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ц is an always-hard consonant. Yet in some cases it is followed by и while in other cases - with ы. Consider цыган vs Ельцин vs. Курицын. What are the general rules?

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The rule is rather simple. In the root of a word, usually ци is written, цы is written only in the following words and in all their derivatives:

цыган, цыпленок, цыпочки, цыц

which can be easily remembered with the help of this mnemonic sentence:

Цыган на цыпочках цыкнул цыплёнку: "Цыц!"

In the suffixes and endings, цы can appear when the suffix -ын and the adjectival ending -ый are added after ц:

Синицын, Курицына

куцый, бледнолицый

And also цы appears when the ending -и / -ы is added after the words with stems ending in (after which is always 'hard', non-palatalized, it is always ):

Молодцы, красавцы, отцы


Note 1: There are no specific rules that apply to surnames, each surname must be written exactly as it is written in the person's passport. That is why the surname Ельцин is written with и, one more famous idiosyncratic surname is Вицин.

Note 2: In the texts printed in the first half of the 20th century and earlier, цы can appear in other roots, too: цыгарка, цымбалы, цыбуля, etc., but that is obsolete spelling, these words are written with ци now.

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  • Why is Ельцин then? – Anixx Nov 9 '13 at 6:32
  • @Anixx - There are no rules that apply to surnames, each surname must be written exactly as it is written in the person's passport. One more surname that is idiosyncratic is Вицин. I'll add that to my answer. – Yellow Sky Nov 9 '13 at 6:40

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