by Don  

Буква means letter, as in a letter of the alphabet, not a letter you get in the mail. It's a perfectly regular feminine noun. When you talk about how many letters are in the English alphabet, there is a consensus that the alphabet consists of twenty-six letters. For Russian the situation is slightly hazier, since over the last hundred years sometimes ё is considered a variation of the letter е, and sometimes it's considered a separate letter. The current standards consider them separate letters, so it's educated nowadays to say that the Russian alphabet has thirty-three letters.


Because we English speakers were taught to worry about spelling, we always wonder how to say that a word is written with a particular letter. In that context Russians do not use the preposition «с», but rather «через» followed by the accusative case:

«Раб» пишется через букву «б» а не «п», хотя «б» произносится как «п». “Раб” is written with the letter “б”, not “п,” although the “б” is pronounced like “п.”

Of course we also need to know how to say capital letter прописная буква and lower-case letter (small letter) строчная буква. (Aren't you glad you studied a language where each letter has only two forms as opposed to, say, Arabic, where letters can have an initial, medial and final form?)

Как писать ВЫ — с прописной или со строчной буквы? How do you write “вы”, with a capital letter or a lower-case one?
Во фразе «Новый год» слово «новый» пишется с прописной буквы, а «год» начинается со строчной. In the the phrase “Новый год” the word “новый” is written with a capital letter, and “год” starts with a lower-case one.

Notice that in this context the preposition с is used with the genitive case. I think that's because the Russians conceive of it as starting from a particular letter, not with a particular letter.

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