What is your name?

 Common Russian phrases

by Nikolai V. Shokhirev

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Transliteration convention

Transliteration is the presentation of some alphabet using the letters of some other alphabet. In this case it is presentation of Russian letters by Latin letters. I use this system for communication in Russian with my friends (e.g. via e-mail). Note that I use "J" for the letter and sound and "Y" for (see the table below).

The symbols in blue extend this system for better description of pronunciation of letters that have two variant of pronunciation (these letters are not used in my transliteration system). 

How to read Russian

The "atom" in English is a word. One has to know the correspondence between the pronunciation and spelling of a whole word.

Russian language does not have a spelling problem. The "atom" in Russian is a syllable. Furthermore, in the majority of cases a letter is an atom.

To read in Russian:

  1. Split a word into syllables. A syllable has only one vowel. Note that Russian does not have double letters (like English "oo") and the two (or more) adjacent identical letters belong to different syllables .
  2. Pronounce a syllable.
    a) If a syllable does not contain , , and then further split the syllable into letters and pronounce each letter according to the table below
    b) The above four letters have two variants of pronunciation:
        (i) The letters   , , and in the beginning of a syllable sound as "je", "jo", "ju" and "ja" respectively. It means that in this case one letter is used instead of two Russian letters:  ;
       (ii) In all other positions they sound as "e", "ö", "ü", "ã"  respectively (see the explanations below in the table).

The Table

My system
of transliteration
and pronunciation 
Pronunciation Russian
A a a in car
O o o in pot 
E e e in met
I i ee in see, greed
J j short "i": like y in boy , German j 
U u oo in boot
Y y hard "i": like i in ill , grid
Vowels with two variants of pronunciation
E e E e e in men - in the middle or the end of a syllable
Je je ye in yet - the beginning of a syllable
Jo jo Ö ö German (like u in English burn) - middle, end of a syllable
Jo jo yo in yonder or York - the beginning of a syllable
Ju ju Ü ü German (like u in French rue) - in the middle or the end of a syllable  
Ju ju u in duke - in the beginning of a syllable 
Ja ja à ã a in French la or in Spanish ña  
Ja ja ya in yard - in the beginning of a syllable
B b b in bit
V v v in vine
G g g in go
D d d in do
Zh zh s in pleasure
Z z z in zoo
K k k in kitten
L l l in lamp
N n n in not
P p p in pot
R r r in trilled ( or Scottish r; Any other "r" is also OK)
S s c in cell or s in see
T t t in tip
F f f in face
H h ch like in Scottish loch. any other "h" is also OK
Ts ts ts in sits or German z
Ch ch ch in chip
Sh sh sh in shut
Shch shch sh followed by soft ch or a soft variant of sh
' apostrophe 1) no sound, softens the preceding consonant (e.g.  = Spanish ñ)
2) forces a subsequent vowel to sound as in the beginning of a syllable
soft sign
' apostrophe 1) no sound, hardens the preceding consonant
2) forces a subsequent vowel to sound as in the beginning of a syllable
hard sign

1) The first function of the Soft and Hard signs very rare changes the meaning of words so you can just ignore them. 
2) The second function is more important because it essentially changes the pronunciation of the vowels with two variants of pronunciation.


The syllables in stressed positions are displayed in bold. Gender: (m) stands for masculine, (n) for neutral and (f) feminine.

Informal: What is your  name? [How are you called?] (*) Kak tebã zovut?
Polite, formal: What is your  name? Kak Vas zovut?
I am called Maria Menã zovut Marija 
I am called Robert Menã zovut Robert
My first name is Maria (**) Mojo imã - Marija 
My last name is Petrov Moja familija - Petrov
What is your first name?
(tvojo - informal, Vashe - formal)
Kakoje tvojo (Vashe) imã?
 What is your last name?
(tvoja - informal, Vasha - formal)
Kakaja tvoja (Vasha) familija?

*) This question can mean either "What is your first name?" or "What is your last name?" , or both. 

**) hyphen (dash) stands for (is). This verb is usually omitted (except the scientific texts). In pronunciation it is expressed as a short pause. 

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