There may also be differences due to the context in which the vowel appears. Click on each letter above for more details, see vowelMappings, or see Wikipedia for much more information.

я and ю tend to have special pronunciations between two soft consonants.

э is not particularly common.



The semivowel is regarded as a consonant, but is mainly used to create diphthongs, eg. ино́й прийти́



0301 is used to indicate where the stress falls in a word for educational materials, dictionaries, and such. The position of the stress is distinctive, and not always predictable, eg. compare



Rarely, it may be used to specify the stress in uncommon foreign words and in poems with unusual stress used to fit the meter.wa,#Diacritics We use it here for most of the examples.

The other two diacritics shown above are produced only by Unicode decomposition: 0308 from ё, and 0306 from й, but normally precomposed characters are used, and these are each letters of the alphabet.

All 55 of the other combining characters in the Unicode Cyrillic blocks fall under the historical category.

Letter to sound mappings

Given the tendency to alter vowel quality for all vowels in a word other than the one that is stressed, plus the effects of palatalisation, the mapping of letters to actual sounds is somewhat complicated (and in some cases controversial). The following table comes from Wikipedia.wp

Phoneme Letter
Position Stressed Reduced
i и (Cʲ)V i ɪ
ы и CV ɨ
u у (C)V u ʊ
ю CʲV ʉ
e э VC ɛ ɪ
е CʲV e
э, е CVC ɛ ɨ
CVCʲ e
o о (C)V o ə, ʌ
(C)VCʲ ɵ
ё* CʲV ɪ
a а (C)V ä ə, ʌ
я CʲV æ ɪ

* Reduced ⟨ё⟩ is written as ⟨е⟩.

† ⟨е⟩ is used in most loans (except if word-initial) or after ц, ш, ж.

Obsolete Russian vowels

Peter the Great's reform led to the abandonment of these vowel characters.w


The Russian orthographic reform of 1918 dropped the following additional vowel letters from the Russian repertoire.w


Standalone vowels

Standalone vowels are written using ordinary vowel letters and no special arrangements.


Vowel absence

No special mechanism.

Vowel sounds to characters

This section maps Russian vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Cyrillic orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.


и [U+0438 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER I] as a standalone and in stressed (Cʲ)v patterns


и [U+0438 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER I] as a standalone and in unstressed (Cʲ)v patterns

е [U+0435 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER IE]  in unstressed Cʲv patterns

я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA] in unstressed CʲvCʲ or other patterns 


и [U+0438 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER I] in Cv patterns, stressed & unstressed

ы [U+044B CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YERU] in Cv patterns, stressed and unstressed 


я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA] as an unstressed standalone


у [U+0443 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER U] in stressed Xv patterns

ю [U+044E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YU] in stressed CʲvX patterns 


у [U+0443 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER U] in unstressed Xv patterns

ю [U+044E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YU] in unstressed CʲvX patterns 


ю [U+044E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YU] in CʲvCʲ patterns, stressed & unstressed


ю [U+044E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YU] as a standalone


е [U+0435 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER IE] in stressed Cʲv and XvCʲ patterns


е [U+0435 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER IE] as a standalone vowel


о [U+043E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER O] in stressed Xv patterns


ё [U+0451 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER IO] in CʲV patterns


о [U+043E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER O] in unstressed Xv patterns

а [U+0430 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER A] when not stressed 

я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA] in unstressed CʲvCʲ or other patterns 


о [U+043E CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER O] in unstressed Xv patterns

а [U+0430 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER A] when not stressed 


э [U+044D CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER E] in the Xv pattern, stressed and unstressed

е [U+0435 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER IE]  in stressed but non Cʲv or XvCʲ patterns, and unstressed non-Cʲv patterns


я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA] in stressed CʲvCʲ patterns


я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA] as a standalone


а [U+0430 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER A] in the Xv stressed pattern

я [U+044F CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YA]  in stressed non-CʲvCʲ patterns


Consonant summary table

The following table summarises the main consonant to character assigments.

The left column is lowercase, and the right uppercase.


For additional details see consonant_mappings.

Consonant letters

Russian uses 20 consonants (40 characters, if you include uppercase and lowercase), plus a hard and soft sign.



Most of the consonants can be pronounced with or without palatisation, ie. 'hard' or 'soft', respectively. In principle, this is determines which vowel follows it. Palatalised consonants are generally followed by these vowels: я ё е ю и. The other vowels, а о э у ы, follow hard sounds. See also signs.

The following consonant sounds are always hard:


These are always soft:


Palatalisation is phonemically significant, eg. compare брать брат

Hard and soft signs


The hard sign slightly separates a non-palatised consonant sound from a following iotated vowel. In modern Russian it is mostly used to separate a prefix from a root.w

The soft sign can be used in two ways.

