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How do you decide where to put stress in unknown words?

+1 vote

Let's say you encounter a Russian word which you don't know yet. An obvious example could be a rare surname or a place name. Is there any rule of thumb or sets thereof by which you put the stress on a specific syllable? Or are there any specific rules for certain types of surnames, for example such ending in -енко?

asked Jan 13, 2013 by Bitpicker (1,130 points)

2 Answers

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Best answer


Russian language has some of the most unpredictable stress patterns. Stress can fall on different syllables in different words (пра́вило, а́рмия, челове́к). It can shift from syllable to syllable within different forms of the same word (вода́ — во́ду, при́нял — приняла́). What complicates the matter is that stress can change the meaning of the word. Compare "за́мок" (castle) and "замо́к" (lock), "в ду́ше" (in the shower) "в душе́" (at heart).
Even native Russian speakers are prone to mistakes and ambiguities when deciding on where to put stress in certain words. For example some Russians say "кто-то звони́т" (somebody's calling) and others prefer to say "кто-то зво́нит". For this reason, there's not much choice but to memorize stress. Try to make a habit of consulting with a dictionary, asking a competent native speaker, or using special software that shows stress marks.
From my personal observations (which is not definitive) Russian speech tends to be stressed on syllables closer to the end (last but one or the last one). This is especially true for last names and totally different from English where words tend to be stressed on the first syllable.
An interesting feature of Russian stress is that not only words can be stressed but phrases as a whole too. The following phrases merge and and have only one stressed syllable: на́ слово (as in ве́рить на́ слово), не́ было, не на́до, etc.
Some patterns
As for specific patterns, there would be too many to remember. However, it might be beneficial to know at least a few of them:
  • the letter ё is always stressed (with rare exceptions of borrowed and complex words like трёхъя́русный)
  • the -ый and -ий endings are never stressed
  • the -ство and -ость endings are rarely stressed (коли́чество, де́тство, ра́дость, ли́чность)
  • words containing -тель- tend to have the preceding syllable stressed (зри́тель, чита́тель, пита́тельный)
  • words ending in -ие and -ия also tend to be stressed on the preceding syllable (чте́ние, зре́ние, посвяще́ние, исто́рия, компа́ния, револю́ция) with certain exceptions
  • words ending in -ак tend to be stressed on the last syllable (таба́к, дура́к, зодиа́к) with exceptions (за́втрак)
Note: Stressed vowels are marked with the acute accent ( ´ ) in Russian.
answered Jan 13, 2013 by Alex (13,670 points)
selected Jan 13, 2013 by Bitpicker
0 votes


If I need to pronounce unknown English word I usually try to say it in different ways and choose more beautiful variant. 

Енко usually are stressed in Russian. Степа'ненко, Си'ренко, Пет'ренко... I can't remember more surnames with енко now((

answered Jan 13, 2013 by Larusja (1,210 points)
-енко is often stressed, but isn't always :) E.g. И́льченко, Крапи́венко, Кучеря́венко etc.