I'm studying Russian through the Foreign Service Instutute course available here.

I'm confused about the pronunciation of the letter e. In lesson 1, it says the following about the pronunciation of the letter e:

  1. In Russian the vowels e and я are given full pronunciation only when they are stressed.


  1. When unstressed these vowels are pronounced as a short i.

So what I understood was: "Pronounce e as "ye" when they are stressed, otherwise pronounce them as an "i".

But this can't be right, as then I found words in the prepositional case where I hear the unstressed e being pronounced as "ye". Examples below:


I looked up a previous question about the pronunciation of e and it seemed to suggest that what's happening is that the previous consonant is palatalized and the e is still pronounced as Э.

So am I hearing the e as "ye" even though it's being pronounced as Э with a palatalized consonant? Or is there some rule that I am missing?

  • 3
    The Е in Москве is stressed. Sep 7, 2018 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


There're two aspects to their pronunciation: 1) reduction 2) "threshold"

These aspects are complementary and not mutually exclusive, so must be considered in parallel.

1) When reduced due to being unstressed (save for Ё which is always stressed) the letters Я and Е don't sound like themselves but like И instead or something in between.

2) As a double phoneme that is with the addition of preceding [y] or [й] (the threshold) the letters Я, Ю, Е, Ё are pronounced at the very beginning of words - яблоко [йаблоко], ехать [йэхать], and after Ь and Ъ - семье [cимйэ], съел [сйэл].

In the cited rule 1 'full pronunciation' apparently stands for the letter's alphabetic pronunciation (aspect 1 above) with no regard for the threshold (aspect 2 above), which the rule author probably didn't take into account.

In Москве since
1) [e] is stressed it is NOT reduced - масквЕ instead of масквИ
2) it's not placed at the beginning and neither follows Ь or Ъ, it doesn't have a threshold, thus масквИЭ instead of масквЙЭ. масквЕ = масквИЭ

In живёте since
1) [e] is unstressed it is reduced - живётИ instead of живётЕ
2) it's not placed at the beginning and neither follows Ь or Ъ, it doesn't have a threshold, thus живётИ instead of живётЙИ.

(pronunciation of Ё in живёте could be analyzed in a similar fashion, which i leave to yourself as an assignment)

  • Saying it reduces to (и) is perhaps not a very good way to describe it. For English speakers (i)/ (ih) is much closer than и. The vast majority of reference books support this. In reality only Russians think it's close to и—because that's your reference point :) But for English speakers it's just (i) as in (it). For reference— books.google.no/…
    – VCH250
    Sep 8, 2018 at 10:20
  • one salient feature of Russian grammarless spelling in writing is replacing E's in unstressed position with И's, but in fact the reduced phoneme is in grey zone, it's a neglected E so to speak, when its proper pronunciation isn't cared for, a withered E... no, there's no Й after T, if sometimes it sounds that way, it's a side effect and not to be emulated, careful pronunciation will rather tend to restore the unstressed E Sep 8, 2018 at 11:23
  • You say that it is "живётИ instead of живётЙИ". If that's the case, why does it sound like <ye> at the end (I am hearing the pronunciation at forvo.com/search/%D0%B6%D0%B8%D0%B2%D1%91%D1%82%D0%B5)
    – edoreld
    Sep 8, 2018 at 16:34
  • @edoreld hi, no they don't mix in the Й in there, not sure why you get such an impression, if anything they don't reduce E enough apparently because they pronounce the phrase in isolation and endeavour to pronounce it intelligibly Sep 8, 2018 at 17:15
  • @БаянКупи-ка As I said it's almost identical to English (i). As for the second comment, yes, that's right. I was thinking about something else.
    – VCH250
    Sep 8, 2018 at 21:18

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