Which is correct: Tsar or Czar? How about neither?

Царь is the word for Caesar, or King in Russian. You may know it as Tsar, which few Westerners speak correctly until a Russian corrects and teaches the proper sound.

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Tsar is the right spelling transliteration, by the way, but if you say Tsar or Czar or any sound that fully voices the “r” is wrong and I’ll understand you, your friends will understand you and folk on your street will understand it, but Russians will have to struggle mightily to understand.

Here is a guide to help you:

Think of the English word sigh, s-i-g-h. We really don’t speak the g and instead we say the letters s-i-h.

Well Russian does the same sort of thing with Царь in that they don’t speak the last letter, the R (p).

In addition on this word Russian abruptly cuts off the end of the word because of that letter known as the “soft sign” the letter that looks like: ь

Now, back to sigh, s-i-g-h. If you can say “sigh” then you are darn close to correctly saying Tsar.

Close we admit, but we need to refine it a bit.

Let’s take it letter by letter: Царь. Ts is the first letter. But don’t say “ts” as that is too long. Start with the T and let your mouth begin to add the “s” but stop! Quickly stop but then immediately add an “i” but don’t finish that either (remember that the soft sign negates sound).

Царь = Tsi with only part of the s and part of the i. Ignore the letter R (p), remember that the ь is always unspoken and serves to shorten letters before it, and the a in this configuration is sounded as an i.

Hear it yourself by plugging the word into a tool such as this one: http://www.oddcast.com/home/demos/tts/tts_example.php

Never in your learning has a short four letter word been so difficult.

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