I've noticed the absence of the dotted i (І/і) as well as yi (Ї/ї) in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Why are these two letters not shared when they're vowels that are fundamental in Ukrainian?

  • 2
    why they should be? Russian and Ukrainian are closely related yet different languages. Why there's no ы in Ukrainian? Why there's no ў in any language other than Belarusian?
    – shabunc
    Jul 25, 2018 at 21:35
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    If something is fundamental in some language does not mean that this must exist in another language!
    – Abakan
    Jul 26, 2018 at 8:15
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    @shabunc - ў is used in Uzbek, for example in the word "Ўзбекистон". They say they switched to the Latin alphabet, but believe me, they still use Cyrillics.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 26, 2018 at 11:18
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    While most answer on the yotted yi letter, I'd like to note that the dotted i in Ukrainian is exactly the "normal" и in modern Russian. The "seemingly normal" и in Ukrainian is in fact the Russian ы. (And we did not even get started on ѣ!) Jul 28, 2018 at 15:56

3 Answers 3


The Russian alphabet had both і and ї in the past, but they became obsolete.

"Изменялись также правила относительно числа точек над І: Пётр отменил было их; затем было предписано ставить по две точки над І перед гласными, и одну — перед согласными; наконец, с 1738 года точка стала везде одна. Буква І отменена реформами 1917—1918 годов"

The rules regarding the number of dots above 'i' has undergone some changes. Initially, Peter I did away with them altogether. Later, it was decreed that i in front of vowels should have two dots, and in front of consonants should have one. After 1738, there was always only one dot above 'i'. The letter 'i' was made obsolete by the reform of 1917-1918.

Судьба отдельных букв в XVIII—XX веках

Specific changes in 1917-1918 Russian orthography reform

  • 2
    And there was a long debate about which of the two i's has got to be canceled. They decided that "и" has got to remain, a bad choice, the letter is ugly-looking and also takes no less than three times more space in the line than the slim'n'beautiful "i".
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 26, 2018 at 11:26
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    @YellowSky This is opinion based. Serbian cyrillic alphabet also gave boot to i. It is a nice letter in context of latin,but does it look that good in cyrillic text?
    – alamar
    Jul 26, 2018 at 14:33
  • @alamar yes, it is. і цудоўна выглядае ў кірылічным тэксце =) btw I don't think what и is ugly-looking, it's ok. But ш щ ж looks overcomplicated in the modern cyrillic, almost hieroglyphs
    – yalov
    Aug 14, 2018 at 20:23
  • @yalov I've not heard of any proposals of simplifying these.
    – alamar
    Aug 15, 2018 at 8:34

Russian language has [йе] е [йо] ё [йу] ю and [йа] я, but it doesn't have a dedicated letter for [йи] since it is usually covered by ьи or similar. So naturally there's no ї and it had to be invented for Ukrainian.

  • 1
    what do you mean doesn't have? what about йищё, йизык, йипонцы? ))))) Jul 25, 2018 at 14:46
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    @БаянКупи-ка You're probably right, but there's still no need for a dedicated letter. Are there minimal pairs I wonder?
    – alamar
    Jul 25, 2018 at 14:48
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    @alamar: суды / суди / судьи
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 25, 2018 at 16:36
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    @Quassnoi well we have ьи which covers this case.
    – alamar
    Jul 26, 2018 at 12:20
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    @YellowSky pair implies there's two words.
    – alamar
    Jul 26, 2018 at 12:21

Russian vowels come in pairs: а/я, о/ё, у/ю, ы/и, э/е.

The first three pairs are "good" ones. The second one in each pair is a front vowel (pronounced with the tongue closer to the front of the mouth than its counterpart) and can only occur after a "soft" (palatalized) consonant, [j] being one of those consonants: мяч, люк, мёд etc.

However, in writing you can see the second ones occurring after other vowels (пою), after ь or ъ (пью, объём) or word-initially (яблоко). Every time you see the usage like this, you know there is an implicit [j] before the vowel because it has to be. No Russian word uses front vowels from the three first pairs in isolation of after other vowels, and in fact most Russians are even unable to pronounce them like this.

That's why "Dr. Oetker" and "Yksi" are rendered as Доктор Эткер and Юкси in Russian, even though the first one is not even in the correct pair and the second one has an initial [j] it lacks in orginal Finnish.

The second two pairs are more complex.

Front version of э/е can exist in isolation in Russian, and all words beginning with э in Moscow pronunciation: этот, Эльза, эра and so on start with a front vowel. Furthermore, while the complementary distribution of the "good" vowel pairs is always reflected on writing (мода / мёда etc.), it's not the case for э/е: in секс, the first c is "hard" (non-patalalized) and the vowel is back, while in кекс the first к is "soft" (palatalized) and the vowel is front. Many Russians are not sure how to pronounce words like рельс, шинель, крем and can even sway between two pronunciations.

Finally, the и/ы pair stands out the most. It is in complementary distribution as well, but unlike the other ones, it's the back version of the vowel (ы) which can never happen word-initially or after other vowels.

This is also the only one pair where the front version of the vowel happens immediately after other vowels, even when stressed, without [j] or other epentheses: доил, кроил etc.

Nevertheless, even though the last two pairs are different, the complementary distribution is still there, even though it's not reflected consistently in writing.

This complementary distribution is enough to keep balance between etymological and phonetic orthography principles and avoid marking [j] in the words which never did it (because it was never there before).

That said, while Russian does use [ji] in some words (судьи, ладьи, ручьи) and so on, it never uses it word-initially or after other vowels, and, hence, there was no real reason to introduce the third letter to the pair. When still used after vowels or word-initially (in loanwords) it can be represented with йи should the need arise (Йиржи, Байи etc.)

Apparently the phonetic situation is distinct in Ukrainian and йи is used word-initially and after the vowels often enough to justify adding a third letter to the mix.

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