If have just started to learn Russian and have come across the fact that 'ь' remains silent but changes the sound of the letter that comes before it (I think). Please can someone give me an example of how e.g. ять and ят would sound different.

  • 4
    I think your question will be clearer with a different example. You see, ять is the name of an obsolete Cyrillic letter (ѣ, pronounced the same as е by the time it was abolished), so at first the question seems to be about something else. Would any pair of examples with/without ь do instead, or are you specifically asking about the unusual behaviour of ь in some verb endings, many of which are actually -ять/-ят? Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 6:14
  • Any example would be fine. (I only chose ять and ят because this is the only case I have come across thus far). Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 6:19
  • 1
    It is called a palatalization. Many Russian consonants have two variants: normal and palatalized ("hard" and "soft").
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 8:02
  • It's really hard to show the difference in pronunciation between hard and soft consonants in written text. Watch this video on YouTube and you'll hear it.
    – Abakan
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 11:38
  • Are there no English examples like the t in ять sounds like that in ... and the t in ят sounds like that in ...? Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 12:30

4 Answers 4


They do sound different as long as they are written so:

Брат // brother

Брать // to take

Мат // mat (gym)

Мать // mother

If you need to listen to feel the difference, use Google Translate - there's a button to read your text aloud.


If you're British, then you probably already use a soft [t] in the word tune, as compared to how we Americans say the same word. You basically say тюн and we say тун. If you can, isolate the first consonant in both pronunciations, and you will get the gist of what happens phonetically when you pronounce a Russian soft consonant. Basically, you're producing the target sound, but with your tongue wanting to form a [y] sound at the same time. Very often, English speakers who are learning Russian get away with just saying a full [y] after the target sound, which is wrong. The idea is to produce the target consonant WHILE the tongue is in the [y] position as one articulation.

BTW, you can do the same for -дь- with dune (Brit. дюн Am. дун)

  • Honestly, the British pronounce тьюн, дьюн rather than тюн, дюн. This is how ABYY Lingvo pronounces and according the English reading rules we were taught.
    – Anixx
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 12:06
  • And what the American speaker pronounces I would transliterate as дюн. lingvo-online.ru/ru/Translate/en-ru/dune
    – Anixx
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 12:12
  • Far be it from me to contradict English pronunciation rules taught in Russian schools, but no American speaker would ever say дюн, that is purely British. An American using that pronunciation would be considered very affected and pedantic indeed - like Frasier, for example. And I'm sorry, but I can't consider the recordings on ABYY Lingvo the last word in English pronunciation. Here is a good comparison of both pronunciations from the Cambridge Dictionary with IPA: dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/sand-dune and dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/tune
    – CocoPop
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 4:02
  • following your link, the American says сэн дюн, the British says сан дьюн.
    – Anixx
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 5:14

i can supply an explanation involving spanish, if of course you have some knowledge of it.

the russian sign "ь" changing the sounding of previous letter in the similar way as "~" upper sign changes sounding of simple "n" in spanish. (ñ=нь, Ñ=Нь. one sample of transliteration - niño=ниньо, try in cyrillics this word in google search)
however unlike spanish, russian "ь" sign may change the pronuncation into similar way of almost any consonant that it follows after.
so "ять" is not actually [yat], but rather [yat'] and "ят" is then [yat]. note the appearing apostrophe in the first one.

if you don't have access to some spanish source, then there is also may be an explanation. try to imangine how the previous consonant would sound if it would stand before the i/y letter in two words combination where the second is starting with i/y, as in phrase, got you - gotcha(got'cha). as you see the "t" in "got" have changed. in the same way all the letters with "ь" following are changed in russian.


Ять is made of two sounds: я [ya] and ть [t']. Second sound, soft T, you can hear in a few english words such as tea, terminate (first t), estimate (first t). Russian examples are мать, тигр, тяжба. But remember that [t'] in russian is much softer than in english. Ят is also made of я [ya], but here T is hard and pronounced like [t]. For example, in english train, track, tomb, in russian твердь, торг, трамвай. Also, like it is advised above, watch some youtube videos (cs:go with russian teammates, they swear a lot, and swearing in russian is the best way to understand pronunciation of ять), or listen to google translator.

  • 1
    The sound [i] does not palatize the consonant before it in English. Both "t"s in "estimate" and all other "t"s in "tea" and "terminate" are the same sound which is different from "ть".
    – Abakan
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 9:31
  • But they aren't the same. Do you think [t] in the "tea" and [t] in the "tree" are same? Hell no. And i wrote, that in russian [t'] is softer than in english. And btw i'm russian, so i know exactly how ять is pronounced. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 9:54
  • 1
    That's the thing - having Russian as native language you think that those "t"s are different because they are different in Russian (as in f.e. in "трос" and "тигр"). And saying "softer" is not useful for a person who is not familiar with the concept of "softness". It's like if somebody would say a Russian that French "è" is "opener" than "é" - "What? Opener? Should I open my mouth more now or what does that mean??" And BTW the question is not about pronouciation of "ять" but about the difference between soft and hard consonants.
    – Abakan
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 10:39
  • I'm just saying, that in russian those sounds are really differ from each other, and giving examples of sounds in english that, in my honorable russian opinion, are closest to the russian "ять". Sorry, if in english there is no difference between my examples, for me there is a huge difference in their pronunciation. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 10:56
  • 1
    ять is made of three sounds, not two.
    – Anixx
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 12:30

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