The importance of the soft sign or "Ь"

When studying the Russian language, you may have noticed that there is a letter in the Cyrillic alphabet that doesn’t carry any sound per se, but has several uses: “Ь” - the soft sign, or мягкий знак in Russian.

Its uses are related to softening the preceding consonant it accompanies, or to separating vowels to maintain the original sound of the vowels despite their combination. In the case of the first use of this sign, we can find some interesting situations, where its presence or absence at the end of a word can completely change the meaning.

In some cases we’re talking about verbs that, with a soft sign at the end, change from the indefinite form to the definite tense mode:
убить (to kill) - убит (killed)
лечить (to cure) - лечит (he/she cures)
есть (to eat) - ест (he/she eats)
солить (to salt) - солит (he/she salts)
родить (to give birth) - родит (she will give birth)

In other situations, which I personally consider very curious, we find nouns, and not only nouns, with very different meanings because of the soft sign:
мель (shallow) - мел (chalk)
вонь (stink) - вон (there)
пыль (dust) - пыл (fervor)
моль (moth) - мол (mole)
брать (to take) - брат (brother)
уголь (coal) - угол (corner)
цель (goal) - цел (whole)
трон (throne) - тронь (touch)
мать (mother) - мат (filthy language)
жесть (tin) - жест (gesture)

So, as irrelevant as this sign may seem within the alphabet, remember that its presence or absence can completely change the meaning of what one says.

I would also like to point out that using the letter “Ь” or not is also a very common issue for even Russian students if it comes to the verbs.

For example, the verb ending “-ТСЯ” or “-ТЬСЯ”:

  • Мне нравится это представление. {I like this perfomance}


  • Как тебе может нравиться это представление? {How can you like this perfomance?}

:heavy_heart_exclamation:The easy hack to remember when we use the letter “Ь” is to determine which question this verb answers - “Что делать?” {What to do?} or “Что делает?” {What does it do?}. If there is the letter “Ь” in the question, so we use it in the verb. If the questions doesn’t have this letter, then we don’t use it in the verb.

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