Should 'э' be pronounced as 'a' in "cat", or 'e' in "net"? Is its pronunciation context dependent? If so what are the rules for its pronunciation?

5 Answers 5


'Э' often is used to transmit the sound [æ] (blackpool) or diphthong [ɛə] (Delaware, Blair).

There are some rules for its pronunciation:

  1. 'Э' is pronounced in initial position before hard consonants: этот, энциклопедия, эклиптика, эволюция, элементарно.

  2. 'Э' after consonants (пэр, мэр, сэр) denotes the hardness of the consonant.

  3. 'Е' reads as 'э' after some hard consonants of loanwords: фонетика, отель, кафе, эссе.

  4. 'Э' is used to write a few words of ingrained Russian: этот, этакий, это, эк, эвон, эва, эдак, эх, эхе-хе, эй, эхма, эге-ге, эге.

  • Where is it used to transmit diphthong? Any examples? -1.
    – Anixx
    Mar 23, 2013 at 12:13
  • Maybe Weir or Ware - Уэйр (David Weir - Дэвид Уэйр, Charles Ware - Чарльз Уэйр). May 13, 2013 at 15:04
  • 4
    I do not understand how these rules you present are related to the correct pronunciation of the vowel Э. According to en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_phonology , when 'Э' is stressed, it has the sound [ɛ] if in a vowel+consonant group at the beginning of the word or a consonant+vowel+non palatized consonant group; it has the sound [e] if in a consonant+vowel+palatized consonant group. When it is not stressed, it may be pronounced [ɪ] or [ɨ̞]. I think that is what the OP wanted to know ( all possible pronunciations of the vowel and when each one is used). Sep 11, 2019 at 4:19

If you mean the British pronunciation of [æ] as in "cat", this is definitely not our 'э'; it's like 'я' between two palatalized consonants. The closest to stressed Russian 'э' among symbols used for English is [ɛ], but [e] is also acceptable. But, on the other side, Russians usually have difficulties to pronounce [æ] correctly here and replace it with a long [ɛ]; this is supported by some American dialects affection and that can confuse native English speakers to find a relation between sounds.

The Wikipedia page declares [ɛ] as the main variant for a stressed 'э'. It's rather true because the relation between [ɛ] and [e] follows common relations between the mid-back vowel row, after unpalatalized consonants, and the front row, after palatalized consonants. The letter "э" is never used to palatalize a consonant before it, so it means [ɛ]. OTOH, "е" can mean both [e] after a palatalized consonant (the most used case), [e̞] after non-palatalized sibilant as "ш", or [ɛ] in loanwords (тест, кашне, проект, etc.); the native words usually have no non-palatalization effect, but it's typical for loanwords.

You should also notice that Russians who haven't got special linguistics education don't understand the difference between [ɛ] and [e], as with most other pairs ([a] vs. [æ], etc.) because the factor which affects vowel allophone selection is palatalization of the previous consonant, but in written the latter is defined by vowel letter selection (а/я, э/е, etc.); this could be confusing if not understood clearly. Traditional school grammar requires a student to sign the vowel as [э] independently of its implementation variant, so e.g. "лето" is transcribed as [л'эта].

So, the short final conclusion is that you can pronounce it like [e] in "net", etc., or better as the first sound in "air" [ɛə], but the main factor is that you shouldn't palatalize ("soften") the preceding consonant and you will be correctly understood when using either of them; and [æ] isn't applicable here. And, BTW, unstressed 'э' is something between [ɨ], [ɪ], [ɛ]... the difference between them is not important in this context.

  • In проект e is iotized.
    – Anixx
    Mar 20, 2013 at 17:59
  • @Anixx: wiktionary gives [prɐˈɛkt (prɐˈjekt)] though I couldn't find another source (and I personally only say [prɐˈjekt]). It seems enough people pronounce "проэкт" for that spelling to be quite widespread on the Internet. Mar 21, 2013 at 1:35
  • @Igor Skochinsky it is incorrect pronunciation and spelling. Possibly, hypercorrection.
    – Anixx
    Mar 21, 2013 at 3:37
  • @Anixx, могу представить звук "й" в слове "проект" только из уст человека, который произносит слова "что" и "конечно" со звуком "ч". Это звучит то ли архаично, то ли чудаковато; короче, 99% русскоязычных говорят [prɐˈɛkt].
    – КуЪ
    Mar 21, 2013 at 9:20
  • В Сибири 99% говорят [prɐjɛkt], [prɐɛkt] звучит претенциозно. Mar 25, 2013 at 13:14

From the Russian point of view, the sounds you are asking about ( 'a' in "cat", or 'e' in "net"? ) are just the same. Many Russians learning English do believe that "bed" and "bad" are homophones.

  • 2
    It seems that one of the previous answers already contains this information. I encourage you to extend your answer by adding new information which has not been mentioned before, of to simply upvote the existing answer, if you believe that it is complete and there is no need to say more.
    – Olga
    Mar 30, 2013 at 6:09
  • According to en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_phonology , there is a phonetic difference between different words with the vowel э: it may be pronounced [ɛ] or [e] when it is stressed and [ɪ] or [ɨ̞] when unstressed. IMHO that is much more relevant to Russian learners than phonemic difference (ie, what native Russian speakers perceive as different or not). Sep 11, 2019 at 4:09

A bit late and guess you figured out, but э is like in French et moi(and me), the e from that word.


Here is an article in the wiki about the sound with sound file, denoted in phonetic transcription as [ɛ], which is the ideal Russian 'Э' from a linguistic POV. However, from the POV of a native speaker this sound denoted in phonetic transcription as [æ] is the same. To be precise, this is a part of English that gives native Russians a hard time.

  • I propose you to expand your answer by quoting the main points of the linked article. If for some reason those links aren't available (however, very unlikely with Wikepedia but anyway), your answer comes useless. Adding the transcription symbols would already be an improvement. Feb 15, 2013 at 20:00
  • permeakra, please include some rewording of those links otherwise this answer might become useless in the future due to link rot.
    – Alenanno
    Mar 22, 2013 at 23:32

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