Hard and Soft Stems

Hard and Soft Consonants. The consonants may be hard of soft depending on what letters follow them.

The vowels а, о, у, ы, э indicate that a preceeding consonant is hard.

The vowels я, ё, ю, и, е indicate the softness of a preceeding consonant.

For example,

ба – бя

бу – бю

In the first case the letter б is hard, in the second one it is soft.

The letter ь has no sound but indicates the softness of a preceeding consonant:

стол – соль (table – salt)

Listen to the next words to see the difference between soft and hard consonants:

река – рука (river – arm)

луна – король (moon – king)

меч – мост (sword – bridge)

паук – пикник (spider – picnic)

Russian words have hard and soft stems. Hard stems end in a hard consonant. In this case the ending of a word is a consonant or a hard vowel (а, о, у, ы, э):

дом (house)

полка (shelf)

вино (wine)

Soft stems end in a soft consonant. In this case the ending of a word is й, ь or a soft vowel (я, ё, ю, и, е):

музей (museum)

море (sea)

дверь (door)

The hardness and softness of a stem define what ending we add when we conjugate words.