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Pre-Reform Russian Orthography Cheat Sheet

The purpose of this document is to assist individuals working with publications issued in pre-reform or non-standard Russian orthography. Individuals working with these publications may need to be able to convert bibliographic data from pre-reform to modern orthography, and vice versa, in order to, for example

This document summarizes systematic correspondences between pre-reform and modern Russian spelling, and lists other common variations where special attention may be needed. Catalogers may use this document in conjunction with Transliteration of Titles in Pre-Reform Orthography in Slavic Languages.

The Russian orthographic reform of 1917-1918 introduced a number of major changes into the Russian language, including the elimination of several letters from the alphabet and the spelling of a number of ubiquitous affixes. However, Russian spelling rules were not officially codified until 1956, and certain minor variations and inconsistencies can be found in Soviet publications of this early period. Pre-reform spelling rules were not officially codified at all; therefore much greater variation in spelling can be found in pre-revolutionary publications. Furthermore, the Russian émigré communities, for whom spelling became a political matter, continued to issue publications in pre-reform orthography (often introducing their own variations) throughout the 20th century. Consequently, individuals working with these publications may encounter variations in spelling not covered in this document. Appropriate reference sources should be consulted in those cases.

I. Obsolete Letters:

The orthographic reform eliminated 4 letters (I i, Ѣ ѣ, Ѳ ѳ, Ѵ ѵ) from the Russian alphabet, and greatly restricted the use of ъ (tverdyi znak). The following table summarizes the correspondences between obsolete letters and their modern counterparts. Each letter is discussed in greater detail below.

Pre-reform spelling

Romanization

Modern spelling

Romanization

I i

Ī ī

И и *

I i

Ѣ ѣ

I︠E︡ i︠e︡

Е е *

E e

Ѳ ѳ

Ḟ ḟ

Ф ф

F f

Ѵ ѵ

Ẏ ẏ

И и

I i

*For exceptions and special situations see below.

  1. І і (и десятеричное / i desiaterichnoe)
  2. This letter appeared most commonly before vowels and the letter й, as well as in a small number of roots (e.g. мiръ 'world'). It corresponds to the modern letter И и in most environments.

    Example:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    стихотворенія   стихотворения
    stikhotvorenīi︠a︡

    stikhotvorenii︠a︡

    However, when i occurs before the letter o, modern spelling may have several different outcomes, and special attention should be exercised.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    флетовый  

    фиолетовый

    fīoletovyĭ

    fioletovyĭ

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    серзный  

    серьeзный (серьëзный)

    serīoznyĭ

    ser′eznyĭ (ser′ёznyĭ)

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    маръ  

    майор

    maīor

    maĭor

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    медалнъ  

    медальон

    medalīon

    medal′on

  3. Ѣѣ (ять / yat)
  4. This letter appeared in approximately 130 roots, as well as in a number of derivational and inflectional affixes. It corresponds to modern Е е in all environments, save for the exceptional forms below.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    повѣсть  

    повесть

    povi︠e︡st′

    povest′

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    Алексѣй  

    Алексей

    Aleksi︠e︡ĭ

    Alekseĭ

    Exceptional forms:

    Pre-reform orthography had distinct forms for the 3rd person plural feminine pronoun (онѣ) and for the feminine plural of один (однѣ). Modern spelling does not make these distinctions.

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    онѣ  

    они

    oni︠e︡

    oni

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    однѣ (однѣхъ, однѣмъ, однѣми)   

    одни (одних, одним, одними)

    odni︠e︡ (odni︠e︡kh, odni︠e︡m, odni︠e︡mi)

    odni (odnikh, odnim, odnimi)

  5. Ѳ ѳ (фита / fita)
  6. This letter occurred in words of Greek origin. It corresponds to modern Ф ф in all environments.

    Example:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    орѳографія  

    орфография

    orḟografīi︠a︡

    orfografii︠a︡

  7. Ѵѵ (ижица / izhitsa)
  8. This letter occurred in words of Greek origin. It corresponds to modern И и in all environments.

