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What is the difference in pronunciation between "и" and "й"?

They sound very similar and I can't really hear a difference.

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  • 1
    Can you provide a couple of words where you cannot hear the difference between "и" and "й"?
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:30
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    й is a consonant, и is a vowel. How one can confuse them?
    – Anixx
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 6:47
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    Interesting fact: do you know that Ь was "Е краткое" and Ъ was "О краткое" (or Ы, or something between О and Ы) once in old Russian? Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 23:02
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    @AlanEvangelista I repeat, й is not a vowel, it is a consonant like "y" in "yes".
    – Anixx
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 17:53
  • @Anixx because и and й are pronounced, respectively, [i] and [j], and both the IPA vowel [i] (pronounced in "ee" in the words "see", "bee" and "fee" in English) and the IPA semivowel [j] (pronounced in "y" in ""young") sound similar. The ear doesn't know if these Russian letters are classified as vowels, semivowels or consonants, just that they sound alike. Commented May 5, 2020 at 17:59

5 Answers 5

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Russian "и" is a vowel and sounds more like the 'ee' in "tweet", while "й" is a consonant and sounds more like the first sound of "young". Btw, you could try listening to words on http://www.lingvo-online.ru/ to hear the difference.

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rhymes with "joy" and ои rhymes with "Joey".

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  • 4
    Cute way of explaining the difference! Not very accurate though.
    – InitK
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:41
  • I agree with @InitK. "joy" is pronounced /dʒɔɪ/ and the Russian letter й is pronounced /j/ , so this is a bad example. Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 8:16
  • @AlanEvangelista Actually, joy is pronounced [dʒɔj]. The notation [ɔɪ] and [oʊ], to give just two examples, is outdated and unfounded. Modern phoneticians (of which I'm one) know better. Here's an interesting video on the subject: youtu.be/gtnlGH055TA?si=pJ-pU2q2AO4iYMSw
    – CocoPop
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 13:17
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The Russian "и" sounds like the vowel [i] in the International Alphabetical Alphabet (IPA) and like the letters 'ee' in the English words "bee", "see" and "tweet".

The Russian й" sounds like the semivowel/consonant [j] in the IPA and like the letter 'y' in the English words "young", "year" and "you", and the letter 'u' in the English words "use" and "unit".

The difference between both is that the middle part of the tongue is raised to the hard palate only in [j]. I suggest watching this video: https://youtu.be/XhqGU1WxOfc .

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Russians transliterate boy as бой. The word бои is a plural form of бой and is pronounced distinctly differently — something like buyee.

So и is a vowel and sounds longer than the consonant й. Your confusion stems from the feature of Russian pronunciation where Russian sticks an invisible й in front of many vowels, which makes them sound a little longer. For instance, when Russians say ем (I'm eating), they actually say something like yem. So in the first example бои has that invisible й in front of и.

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и = "i" й = more like "y"

You can hear the difference by listening to the "i" and "y" sounds in two different words: "boy" and "blink", in first case it will be "boy" = "бой" while in the second "blink" = "блинк"

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  • и is [ˈaɪ] and й is [ˈwaɪ]? I don't think so.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 14:18
  • Did you read my comment to it's very end?
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:05
  • Yes, I did read your ANSWER to its very end. But it doesn't make your first statement correct. Transliteration rules you used are not applicable in this case.
    – Abakan
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:17
  • Okay, but if we'll be honest then we can only compare mentioned by you [ˈwaɪ] to "и краткая" right?
    – Ruslan
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 15:25
  • й is pronounced as /j/ in Russian, but the letter "y" is not always pronounced as /j/ in English. Using your example, "boy" is pronounced /bɔɪ/ (i.e., the "i" is pronounced as a /ɪ/ instead of a /j/) (ref: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/boy). The words "yes" or "you" would be better examples. Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 8:12

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