Are there any pronunciation rules for the letter "о"? I wonder why that letter is slightly differently spoken in feminine and masculine version of the sentence "I understand"

m: я понял

f: я поняла

In a video tutorial (German, 2nd video) they pronounce the male version as "ja ponil" and the female version "ja panila". What is the reason for the subtle distinction in pronunciation?

  • I would rather say "ja ponel". "ponil" sounds unnatural.
    – Anixx
    Sep 20, 2012 at 21:44
  • My advice to you is just to pronounce all unstressed vowels as shwa. This way you will never be wrong.
    – Anixx
    Sep 5, 2013 at 9:47
  • I would have expected this to be a comment, not an answer
    – Aleks G
    Sep 5, 2013 at 10:37
  • This is simply wrong. Just do an experiment on 10 random words and you'll see Sep 5, 2013 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


Many vowels in Russian, including o, are pronounced differently depending on whether they occur on the stressed position, before the stressed position, or after. In case of o it's like this:

  • stressed: o

  • before stressed: a

  • after stressed: ə (shwa)


  • хорошо (stressed on the last syllable, therefore pronounced as харашо)

  • облако (stressed on the first syllable, therefore pronounced as облəкə)

  • поточечно (stressed on the second syllable, therefore pronounced as паточəчнə.Тhe word has three o's and all are pronounced differently because the first o is before the stressed vowel, the second is stressed, and the third is after the stressed vowel. Note that this is a slightly contrived word meaning point-by-point, I just couldn't come up with a simpler example with three o's with the stress on the middle o).

The masculine понял is stressed on the first syllable, so o is pronounced as o. The feminine поняла is stressed on the last syllable, so o is pronounced as a. In some dialects and by some uneducated people, поняла is stressed on the first syllable, in which case it is pronounced as понял with a schwa in the end.

The shift of stress between different forms of the same word is more than common in Russian.

  • Sounds easy. I think regarding stressing this question does already cover that topic, but are there any rules regarding stressing in dependency to masculine and feminine versions? That is, can I expect that most masculine words are differently stressed as the feminine? Or is this one just an exception? And how about polite form of address, e.g. Извините/Извини (that's a bad example, but they're the only words I know). Can I expect stress changes, too? (I am not sure, if that is an separate question worth...)
    – Em1
    Jun 17, 2012 at 12:19
  • @Em1: I wouldn't go as far as to say that most masculine verbs are differently stressed than the feminine, but many really do, especially in the past tense, as in this example. Other example: он пролИл, она пролилА, but: он починИл, она починИла. I don't know of a pattern and can't make one up, so I suppose you have to remember it along with the word you're learning. As to polite form of address (plural), I can't think of an example when the stress changes. Jun 17, 2012 at 12:23
  • should it be spelled "поняла" rather than "понала"? Jun 17, 2012 at 18:54
  • 1
    I don't think your example поточенно is a contrived word (иногда полезно знать, что функция сходится поточечно :)), but some words of broader interest with the three-o stress pattern you want are короткое, которое, полуостров, and попробовать. (Also there's полуплоскость, but that might fall into the contrived category for some reason).
    – KCd
    Jun 26, 2012 at 0:56
  • 2
    "что функция сходится поточечно" You meant последовательность функций сходится поточечно, of course :-)
    – fedja
    Sep 5, 2013 at 11:17

Rule says for both o and a after a non-palatalised consonant first unstressed syllable, absolute beginning and absolute end have [^] - sound similar to а but with a middle up-going like in о, whereas all the other unstressed ones have shwa: [^билиск] (for обелиск), [хəр^шо] (for хорошо) with stress on last syllable, [облəк^] (for облако) with stress in the very beginning (last a because of absolute end).

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