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Three Basic Russian Words You Shouldn’t Be Scared To Pronounce Posted by on Mar 14, 2016 in Russian for beginners

This post is geared towards beginner students of Russian or those who have casually picked up a few words from their friends or from living in a Russian-speaking environment.

 

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation, where you casually ask your Russian friend how to say “Hello” in Russian. After all, that should be easy. Hola and Hallo just roll off the tongue. And you hear Zdravstvuyte (Здравствуйте) in response. Wait, what? How are there consecutive v-s-t-v in that word? Is there an easier way?

Sure, says your friend. There is always Privet (Привет, “Hi”). So you settle for that and maybe even try it on your friend’s grandma. That’s cute, except for the fact that privet is really reserved for your friends, close to you in age. Don’t be afraid to master the real thing! Here are three basic words that may sound like a mouthful at first. We will share some tips to help you say them with confidence. Click on the words in italics to listen to the pronunciation.

Здравствуйте – Hello

Let’s start with the dreaded zdravstvuyteThis is the neutral or formal greeting, said to an adult, a stranger, or anyone who is not your friend or close family. This word is technically an imperative verb wishing the person to be healthy (здоровый, zdorovy).

The breakdown of the word is ZDRA-stvooy-te. Let’s look at it syllable by syllable.

zdra – that consonant cluster may look intimidating, but think about phrases like “his drums” in English. The highlighted part gives you that consonant cluster. If you still struggle with it, you can always drop the initial “z” and not be too far off the mark.

stvooy – you have already said “stv” in English expressions like “fast van.” You may notice that the first “v” of zdravstvuyte is silent. The “y” is just the sound you make in “yes.”

te – this should be easy to say. Try to avoid saying “tay” if you can; “tea” would be better.

One last tip is to make sure you put the word stress, the “oomph” on the first and not the second syllable.

Пожалуйста – Please/You’re Welcome

Pozhaluysta is used either to ask for something (“please”) or to respond to “thank you” (“you are welcome”). First, the word stress is on the zha, not on the luy.

puh – similar to the first two sounds of “puck” (minus the “pop” on the “p”).

ZHA – similar to the first two sounds of “genre.”

luy – pronounced closer to “loo,” skipping over the sound.

sta – similar to the first three sounds of stubborn.

Встречаться – To Meet/Date

Vstrechatsya looks quite formidable at first sight. This reflexive verb means “to meet up with someone” as in “Завтра мы с друзьями встречаемся в парке” (I’m meeting my friends in the park tomorrow). It could also mean “to date someone romantically” like “Они встречались три года, но потом расстались” (They dated for three years before breaking up). Let’s break it down.

vstre – this really sounds like fstre. Think of “rough streets.” If you can’t say it, you can gloss over the initial v.

CHA – same as “cha-cha-cha.”

tsya – this is really pronounced “tsa” like “pizza.”

I hope this helps! Are there any other words you struggle with?

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.


Comments:

  1. Mike:

    After almost 60 years I sometimes still stumble over the first two examples.

    Thanks for exposing the issue of silent consonants in Russian. In my lifetime I’ve studied several languages (and mastered none). Somewhere in the first lessons you inevitably get “unlike in English, all the letters are pronounced exactly as written.” And it’s almost always untrue. I have been amused to see this lie applied even to Russian — I wonder what percentage of Russian words have reduced vowels or devoiced consonants. Off to google that question…

    • Maria:

      @Mike Mike, that’s understandable — Russians will slur/omit certain sounds, too, in colloquial and rushed speech, so there’s no need to sound out every last letter.

  2. Pavel Gromnic:

    You really do a nice job in helping us to learn Russian. It’s a beautiful
    language and culture. It’s late in life for me but I am learning and being more comfortable every day. After a while you start to think in Russian.

    • Maria:

      @Pavel Gromnic Thank you, Pavel! Good luck with your learning experience. I also recommend signing up for the Russian Word of the Day — it’s a great way of steadily building up your vocabulary.