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E (Э э, , meaning "backwards E") is a letter found amongst Slavonic languages only in Russian and Belarusian, representing the sounds [e] and . In other Slavonic languages using Cyrillic, these sounds are represented by е, which in Russian and Belarusian represents [je] in initial and post-vocalic position or else [e] after a palatalised consonant. In Cyrillic Moldovan, which was used in the Moldovan SSR during Sovietmarker times and is still used in Transnistriamarker, this letter corresponds to ă in the Latin Romanian alphabet. It is also used in the Cyrillic alphabets used by Mongolian and many Finno-Ugrian, Caucasian and Turkic languages of the former Soviet Union.


The letter originated in the thirteenth century as a variant of , at first, according to Djordjić in superscripted line-final position, but by the end of the century elsewhere as well. In the following centuries it continued to appear sporadically as an uncommon variant of є, but in the seventeenth century amongst the Eastern Slavs it began to be used to indicate initial (un-iotated) [e]. According to Križanić, who disapproved of it, this usage was invented by “certain Belarusians”. Although the revision of Meletij Smotrickij’s grammar published in Moscow in 1648 does not include in its alphabet, it does consistently write , in contrast to in the first edition of 1619. It was by no means confined to this function in the period, however, as the prevalent spellings реэстръ, маэоръ (beside маиоръ, маіоръ) demonstrate.

Э in modern Russian

the specimens of the civil script presented to Peter I in 1708, forms of э were included among forms of , but the “forwards” forms were deleted by Peter, leaving only э as a letter of the new alphabet. It was used in some early eighteenth-century Russian texts, but some authorities of the period considered it superfluous. This was the view taken by Lomonosov, on the grounds that, on the one hand, “the letter Е, having several different pronunciations, could serve in the pronoun етотъ and the interjection ей”, and on the other that it was inappropriate to introduce letters solely for use in loan words. However, the inclusion of Э in its modern function in the Russian Academy’s Dictionary of 1789–94 marks the point from which it can be considered as an established part of the Russian orthographical standard.

There was still some objection to the letter even as late as 1817, when M. T. Kačenovskij was questioning whether “yet another hard э” was necessary when the language already had “a soft ѣ and a hard е”.

In contemporary Russian, э is used to represent [e], in initial and post-vocalic position. There are very few native Russian words (apart from этот) where this sound occurs, so the letter is mostly found in words of foreign origin such as электричество, дуэль. It does not normally occur after consonants, even though Russian contains a significant number of words of foreign origin in which [e] occurs after a hard (unpalatalised) consonant; these are normally written with е, for example теннис, сепсис.

In proper names, however, э may occur after consonants, though not normally in those which have a long history in the language, such as Берлин, Berlin. Indeed, it is becoming much more prevalent in recent borrowings: thus the established transcription for the surname Blair is Блэр, whereas that for Blériot (the French aviator) is Блерио. It is also much more usual for names of Oriental origin than for those derived from European languages (for example, Мао Цзэдун for Mao Tse-tung).

The letter э is also used in Russian to render initial in foreign words: thus Eure (the French river) is written Эр. After consonants this is transcribed as ё. In the nineteenth century some writers used ӭ for this sound in both these positions, but this was never accepted as standard orthography. (The letter ӭ was re-invented in the twentieth century for Kildin Sami.)

Э in modern Belarusian

Unlike Russian, Belarusian has many native words in which [e] occurs after a hard consonant. Moreover, its orthography was standardised later than that of Russian (reaching its present form at the beginning of the twentieth century), and on the basis of the spoken language rather than historical tradition. Consequently, э and е are written in accordance with pronunciation: э for initial [e] and after hard consonants, and е for initial and post-vocalic [je] and after soft consonants.

Code positions

Character encoding Case Decimal Hexadecimal Octal Binary
Unicode Capital 1069 042D 2055 10000101101
Small 1101 044D 2115 10001001101
ISO 8859-5 Capital 205 CD 315 11001101
Small 237 ED 355 11101101
KOI 8 Capital 252 FC 374 11111100
Small 220 DC 334 11011100
Windows 1251 Capital 221 DD 335 11011101
Small 253 FD 375 11111101


  1. Петар Ђорђић, Историја српске ћирилице, Београд, 2-a изд., 1987, p.87
  2. Cf Банишко евангелие: среднобългарски паметник от XIII век, подгот. за печат с увод и коментар Е. Дограмаджиева и Б. Райков, София, 1981, pp.13, 341
  3. Juraj Križanić, Gramatično izkazanje ob ruskom jeziku, 1666: Abdruck der Erstausgaben von 1848/59, besorgt von Gerd Freidhof, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1976, p.128
  4. Россійская Грамматика Михайла Ломоносова, печатана в Санктпетербургѣ, при Императорской Академїи Наук, 1755 года, p.43
  5. [М. Т.] Каченовский, “Исторический взгляд на Грамматику Славянских наречий”, Труды О-ва любителей Российской словесности при имп. Московском университете, ч.IX (1817), pp.17-46. He is referring specifically to the spelling in the 1648 grammar mentioned above: “Каким образом появляется здесь обратное Э, которое в азбуке Мелетием обойдено? Разве нужно, при мягком Ѣ, при твердом Е, еще одно твердое Э?” so how far his remarks extend to the Russian of his own day is debatable. The reference to “a soft ѣ and a hard е” is to be understood as referring to the pronunciation of Church Slavonic current in his day (and still maintained by the Old Believers), which may have still been regarded as the literary ideal: see Б. А. Успенский, Архаическая система церковнославянского произношения, Москва, 1968, especially pp.29-35.
  6. Я. К. Грот, Русское правописание, 19-ое изд., Санктпетербург, 1910, p.78

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