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Thread: three grammar questions?

  1. #1
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    three grammar questions?

    1. How do you know when an о is suppose to sound like an а, like in the word похожа?
    2. When are you suppose to use е instead э and vise versa?
    3. How do you know when to use ь in a word?

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    Властелин iCake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scarlett View Post
    1. How do you know when an о is suppose to sound like an а, like in the word похожа?
    2. When are you suppose to use е instead э and vise versa?
    3. How do you know when to use ь in a word?
    1) If "О" is a part of an unstressed syllable then it's reduced to something resembling "А". This phenomenon is called "vowel reduction". It's the complex and elaborate topic. You can check it out here on wikipedia. Vowel reduction in Russian
    2) "Е" and "Э" are two different sounds, so it's mostly about how the word sounds.
    3) And again, it's mostly about how the word sounds. The "Ь" is the symbol showing that the preceding consonant is soft, hence the symbol name, which is the soft sign
    Although, you use the soft sign only if there is no other evidence that the consonant is soft. So let's see what can be the evidence of that.

    If a consonant is followed by these vowels "я, е, ё, и, ю" then the consonant is soft. For example - неделя - "н, д, л" are soft in the word. However, sometimes we still have to add "Ь" before a consonant even though it's followed by the "soft vowel".
    For example:
    объятья and объятя would sound different for a Russian, the first one would sound properly and mean "hugs", the second one would sound improperly and be a nonsense word, however people, I think would still understand what you want to say with объятя but they would have to guess in this case

    So the soft sign is usually put into consonants' clusters as in маленький
    or at the end of a word as in тень

    Note that the Russian soft and hard consonants sound completely different from each other to a Russian ear.

    For example:

    "мать", which is "mother", if pronounced without softening the final "Т" turns into the word "мат" and this word means "obscene language, swearing".
    I do not claim that my opinion is absolutely true.
    If you've spotted any mistake in my English, please, correct it. I want to be aware of any mistakes to efficiently eliminate them before they become a habit.

  3. #3
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    o and a are pronounced like a in the prestressed syllable and at the absolute beginning of a word if it is unstressed. Both sound like a shwa (like a in about) elsewhere in unstressed syllables. In stressed syllables they have their original sound.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scarlett View Post
    1. How do you know when an о is suppose to sound like an а, like in the word похожа?
    2. When are you suppose to use е instead э and vise versa?
    3. How do you know when to use ь in a word?
    Hi, Scarlett!

    First, I want to point out they are not GRAMMAR questions at all. The questions you are asking are pronunciation and spelling questions.
    Grammar is a set of rules how to combine words into a sentence, how to form a question, a negation etc., how to form plural, cases, genders, verb tenses, aspects etc., how and when to use them. I hope you get the idea

    Then,
    1. Yes, it has to do with the vowel reduction as iCake pointed. What you have to know is the right stress position in each word. Please note that in most of cases there are no any clear signs in a word spelling to indicate which syllable is stressed. You just have to know it "by ear".

    But I can provide you with some examples from English to clear it up. BTW, is your native language English?
    In words like "seldom", "melody", "music", "traffic", "pilot", "sentence" etc. it is the FIRST syllable which is stressed.
    In words like "ago", "ahead", "begin", "submit", "conclusion", "provide", "defend" etc. it is the SECOND syllable which is stressed. Try pronouncing them with the stress shifted to the first syllable and you will feel it is wrong.
    The only difference is that in most of English words the stressed syllable is either FIRST or SECOND. But in Russian, any of the syllables can be stressed. Some words have their stress on the first syllable (I mark them red: книга, стадо, облако, радуга, истинному, высказано etc.); some words have their stress on the second syllable (окно, стена, дорога, собака, заманчиво, которому, указанному, высказывала); some words have their stress on the third syllable (колесо, берега, передача, показала, настоящая, упаковано etc.); some - on the fourth syllable (катамаран, переходил, Бородино, сопротивление etc.); some - on the fifth syllable (распереживался, достопримечательность) - this case is already rare, etc.

    The vowel which is stressed is always clearly announced, it is usually longer than unstressed vowels, stronger, and clear. All unstressed vowels are short, weak and usually unclear (that is what the reduction means). In English, "current" and "currant" sound the same due to the vowel reduction in the second (unstressed) syllable. The first vowel in "begin" sounds as in "big", not as in "beg", doesn't it? And that is because of the vowel reduction in the first (unstressed) syllable.

    The same we do in Russian. Only the rules of reduction are somewhat different. "А" and "О" are clearly distinguished only when they are stressed (маг - мог), but when unstressed, both "А" and "О" are reduced to a weak "а" sound (something similar to the English "uh"). Therefore, "cама" and "сома" are pronounced the same. The first vowel is a weak unclear "а".

  5. #5
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    Yes, English is my first language. Sorry about the mistake.

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    2. Then, on "Э-Е" thing:

    Yes, they normally make different sounds, However, "Э" is very rare in native Russian words. It only exists in indicative pronouns (это, этот, эта, эти - this, these, and all their declension forms), in exclamations (эй! эх! э-ге-гей!) and in derivative words like "поэтому" (therefore, because of that) - formed as "по" + "этому" (literally: on-this).

    But there are a lot of foreign language borrowings which have Э: этаж, экскурсия, эскалатор, поэт, поэзия, силуэт, экономика, эпоха, эра - many of them are cognates with Western languages since they mostly come from Latin or Greek (sometimes - from English).

    In the beginning of a word, or after a vowel, the difference between Э and Е is basically the same as between English "E" and "YE". English words like "end, else, egg, elbow" would be transcribed in Russian as "энд, элс, эгг, элбоу". And the words as "yet, yes, yellow, yesterday" would be transcribed in Russian as "ет, ес, еллоу, естердей". So, we pronounce (approximately!) "это" as "ET-tuh", "этаж" as "et-TAHZH", but "ель" as "YEL' ", "если" as "YES-lee"; "поэт" as "puh-ET" but "поел" as "puh-YEL".

    But when after a consonant, Russian Е does not produce any "Y" sound, it only palatalizes ("softens") the preceding consonant: "тело" sounds like "T'EL-luh" where the initial T is palatalized. Э after a consonant is only written in a few loan words to show the consonant is not palatalized (мэр, пэр, сэр).

    3. The soft sign (ь) changes the sound of a consonant making it palatalized.
    For Russians, the following words sound completely different: вес (weight) - весь (all, whole), полка (a shelf) - полька (a woman from Poland), кров (literally "roof" - a dwelling) - кровь (blood), цел (undamaged) - цель (aim, goal), быт (daily life) - быть (to be), горка (a little hill) - горько (bitter, sad), всем (to everybody) - в семь (at seven) etc. etc. So, we just use this letter according to the pronunciation

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