Some special cases of spelling and pronunciation in Bulgarian

The letters я and ю

The letters я and ю can signify a single sound or a diphthong, depending on their position within the word:

In an initial position, they signify the diphthongs йа and йу respectively:
я = йа as in ясен (clear), боя (paint), броя (to count)
ю = йу as in юни (June), каюта ( a ship cabin)

When placed after a consonant though, they signify the vowels а and у and are used to signal that the preceding consonant is softened:
люляк /ljuljak/ (lilac) – pronounced with a soft л

The letter combinations йо and ьо

The letter combination йо is used at the beginning of a word or after a vowel:
йод (iodine), Йордан (a male name), майор (a major)

When this sound combination follows a consonant, it is written as ьо:
Кольо (a male name), миньор (miner)


The stress of Bulgarian words is not fixed (does not fall on a specific syllable) and is marked like this:
главà – head
магазùн – shop

The vowels that are not stressed are less clearly pronounced and the vowels in the following pairs begin to resemble each other when unstressed:
a – ъ (the most frequent case of vowel reduction)
баща (father) is pronounced like бъща
о – у (less frequent and less acceptable)
очила (glasses) is pronounced like учила
е – и (unacceptable – characteristic of dialects)
зеле (cabbage) is pronounced like зели

Changes Я/Е

These changes in some of the forms of a word are based on old phonetic laws and principles (the so called mutating Я):
лято – летни
яр – зверове

Those spelling and pronunciation changes are due to a vowel that existed in Old Bulgarian (ѣ). Where this old vowel used to be, contemporary Bulgarian uses either я, or е (лято, but летни).

The rule is that for я to appear in place of the old vowel ѣ, two conditions must be simultaneously met:

1. The old vowel should be stressed.

2. The old vowel should be located before a “hard” syllable (the syllable is said to be “hard” when it contains one of the following vowels: а, ъ, о, у, while the “soft” syllables contain the vowels e and u), or in the final syllable.


лято – the old vowel is stressed and the following syllable is “hard”, so we use я

летни – the old vowel is stressed but the following syllable is not “hard”, so we use e

звяр – the old vowel is stressed and it is in the final syllable, so we use я

зверове – the old vowel is not stressed and even though the following syllable is “hard”, we use e

There are, however, numerous exceptions:

We use e instead of я in words that originate from the western dialects or are Russian loan words: човек, век,съсед, дело, употреба, etc.

We use e instead of я in words where ж, ч, or ш are located after the old vowel: снежна, пречка, грешка.

We use я instead of е in the plural past forms of the verbs for 1st and 2nd person: търпяхме, търпяхте

Omitting letters in some forms of a word

These vowels appear or are omitted to facilitate pronunciation:
театър – театри (a theatre – theatres)
добър – добра (good – masculine and feminine)
косъм – косми (a hair – hairs)
осем – осми (eight – eighth)
песен – песни (a song – songs)

Pronunciation of voiced and unvoiced consonants at specific positions within the word

At the end of the word, voiced consonants sound like their voiceless counterparts, although their spelling is preserved:
кораб – pronounced as корап (ship)
молив – pronounced as молиф (pencil)
подвиг – pronounced as подвик (feat)
проход – pronounced as прохот (passage, thoroughfare) гараж – pronounced as гараш (garage)
нож – pronounced as нош (knife)
залез – pronounced as залес (sunset)

The same happens when a voiced consonant is positioned directly before an unvoiced one:
покривка – pronounced as покрифка (tablecloth)
градски – pronounced as гратски (urban)
бележка – pronounced as белешка (note)

When an unvoiced consonant is positioned directly before a voiced one, it is pronounced like its voiced counterpart:
сватба – pronounced as свадба (wedding)
сграда – pronounced as зграда (building)

Omission of sounds when pronouncing some words

Omissions of т and д:

шест – pronounced as шес
мост – pronounced as мос
грозд – pronounced as грос
нощ – pronounced as нош
дъжд – pronounced as дъш
вестник – pronounced as весник
хищник – pronounced as хишник

Occasional changes in spelling

These changes are dues to old phonetic laws and principles:
мога – може
пека – пече
страх – страшен
диалог – диалози
ученик – ученици
стомах – стомаси