Russian letter Ё

letter Ё

The letter Ё is the most amazing letter of the Russian alphabet: it seems like it exists, but at the same time like it doesn’t. And how confusing it can be, when you don’t know either a word has the letter Ё or just a plain E. Today we will tell you about the letter Ё, its story, its uses and its particularities. 

The story behind the letter Ё

The letter Ё takes the seventh spot on the Russian alfaphabet. It is usually used to express the softness of consonants, and is pronounced as [о], as in the word орёл. In the other cases it’s pronounced like [йо], as in the word ёж.

The letter Ё was proposed to be used in the Russian alphabet in 1783. And it was done at a meeting of the Academy of Russian Literature by its chairman, Duchess Ekaterina Dashkova. She suggested replacing the combination “io” with a single letter “e”. And the dots appeared, according to one of the theories, following the example of the German umlauts. However, the letter E did not appear in print immediately, because it was too expensive to reprint all the available books and change the printing plates for the new editions.

Ivan Dmitriev was the first preson to use the letter Ё in literature, in his book “И мои безделки”. The letter became widespread thanks to Nikolai Karamzin, a famous writer and historian. However, not everyone was in favor of introducing a new letter into the alphabet, since they considered the “ё” pronunciation to be too colloquial. In addition, many printers found it too difficult to use forms with two dots. And by the XIX century, the letter Ё was out of mass use.

The second coming of the letter Ё began under Joseph Stalin, who did not tolerate discrepancies in geographical names and surnames of generals of the Russian army during the Great Patriotic War. And on December 12, 1942, the letter Ё again found its place in the Russian language.

When is it obligatory to use the letter Ё?

In 1956, the position of the letter E was shaken again, but it did not disappear completely. Instead, rules were introduced to regulate its use. It was required to write the letter Ё in several cases.

  • To avoid misreading the words: всё (everything) и все (everybody), совершённый (completed) и совершенный (ideal).
  • To correctly read complex proper nouns, such as geographical locations, surnames and names: фамилии Кошелев [Kóshelev] и Кошелёв [Koshelyóv], город Могилёв [Mogilyóv].
  • In books for children of preschool and primary school age, in textbooks, dictionaries and reference books for foreigners.


In the modern language, the letter Ё must be used in proper names in official state-issued documents. It is recommended to use it in school textbooks for elementary grades. In other cases, the use of the letter Ё on writing is optional (by author’s choice).


10 interesting facts about the Russian letter Ё

  • In Russian there are around 12 500 words that include the letter Ё. And about 1 500 words begin with the letter Ё.
  • The first ever printed word with the letter Ё was «всё».
  • More than 300 Russian surnames are differenciated by using or not using the letter Ё: Демин — Дёмин.
  • There are 17 Russian names (12 male, 5 female) that use the letter Ё. For exmaple, Алёна, Пётр, Семён.
  • There are words that use the letter Ё two or even three times: трёхзвёздный, трёхведёрный, Бёрёлёх (a river in Yakutia).
  • A Russian hybrid car received its name in honor of this letter, the «Ё-мобиль».
  • In Ulyanovsk, the birthplace of Karamzin, a monument to the letter E was erected in 2005.
  • There is a program that helps you put the letter Ё where it is needed in a text, it’s called «ётАтор».
  • The birthday of the letter Ё is celebrated on the 29th of November.
  • The letter Ё has disappeared from the spelling of a number of foreign and some Russian surnames: Жерар Депардье (instead of Депардьё), кардинал Ришелье (instead of Ришельё), Луи Пастер (instead of Пастёр), Николай Рерих (instead of Рёрих), Афанасий Фет (instead of Фёт).


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Complex words with the letter Ё

letter Ё

«Скоро все мы передохнем» — such a sentence can be found in a book. But how is it pronounced correctly: передо́хнем (will die) или передохнё́м (will take a break)? There are many words that can change their meaning depending on the choice of the letter (Е or Ё): истекший (the one that ended) and истёкший (leaked out), for example истекший год (past year) and истёкший кровью боец (bled out fighter). In most cases it is possible to understand from the context whether the letter Ё is needed in a certain word. But sometimes there is no context or the general meaning remains unclear, and then there may be discrepancies and awkward situations.

Another difficulty is putting the letter Ё where it is not needed, and, conversely, using the letter E instead of the necessary Ё.

Complex words, witch which is mandatory to use the letter Ё:

  • включённый;
  • приговорённый;
  • заключённый;
  • осуждённый;
  • возбуждённый;
  • заворожённый;
  • манёвренный;
  • углублённый;
  • посеребрённый;
  • новорождённый;
  • наращённый;
  • не ровён час;
  • забытьё;
  • остриё;
  • свёкла.

You can often hear «новоро́жденный ребенок», but the correct variant is catually «новорождё́нный». You can also hear «не ро́вен час», although the correct variant is «не ровё́н час». Even Russian speakers themselves confuse the spelling and pronunciation of these words, which is why these words are considered as complex. Please note: when the letter Ё is written in such words, the stress goes on it.

Words that you may think require the letter Ё, but they actually don’t:

  • гренадер;
  • опека;
  • афера;
  • гололедица;
  • многоженец.

There might be confusion with these words, because some of them have single-root or consonant variants with the letter Ё: гололЁд, but гололЕдица; многожЁнство, but многожЕнец; мушкетЁр, but гренадЕр; опЁнок, but опЕка.

Since the Russian language is constantly evolving and changing, many words appeared that can be used both with the letter Ё and the letter Е, both in pronunciation and in spelling:

  • блеклый и блёклый;
  • желчь и жёлчь;
  • белесый и белёсый;
  • маневр и манёвр.

How to remember all these rules and features? To begin with, make use of dictionaries, textbooks, read books intended for younger schoolchildren, listen more and train your colloquial speech. Experience comes with practice! And there’s no better way to practice, than using experienced methods and with certified teachers, as in the school of Russian as foreign “Leader”.

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