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When is the Russian letter O pronounced as A?

+3 votes
The Russian O is sometimes pronounced A and other times it sounds like O. Why is it so? And how do you know the difference?
asked Jan 16, 2013 by strochka (530 points)

4 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer

To put it very simply:

O sounds like A when it is not stressed.

The Russian letter O is pronounced [o] when it is stressed and it is pronounced like A [a] or an unclear schwa [ə] when it is not stressed. This is called vowel reduction, and it is an important rule of the Russian pronunciation.

For example,

  • она (she) sounds like [ana] because O is unstressed.
  • однообразный (monotonous) is pronounced as [adnaaˈbraznij] because none of the O's is stressed.
  • облако is pronounced as [ˈobləkə] because stress falls on the first O.

As you can see, the stressed O sounds like [o] and the unstressed O sounds like either [a], [ɐ] or [ə]. By the way, the unstressed A is also reduced from the full [a] sound to the reduced A [ɐ] or an unclear schwa [ə].

If you're a native speaker of English you can compare the unstressed Russian O with the unclear schwa sound [ə]. That's the sound of the -er for professions, e.g. teachER.

To pronounce O correctly, you need to know which syllable is stressed. This can cause confusion for beginning students of Russian because spelling doesn't give any indication of stress. You may need to look it up in a dictionary. But many textbooks and sites for Russian learners will mark the stress for you with an accute accent mark that is placed above the stressed letter like this: о́блако (cloud). Other sites can underline the stressed letter or mark it with color or bold font.

There are some exceptions to the above rule. For instance, [o] is not always reduced in words borrowed from other languages, such as in радио [ˈra.dʲɪ.o] (radio).

answered Jan 16, 2013 by Alex (13,670 points)
selected Jan 16, 2013 by strochka
0 votes

When i studied in high school, the general rule of thumb was that if the syllable was emphathized, then pronounce like the 'o' in "dog". Otherwise, it is pronounced either as the 'u' in "dug" or the 'a' in "gag". For example, the word for "head" (голова) which is transliterated as "golova", is pronounced with the emphasis on the third syllable - "gu-lu-VA".

Originally posted by Anonymous in comments to Russian Greetings lesson

answered Jan 16, 2013 by GFC (420 points)
+1 vote

In every word, there is a specific syllable that we 'emphasize' (or 'stress') more than the other syllables. For example, if I say the word 'apple', it only has its meaning if I emphasize the 'a'. Apple, not aPPLE. If I emphasized the 'pple' then one might think that I am saying 'a PULL' (like a 'tug'). In Russian, we must pay attention to where the stress in the word occurs. If the letter 'o' is stressed, it will sound like the 'o' in the word 'holy or 'open'. But if it is not stressed, it will sound like the 'o' in 'olive' or the 'a' (like you said) in awesome.

I hope that I answered your question!

Originally posted by Anonymous in comments to Russian Greetings lesson

answered Jan 16, 2013 by GFC (420 points)
0 votes
ооо ну по этому лучше не заморачиваться!
answered Aug 19, 2013 by from Russia (300 points)