I thought that the pronunciations of й and и were virtually the same, but the plural form of музей (museum) is музеи (museums). When I hear one of these words and can't distinguish them by context, or when I have to speak these two words differently, how can I differentiate them?

What makes them sound different?

3 Answers 3


Му-зей is two syllables, the зей part is just one sound. Му-зе-и, on the other hand, is three syllables. The и is elongated into a separate vowel. This can be hard to catch in quick speech, but with some practice, should be noticeable as longer than the rest of the vowels in someone's speech.


When I hear one of these words and can't distinguish it by context

All human languages, Russian being no exception, have a high level of redundancy. Many languages don't have the concept of plural as a grammatical feature at all; in others, it's not mandatory. In the vast majority of cases, this distinction can either be deduced from the context or just isn't really important.

In rare cases, when you absolutely can't distinguish these words from the context, and this distinction does matter, you'll just have to clarify: Простите, как вы сказали? "Музей" или "музеи"?

or when I have to speak these two words differently

In regular, lax speech these words can indeed be confused. When I was in middle school, literally no one in my class, me included, knew that the name of the Jedi movie was Звёздные войны ("Star Wars"). Everyone thought it was Звёздные воины ("Star Warriors").

However, when you pronounce these two words clearly, different sounds are used: /j/ for музей and /i/ for музеи. If you articulate the final sound, you'll have to pronounce the final /i/ as a separate syllable. This way, it will be as clear as the difference between English "joy" and "Joey".


In му-зе́й the stress is on the second syllable, which is said like "way". In му-зе́-и, the stress is also on the second syllable, but you just add и, which sounds like [ɪ] in pink.

  • A tiny correction: [I] as in 'pink' is not the right choice here. We don't even have this phoneme in Russian. I'd say "you just add [i:] as in 'sheep'".
    – tum_
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 10:12
  • Not true. @V.V. is absolutely correct: "When unstressed, /i/ becomes near-close; that is, [ɨ̞] following a hard consonant and [ɪ] in most other environments." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_phonology I can't imagine anyone says [muzʲejiː]. It's not Czech, after all 😅
    – CocoPop
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 17:19

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