Prior to the 1918 reforms, every word ending in a consonant had to be followed by a hard or soft sign. That is no longer the case, and the hard sign is now the least common letter in the Russian alphabet.wa,#Frequency

Devoiced finals

Voiced plosive and fricative consonants are devoiced word-finally unless the next word begins with a voiced obstruent,wp,#Final_devoicing eg. шокола́д супру́г

Obsolete Russian consonants

Around 1750, after Peter the Great's orthographic reform, the following consonants fell into disuse in Russian.w


After the subsequent orthographic reform of 1918, the following additional consonants were removed from the Russian repertoirew, although you can still find them used in Church Slavonic and some other languages.


Consonant clusters

No special mechanisms.


Consonant sounds to characters

This section maps Russian consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Cyrillic orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.

Sounds listed as 'infrequent' are allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.







Cyrillic uses ASCII digits.

Text direction

Cyrillic runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Russian orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

You can experiment with examples using the All Cyrillic character app and the Russian character app.

Letterform slopes, weights, & italics

Cyrillic doesn't normally have any of the changeability of complex scripts. Characters are typically separate and self-contained. However, there can be a significant difference in shape between regular and italic/cursive font shapes for the same character.



Conservative transformations between regular and italic.



More radical transformations between regular and italic.

Note in particular the italic form of т in the figure just above, which looks similar to the italic form of м shown in the previous figure.

The shapes of the italic forms can also vary by language.w

The shape of the breve sign in Cyrillic is different from that used for Latin text.s A font such as Brill can detect the appropriate shape from the adjacent characters.

й   ̆ й i   ̆ i

̆ [U+0306 COMBINING BREVE] between cyrillic and latin characters changes shape in the Brill font.

Case & transforms

Russian is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases.

Typographic units

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.


Russian graphemes are straightforward, and can be mapped to Unicode grapheme clusters.

Grapheme clusters

Base (Combining_mark)*

The 2 combining marks that occur in Russian appear only on the rare occasions when the text is decomposed, and only one combining mark at a time appears after any base. The same is true of the acute accent that is often used to indicate stress in educational text. All such decompositions conform to Unicode grapheme clusters.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.


Punctuation & inline features

Phrase & section boundaries


Cyrillic uses ASCII punctuation.









Bracketed text


Russian commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



Quotations & citations


The standard approach is to use angle brackets by default, and the quotation marks for nested quotes.

  start end




Although most sources recommend the use of different quote marks for embedded quotes, Russian rules also allow use of the same quotation marks, and if inner and outer quotation marks fall together, then one of them should be omitted.wq,#Belarusian,_Russian,_and_Ukrainian

Пушкин писал Дельвигу: «Жду Цыганов и тотчас тисну».

Russian quotation marks.

For dialogue, the quotation dash is commonly used to introduce the spoken text, but also to terminate it before identifying the speaker. fig_quote_dashes uses with spaces around it for this.wq,#Belarusian,_Russian,_and_Ukrainian

Кто там?

Это я, почтальон Печкин, последовал ответ. Принёс заметку про вашего мальчика.

Quotation dashes used in Russian dialogue.

Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Spaces between words provide the primary line break opportunities.u

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Russian orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in Russian. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.

  • « „ (   should not be the last character on a line.
  • » “ ) . , ; ! ? %   should not begin a new line.

Text alignment & justification

Justification is done, principally, by adjusting the space between words.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Cyrillic uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

Cyrillic has little in the way of ascenders and descenders, and mostly the font metrics are the same as for ASCII text. One difference is the use of a couple of diacritics, which rise above the ASCII ascender height in capital letters..

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Cyrillic glyphs from Noto fonts.

HhqxюбдфйЮБДФЙ HhqxюбдфйЮБДФЙ
Font metrics for Latin text compared with Cyrillic glyphs in the Noto Serif (top) and Noto Sans (bottom) fonts.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Doulos SIL and Helvetica fonts.

HhqxюбдфйЮБДФЙ HhqxюбдфйЮБДФЙ
Latin font metrics compared with Cyrillic glyphs in the Doulos SIL (top) and Helvetica (bottom) fonts.

Counters, lists, etc.

You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter. Patterns for using these styles in CSS can be found in Ready-made Counter Styles, and we use the names of those patterns here to refer to the various styles.

The modern Russian orthography uses 4 alphabetic styles, besides the ASCII decimal numeric style.


The lower-russian alphabetic style uses these letters.




The lower-russian-full alphabetic style uses these letters.




The upper-russian alphabetic style uses these letters.




The upper-russian-full alphabetic style uses these letters.




Prefixes and suffixes

The default list style uses a full stop + space as a suffix.


а. б. в. г. д.
Separator for Russian list counters.

Page & book layout