The Soft and Hard Signs

Sometimes, a consonant will not be followed by any vowels at all, but will still be pronounced soft. To show that this consonant should be pronounced soft, a soft sign (ь) will be placed after it. The Russian language is full of soft signs. In fact, the vast majority of verbs are written with a soft sign in their infinitive form (e.g., читать). Because soft signs are so prominent in Russian, it is important to know how this soft signs affect pronunciation of words.

Words with Soft Signs (ь) Meaning
говорить to speak, talk, say
семья family
лювовь love

Russian also has hard signs (ъ), because sometimes a consonant will maintain its hardness even when it is followed by a soft vowel. For example, in the word объяснить (to explain), the hard sign (ъ) indicates a hard б. If there were no hard sign (обяснить), this б would be pronounced softly because of the я. Remember this rule: Soft signs make the consonant soft; hard signs make the consonant hard. See examples of words with hard and soft signs below.

Words with Hard Signs (ъ) Meaning
объяснить to explain
подъём wake-up time
объём volume (geometric term)