    Example:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    сѵнодъ  

    синод

    snod

    sinod

  9. Ъ ъ (твердый знак / tverdyi znak)

This letter appeared at the end of all words and components of compound words that would otherwise end in a consonant. It also appears in the body of words as a separative sign. Modern spelling retains its use as a separative sign, but omits it at the end of words and components of compound words.

Note, that while the letter is omitted in Romanization at the end of words, it should be retained in parallel Cyrillic fields.

Example:

Pre-reform spelling

Modern spelling

контръ-адмиралъ  

контр-адмирал

kontr-admiral

kontr-admiral

Variations in the letter’s use as a separative sign were frequent well into the Soviet period. In some publications, “ъ” was commonly replaced by an apostrophe.

Example:

Pre-reform spelling

Modern spelling

сезд  

съезд

sezd

s′′ezd

II. Morphological changes

  1. Prefixes ending in -з
  2. In pre-reform orthography, prefixes ending in -з (без-, вз-, воз-, из-, низ-, раз-, роз-, чрез-, через-) remained unchanged regardless of the following consonant. In modern orthography, -з became -с if the following consonant was voiceless.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    безполезный  

    бесполезный

    bezpoleznyĭ

    bespoleznyĭ

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    возсоединенiе  

    воссоединение

    vozsoedinenīe

    vossoedinenie

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    черезчуръ  

    чересчур

    cherezchur

    chereschur

     

  3. Masculine and neuter genitive singular adjectives
  4. Pre-reform orthography had endings -аго, -яго for masculine and neuter genitive singular adjectives. Modern spelling has -ого, его.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    соборъ святаго Марка  

    собор святого Марка

    sobor svi︠a︡tago Marka

    sobor svi︠a︡togo Marka

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    синяго цвѣта  

    синего цвета

    sini︠a︡go t︠s︡vi︠e︡ta 

    sinego t︠s︡veta        

     

  5. Nominative and accusative feminine and neuter adjectives
  6. Pre-reform orthography had distinct forms for nominative and accusative feminine and neuter adjectives, with endings -ыя, -iя. Modern spelling does not make this distinction: -ые, -ие are the endings for all genders.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    глупыя шутки  

    глупые шутки

    glupyi︠a︡ shutki

    glupye shutki

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    друг статьи  

    другие статьи

    drugīi︠a︡ stat′i

    drugie stat'i

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    оставшся развалины  

    оставшиеся развалины

    ostavshīi︠a︡si︠a︡ razvaliny

    ostavshiesi︠a︡ razvaliny

  7. Genitive singular feminine pronoun

Pre-reform orthography had a special form of the genitive singular feminine pronoun (ея). Modern spelling has ee (eё).

Example:

Pre-reform spelling

Modern spelling

ея сiятельство  

ее () сиятельство

ei︠a︡ sīi︠a︡tel′stvo

ee () sii︠a︡tel′stvo

III. Other spelling variations

Unlike the above examples, the following changes are not always systematic. Some of these variations, though relatively minor, can be found in publications well into the Soviet period. They are listed here as issues that may require special attention.

  1. О vs. е (ë) after ч, ж, ш, щ
  2. Pre-reform (and early Soviet) spelling sometimes has о after ч, ж, ш, щ in stressed position, where modern spelling has ее (еë).

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    чортъ  

    черт (чëрт)

    chort

    chert (chërt)

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    щолкать  

    щелкать

    shcholkat′

    shchelkat′

  3. Э before i
  4. Pre-reform (and early Soviet) orthography sometimes had э before и in words of foreign origin, where modern orthography has е.

    Examples:

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    клнт  

    клиент

    klīėnt

    klient

    Pre-reform spelling

    Modern spelling

    гна  

    гиена

    gīėna

    giena

  5. Compounds words

Pre-reform orthography sometimes differed from modern usage in the writing of compound words.

Examples:

Pre-reform spelling

Modern spelling

повидимому  

по-видимому

povidimomu

po-vidimomu

Pre-reform spelling

Modern spelling

сельско-хозяйственный  

сельскохозяйственный

sel′sko-khozi︠a︡ĭstvennyĭ

sel′skokhozi︠a︡ĭstvennyĭ

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