1. Orthographic convention

It is important to understand Belarusian spelling, which can be quite complex and more difficult than Russian. Most of the complexity of Belarusian morphology is a result of spelling rules.

1.1 Vowels

Belarusian has 10 letters representing vowel sounds. They can be divided into two categories, non-iotized vowels and their iotized counterparts. The letters in the second column represent the same sounds as the vowels in the first, but with an initial “y” sound. When a consonant precedes a vowel of the second column, it is palatized.

а я о ё у ю ы і э е

1.2 Invariably Non-palatized Consonants

The letters д, ж, р, т, ч, and ш are always hard, they are never followed by any letter from the second column. In a situation where a word’s morphology would normally place an iotized vowel after a д or a т, those consonants are changed to дз or ц respectively. In a situation where an iotized vowel would normally follow a ж, р, ч, or ш, that vowel is changed to its non-iotized counterpart. The consonants г, к, х are never followed by the letter ы. In a situation where an ы would normally occur, it is changed to an і if following one of these three letters.

бяда́ ‘misery’ → у бядзе́ ‘in misery’
гара́ ‘mountain’ → на гары́ ‘on the mountain’
мяжа́ ‘boundary’ → на мяжы́ ‘on the boundary’
піро́г ‘pastry’ → пірагі́ ‘pastries’
расту́ць ‘they grow’ → расце́ ‘it grows’

1.3 Stress and the vowels о, э, and ё

The letters о, э, and ё normally only exist when stressed. When unstressed, the letters о and э change to а. The letter ё usually changes to a е, but sometimes it also changes to a я. See 1.4 for more details on spelling rules that effect е. Care must be taken when stress shifts to a different syllable.

Sing. → Pl.
вол ‘ox’ → валы́
сасна́ ‘pine tree’ → со́сны
стол ‘table’ → сталы́

There are exceptions, all of which are loan words.

ра́дыё ‘radio’
тэлеві́зар ‘television’
экано́міка ‘economy’

1.4 Conversion of е to other vowels

Any е or ё, which immediately precedes the accent, is changed to я.

адзе́ць ‘to dress’ (perfective) → адзява́ць ‘to dress’ (imperfective)
ве́цер ‘wind’ → вятры́ ‘winds’

Exceptions to this include certain loan words.

бензі́н ‘gasoline’
сезо́н ‘season’
электро́н ‘electron’

1.5 Conversion of о to ы

In words with the accent on the last syllable, it is common for a preceding syllable -ро- to change to -ры-.

бро́вы ‘eyebrows’ → брыво́ ‘eyebrow’
гром ‘thunder’ → грыме́ць ‘to rumble’
кроў ‘blood’ → крыві́ ‘of blood’

1.6 The apostrophe

In Belarusian, this letter fills the function of the Russian letter ъ. It only occurs following a consonant, and preceding an iotized vowel. Having no sound of its own, its function is to separate the sound of the vowel following it from the consonant preceding it. This is either to prevent the consonant from being palatized, or to conform to spelling rules because the preceding consonant is invariably non-palatized.

аб’яві́ць ‘to declare’
п’я́ны ‘intoxicated’
сур’ё́́зны ‘serious’

1.7 Assimilation

Belarusian, like Russian, de-voices its consonants. Voiced consonants followed by unvoiced consonants are pronounced as unvoiced. Unvoiced consonants followed by voiced consonants are pronounced voiced. Consonants at the end of words are pronounced as unvoiced. Belarusian has assimilation with respect to palatization. If a consonant is palatized, an immediately preceding consonant is also palatized, provided it is one of the eligible consonants. Only the consonants дз, з, л, н, с, and ц are eligible to be palatized in this way. The orthographic convention does not explicitely put ь between the two palatized consonants, but it is intended. For the purposes of both assimilation and pronunciation, the letter combination дз is treated as a single letter. The consonants б, в, м, and ф are not palatized this way, but if they are followed by an iotized vowel, consonants that precede one of these letters can be palatized by assimilation. The invariably hard consonants cannot be palatized, and will prevent those consonants preceding them from being palatized by assimilation. See Section 1.2 for more on invariably non-palatized consonants.

Orthography /Pronounciation/
дзве́ры /дзьве́ры/ ‘door’
ёсць /ёсьць/ ‘there is’
пе́сня /пе́сьня/ ‘song’

1.8 Rules for в, у, and ў

If the letter у occurs after a vowel, even if the vowel ends the previous word, it is written as an ў. This letter is pronounced like the English w.

Яна́ пайшла́ ў хлеў. ‘She went into the shed.’
Яна́ стаі́ць у хляве́. ‘She is standing in the shed.’
Гэ́та ўсё, што ёсць. ‘That’s all there is.’
Увайшлі́ яны́ ў ха́ту. ‘They went into the house.’
Я ўвайшо́ў у ха́ту. ‘I went into the house.’

The letter в cannot occur, unless it is immediately followed by a vowel, otherwise, it must change to a ў. The letter ў can precede iotized vowels, but is changed to a в if it precedes a non-iotized vowel. When preceding an iotized vowel, it is not always clear whether the consonant should be a в or an ў.

любо́ў ‘love’ → любо́ўю ‘with love’
спра́ва ‘affair’ → спраў ‘of the affairs’
хлеў ‘shed’ → за хляво́м ‘behind the shed’, у хляве́ ‘in the shed’

Belarusian words cannot normally begin with an о. Many words which would otherwise begin with an оinstead have the letter в added to the beginning. If the о changes to an а due to an accent shift, the initial в often drops off.

во́зера ‘lake’ → азё́ры ‘lakes’
во́кны ‘windows’ → акно́ ‘window’

There are exceptions to this rule, but they are all loan words.

о́дум ‘profound thought’
о́пера ‘opera’
о́рган ‘organ’
о́рдэн ‘ceremonial order’
о́рдэр ‘warrant’

1. Orthographic convention - This section undergoes a massive reconstruction. Please visit later for a stable version.