Some words of Greek descent use ф as corresponding to the Greek θ, while some use т. The former I think tend to be loaned earlier. However, in "Brothers Karamazov" I have found Mitya using the word "эфика". The footnotes stated "He probably meant этика", however, the spelling "эфика" would be correct when transliterating θ to ф.

So is it an example of a word with alternative spellings? Are there many such words?


3 Answers 3


Words borrowed directly from Ancient Greek usually use т, б and е/э for θ, β and η: теология, термометр, библиотека.

Works borrowed through Byzantine Greek (translated from Byzantine sources) use ф, в and и: Фёдор, Фермопилы, Афины, Фивы.

The same applies to the Hebrew loanwords and transliteration of Hebrew names: biblical names would read as Варавва (Barabbas), Вифлеем (Bethlehem), Эсфирь (Esther), Валаам (Balaam), while names transliterated at later times use modern reading: Бар-Кохба (Bar-Kokhba).

Some words changed their spelling from Byzantine to Ancient Greek with time (вивлиофика -> библиотека, апофика -> аптека etc.). The spelling of such words was not stable at the time, this is why Mitya spells it the Byzantine way while the modern spelling is the Ancient Greek way.

In the modern language, new words are borrowed using Ancient Greek reading and the reading of existing loanwords is stabilized, so I'm not aware of words in the modern language which are read both ways (one of the readings would be considered obsolete).

Some common names of the same origin, spelt the same in other languages, are spelt differently in Russian: for instance, the name of the city of Beth Shemesh, Israel is spelt Беф-Шемеш in biblical context and Бейт-Шемеш in the modern context.

  • One more example of the word spelling changing over time. "фиатр" used by Karamzin in 1815, and modern "театр." The word was used as in "military theater" / "theater of war"
    – Vitaly
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 19:56

Here is another example. The word “catholic” (καθολικὴ) is spelled either as “католический” or as “кафолический” in Russian. These two spellings, however, are used in different contexts.

“Католическая церковь” means the Catholic Church.
“Кафолическая церковь” means а universal church.


There is an interesting issue with the word алгоритм. Sometimes, in certain contexts, it's traditionally spelled as алгорифм.

  • 2
    in what exactly contexts it is spelled as алгорифм?
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 9:33
  • 1
    here is a quote - В 1950 А. А. Марков описал спец. класс А. (названных им "нормальными алгорифмами"), осуществляющих преобразование слов - that actually does not provide an evidence that currently this word is used.
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 10:27
  • 1
    well I am a native speaker, as well as you, I believe, and phrase "in certain contexts it is traditionally spelled as алгорифм" without any example provided, once again, sound very suspicious. I've never see second form in usage and hardly can imagine such context.
    – shabunc
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:36
  • 2
    Maybe you just aren't a mathematician from St. Petersburg. Because they are the people who can tell us more on this issue. "I've never seen" isn't a valid argument. For example, I can see this link on the first page of Google search results: dxdy.ru/topic755.html
    – thorn
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 13:30
  • 2
    Markov's normal algorithms are probably the only currently existing example of spelling through ф.
    – bipll
    Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 12:26

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