Are there any pronunciation rules for the letter "о"? Why is that letter said slightly differently in the masculine and feminine versions of the sentence "I understand":


я понял


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
  • 1
    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
  • 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 of the Russian vowels, including "о", are pronounced differently depending on whether they occur in a stressed syllable, before the stressed syllable, or after it. In the case of "о", it's like this:

  • when stressed: о

  • before a stressed syllable: ɐ

  • after a stressed syllable: ə (schwa)


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

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

  • пото́чечно (stressed on the second syllable, therefore pronounced as паточəчнə. Тhis word has three "о"s and all are pronounced differently because the first "о" 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 "о"s with the stress on the middle "о").

The masculine по́нял is stressed on the first syllable, so "о" is pronounced as "o". The feminine поняла́, is stressed on the last syllable, so "о" is pronounced as "а". In some dialects and by certain uneducated people, поняла is stressed on the first syllable, in which case it's pronounced as понял with a schwa at the end.

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

  • I think instead of пото́чечно, you could've used осóбенно.
    – CocoPop
    May 23, 2023 at 12:48

The rule says both "о" and "а": after a non-palatalised consonant in the first unstressed syllable, at the absolute beginning, or at the absolute end, have an [ʌ] sound — similar to "а" but of middle height like in "о", whereas all the other unstressed ones have a schwa sound:

  • [ʌбилиск] (for обели́ск),
  • [хəрʌшо] (for хорошо́) with stress on the last syllable,
  • [облəкʌ] (for о́блако) with stress at the very beginning

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