What is the difference between the letters Е and Э?
Based on my book, they are both like E in English.

My friend (he's not a Russian native speaker) explained to me that Э is a consonant and Е is a vowel. Is that true?

  • Э is always vowel in Russian. E is either vowel or a combination of consonant [j] + vowel, depending on position (compare u in "union" or "fusion"). When each of them is a vowel, the difference is in that E makes the preceding consonant soft.
    – Anixx
    Apr 28, 2017 at 19:22

5 Answers 5


Russian letter 'Е' sounds differently when it's the first letter of a word, or when it follows a consonant in the middle of a word. Letter 'Э' sounds the same in any part of the word. Both letters are vowels. As pointed out by manjusri, your friend could have mistaken 'З' (Z) with 'Э' (Е).

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  • Thank you Vitaly for your beautiful answer. Then I can conclude from the answer that е and э are the same sometimes. Then I'd like to ask why the letter э in use when we can use in e only for "ye" or wowel "e".
    – Influx
    Apr 14, 2017 at 21:31
  • @UbiquitousStudent Indeed. I forgot about the case when 'е' is pronounced as 'э'. I updated my answer now. Letter 'э' is a relatively new letter. It was added to the alphabet by the reforms of 1708-1711. The reason that it exists separately from 'е', is because they represent different sounds. In most words letter 'Е' is associated with sound /e/, and 'Э' is associated with /ɛ/. For detail see: Russian IPA
    – Vitaly
    Apr 17, 2017 at 17:24

The consonant letter resembling a vowel by its form is З з (like number three), so your friend might inintentionally mistake the З з for Э э.

The letter Э э is closer to the first part [ε] in the diphtong from the English word 'care', while the Russian E e is closer to pronuciation of English E e in 'ten' as a shorter version of E e in Swedish sedan or mer.

The vowel E e palatalises preceding consonants, while the vowel Э э doesn't.

Also, the vowel E e is read as [j + e] after another vowel, a soft or a hard sign, and it is read as [i] in an unstressed position (Если съехать в сьерру и съесть ежа, то едва ли сегодня = [j'esli sjekhat'fs'jerru is'jest' jizha tajidvali s'ivodn'ja] ), whilest the letter Э э is always read as Э э.

  • 6
    In my opinion, 'e' in English 'ten' sounds closer to Russian 'э' en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ten#Pronunciation Transcription for 'ten' is /tεn/
    – Vitaly
    Apr 13, 2017 at 19:15
  • Yes, you're right; yet, the sounds seem to be slightly different.
    – Manjusri
    Apr 14, 2017 at 12:02
  • 3
    [s'ivodn'ja] -> [s'ivodn'a]
    – Alexey
    Apr 14, 2017 at 13:49

Е is a “ye” sound. Think like “Oh yeah!” That’s why Елена is transliterated as Yelena.

And Э is pronounced like the short e in English.

Both are vowels


"Е" is read as two sounds if there is no consonant before it, as English letters YE in the word "yes". If there is a consonant, it softens (consult your book on soft and hard sounds in Russian), and "Е" letter is read as "E" in English as in word "epic".

"Э" is read like english "A" in the word "Apple"

  • 7
    "Э" is read like english "A" in the word "Apple" — No it's not, not by a long shot. It's this misconception that leads to "apple" becoming "epple" in a Russian accent. The [æ] sound (not quite the same as in English, but still way closer than the [ɛ] of Э) occurs in Russian when Я is followed by a soft consonant, as in пять or князь. Since it's only an allophone, Э is used to reflect the English [æ] in transliteration, but it's every bit as conventional and imprecise as Г representing [h]. Apr 13, 2017 at 10:57
  • @NikolayErshov To me, "e" in "epple" would be like the sound of russian "E" in the word "печь", not like "Э" in the word "этаж". Apr 13, 2017 at 20:54
  • In an Australian accent, maybe. "Standard" British and American, very much an Э. Apr 13, 2017 at 21:17
  • @NikolayErshov Isn't it what I claim in my answer? Apr 13, 2017 at 21:33
  • No. I'm talking about the English E here, the vowel in end or ten. It's an Э in most accents. Paradoxically, in some "drawled" American ones, it's actually the A, as in and, that approaches the Russian E as in печь. Apr 13, 2017 at 21:36

Е is a composite sound. It consists of two sounds: Й + Э. Like Ю = Й + У And Я = Й + А

  • 2
    We all learned that at school, but in no case "Е" is pronounced as [йэ], it just doesn't sound like that.
    – Alissa
    Apr 13, 2017 at 12:37
  • 2
    Unless you pronounce (f.e.) "мел" as "мйэл" it is not true. And it is not true even if you pronounce "мел" as written above.
    – Abakan
    Apr 13, 2017 at 12:47

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