Word stress in Russian
You've heard it a lot of times, and you have experienced it too: it isn't too easy to get stress right in Russian. Unless you are a native speaker, or you have the chance of using spoken Russian frequently (and even if this is the case), word stress is something you have to work on. There is no such thing as predictable stress, so you have to learn which syllable is stressed along with each word you learn. Hopefully, this should happen naturally, that is: you should hear the word before reading it, and be presented with it's meaning too, instead of having to look it up in the dictionary, since using the dictionary repeatedly just isn't a nice thing to do while you are learning a language.
However, many don't have the luck of being helped by a fluent speaker. Maybe you are one of them, but you still want to pronounce words correctly when you read them. Maybe you do have the help of fluent speakers, but still can't get used to things such as shifting stress.
I have built this page in order to share some useful material and knowledge regarding stress in Russian. I hope it helps you understand stress in nouns, adjectives and verbs: what you will find, which patterns there are, what you should care about. I hope this site will help you pronounce Russian confidently.
Finally, be warned: I make no claim of the accuracy of the information above. I'm not a college student or a scholar, I simply learn Russian for fun in my spare time.
First of all, I should insist that the best method of learning the correct stress of words is to hear the language. If possible, you should have the help of a fluent speaker.
Whichever your situation is, you should try as hard as possible to feel the sounds of the language before thoroughly and consciously studying the information above. There is much that you can discover by yourself. Hopefully, you should read this page only to confirm and complete what you already know.
Finally, the most important piece of advice: don't get obsessed with stress. Relax! Don't think you must know the stress of every single word you read or pronounce. And don't treat stress as if it were some sort of exact science.
These basic facts sum up all there is to stress in Russian:
- In Russian, every word is stressed. One-syllable particles such as то, под, до, чтобы, etc. are the main exception. Whether they are stressed or not depends on the surrounding words and the speaker, too.
- Stress is an important part of correct pronunciation in Russian.
- Stress can be the only distinctive feature between words spelled identically. Typical examples of this are мука/мука (torture/flour) and слова/слова (Genitive singular/Nominative plural of слово, "word").
- No stress mark is used on real texts. In contrast, textbooks put the stress mark on every single word, as well as good dictionaries.
- On the one hand, most nouns have regular, non-moving stress. On the other hand, many important nouns have shifting stress, which means that different forms of the same word may have the stress on different syllables.
- Long-form adjectives have perfectly regular stress: either it is fixed on a root syllable, or it is fixed at the end. In contrast, stress in short-form adjectives is pretty chaotic: different people will stress the same form on different syllables.
- Verbs can have shifting stress too. There are two common irregularities:
- In the present tense forms: 1st person singular is stressed on the final syllable, the rest of the forms are stressed on a previous syllable.
- In the past tense forms: the femenine form is stressed on the final а, while the other forms are stressed on a previous syllable.
- It is not only a matter of word stress. Some fixed expressions have a stress of their own. The one example you must know is the expression не было, which is stressed on the е in не, with no stress on the word было, even though the word было is normally stressed on the ы.
More facts and useful tips
You should be able to correctly read many Russian words by just learning these facts:
- If you encounter the syllable -тель- in a word, then the previous syllable is likely to be stressed. Thus, you can correctly guess that the word обстоятельство is pronounced обстоятельство and that обворожительная is pronounced обворожительная. Don't fear long words! Some exceptions: слушатель, смертельный.
- Words which end in -ие usually have stress on the last vowel before the -ие ending. Thus, you pronounce образование, приглашение, развитие, присутствие. These -ие words form a easily recognizable class of nouns, many of which are derived from verbs (приглашение comes from приглашать/пригласить). The main exception of the stated rule are -ие words derived from 1) -ова- verbs whose stress is before the -ова- and 2) imperfective verbs with -ива-/-ыва- whose stress is before the -ива-/-ыва-. For example, требование, which is derived from требовать, preserves the stress of the verb. So does разглядывание from разглядывать. Other words have irregular stress just because, such as намерение.
- Words which end in -ия usually have their stress on the last vowel before the -ия: энергия, фантазия.
- Usually, the vowel before the ending -ческий is stressed: мелодический.
- The endings -ство (as in гражданство) and -ость (as in яркость) are not usually stressed. There are some important exceptions, though.