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What Is Russian Cursive?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated: May 23, 2024

Russian cursive is one technique for writing the letters of the Russian alphabet by hand. In this system of writing, as in most types of cursive writing, the majority of letters are connected to one another, allowing for a single line to be used to write many words. This style of writing can be somewhat difficult for a non-native speaker to read, as some cursive letters look quite different from their printed equivalents, and some writers further cut corners by omitting parts of written letters.

The Russian Cyrillic alphabet contains 33 letters, two of which are signs that change the pronunciation of other letters but have no sound themselves. This alphabet is descended from an older alphabet, invented by Cyril and Methodius, which was largely based on Greek. This early alphabet was quite unwieldy and contained many more letters than modern Cyrillic. It also relied on block letters printed by hand rather than on a cursive system of writing. Russian cursive emerged in something like its modern form as part of the reform campaigns of Peter I during the 17th century.

Most letters in the Russian cursive alphabet resemble the printed block letters on which they are based, but there are a few exceptions. The uppercase cursive "D" resembles its printed uppercase equivalent. The lowercase version of the same letter resembles an English cursive "g," however, and bears no real resemblance to the lowercase printed letter "d," which is simply a smaller version of the capital letter. The cursive form of the letter "T" is also much different from the printed form and more closely resembles an "M".

A large majority of the handwriting done in Russian is in Russian cursive instead of hand-printed block letters. Cursive is learned early by Russian schoolchildren, who master this form of writing much sooner than English-speaking students typically learn cursive handwriting. Native speakers of Russian often cut corners when using Russian cursive, which can make reading this script difficult for non-native speakers.

Several groups of letters, such as "m" and "l" or "p" and "t" are difficult to distinguish from one another in Russian cursive script. Special marks are used to indicate these letters, and some other often-confused pairs, in writing. Native speakers generally find these additional markings to be superfluous and are apt to omit them when writing in cursive. Foreign speakers of Russian are less able to make do without these additional markings, and may have a difficult time reading hastily-written Russian cursive handwriting.

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Discussion Comments
By meteorsk — On Feb 10, 2013

@kentuckycat: Don't want to sound too pedantic, but there is no such thing as Cyrillic languages. Russian is a Slavic language and can be written both ways (even better in the Latin alphabet I'd say). So can English, which happened to be, by the way, a Germanic language (not 'a romance based language'), be written in Cyrillic (with some alteration). Have a good one!

By Emilski — On Oct 19, 2011

Even with the difficulties associated with learning cursive letters in a new language, it must be harder considering Russians take shortcuts in their writing. That is something I don't think we do in English.

What are the other Cyrillic languages? Do they have the same letters and same pronunciations? What about their printing and writing styles?

Besides Cyrillic languages, I guess I would have the same questions about other types of languages like the Germanic languages. Thinking about languages like Chinese and Japanese, I'm sure there are tons of shortcuts they take when they are writing.

By titans62 — On Oct 18, 2011

@Izzy78 - I am definitely not fluent in Russian, but I know enough to understand how complicated the language can be. I suppose if you grew up with it, it would be no different than knowing English, but Cyrillic languages have a lot of differences from our language.

Technically speaking, Russian doesn't have any particular sounds that you can't have in English, they are just much more common and represented by letters. Russian letters are specific like Spanish in that you can always tell the pronunciation of a word based on its spelling (with one exception). Even Spanish has the rolled "r" sound that is hard to express in English.

By Izzy78 — On Oct 17, 2011

@kentuckycat - Good point. I never considered how much difficulty people from other countries would have trying to figure out our cursive latters.

In English a lot of times, people will have a mixture of print and cursive in their writting. Do they do the same thing in Russian? Are the letters easy to form and write together like they are in English, or are there some letters that are hard to join together?

I was wondering too about the number of letters in the Russian alphabet. Even if you take out the two letters that modify other letters, what sounds are there in Russian that we don't have in English or other similar languages?

By kentuckycat — On Oct 16, 2011

I started to learn Russian when I was in college, but it was too time consuming, and I gave up on it. I do remember looking at the different ways letters were written.

I never really thought about it until then, but even in English, our typed letters are a little bit different from handwritten letters, and those can be much different from cursive letters.

I think part of the reason people who speak romance based languages like English and Spanish have such a hard time with Cyrillic languages like Russian is that both languages share many of the same symbols, but they have different sounds.

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