Ukrainian phonology

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Main article: Ukrainian language

This article deals with the phonology of the standard Ukrainian language.


A chart of Ukrainian vowels and their allophones.[citation needed] Larger dots and font indicates main allophones of phonemes (when they are stressed and aren't preceded by palatalized consonants). Red lines connect main allophone to non-syllabic one, blue lines connect main allophone with unstressed allophones, and green lines connect allophones not preceded by palatalized consonants with allophones preceded by palatalized consonants.

Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes: /ɛ ɪ i ɑ ɔ u/. /ɪ/ may be classified as retracted high-mid front vowel[1]

Ukrainian has no phonemic distinction between long and short vowels, however unstressed vowels are somewhat reduced in time, and as a result, in quality.[2]

  • In unstressed position /ɑ/ has an allophone [ɐ], /ɔ/ has an allophone [o].[3]
  • If /u/ is followed by a syllable containing /u/ or /i/ it has an allophone [ʊ].[3]
  • Unstressed /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ sometimes are difficult to distinguish.[3]


Labial Dental/
Dorsal Pharyngeal /
Hard Hard Soft Hard Hard Soft Hard
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate t͡s d͡z t͡sʲ d͡zʲ t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ x ɦ / ʕ*
Approximant w* l* j
Trill r

When consonants appear in pairs, the one to the left is voiceless and the one to the right voiced.

Phonetic details:

  • There's no complete agreement about the nature of /ɦ/. According to some linguists it is pharyngeal [ʕ][4] ([ħ] when devoiced).[4] According to others it is glottal [ɦ].[5] In any case the devoiced variant can be fronted to [x] in some "weak positions".[4]
  • Word-finally, /m/, /l/, /r/ are voiceless [], [], [] after voiceless consonants.[6] In case of /r/, it only happens after /t/.[7]
  • /l/ is velarized to some degree, so it is actually [ɫ];
  • The letter "Щ" is not a separate phoneme, but rather a combination of two phonemes. Prototypically it is /ʃt͡ʃ/, but the actual realization varies: /ʃt͡ʃ/~/ɕt͡ɕ/~/ɕː/;
  • /w/ is most commonly bilabial [β̞] before vowels [8] but can alternate with labio-dental [ʋ] (most commonly before /i/,[8] also before /ɪ ɛ ɑ/[citation needed]). It is also vocalized to [u̯] before consonant at start of word, after vowel before consonant and after vowel at end of word.[8][9]
  • /r/ often in spoken language becomes a single tap /ɾ/;
  • /t d dʲ n nʲ s sʲ z zʲ t͡s t͡sʲ d͡z d͡zʲ/ are dental [ d̪ʲ n̪ʲ s̪ʲ z̪ʲ t̪͡s̪ t̪͡s̪ʲ d̪͡z̪ d̪͡z̪ʲ],[10] while /tʲ l lʲ r rʲ/ are alveolar [ l r ].[11]
  • Postalveolar sibilants are somewhat rounded[citation needed];
  • The group of palatalized consonants consists of 10 phonemes: /j, dʲ, zʲ, lʲ, nʲ, rʲ, sʲ, tʲ, ʦʲ, dzʲ/ all of which except /j/ have a soft and a hard variant. There is no complete agreement about the nature of the palatalization of /rʲ/, sometimes it is considered as a semi-palatalized consonant.[12] Labial consonants b, p, m, v, f have just semi-palatalized phonemes, and w has only hard variant.[13] The palatalization of the consonants /ɦ, ɡ, ʒ, k, x, t͡ʃ, ʃ, d͡ʒ/ is weak; they are usually treated rather as the allophones of the respective ‘hard’ consonants, not as separate phonemes.[3]

Gemination may occur:[citation needed]

  • Between vowels for palatalized alveolar consonants (other than /rʲ/), and semi-palatalized allophones of postalveolar consonants.
  • Between vowels across prefix-root or root-root boundaries for other coronal consonants as a result of their coincidence. In this case /w/+/w/ form [u̯β̞].
  • At the start of the word for forms of the verb лити (ллю /lʲːu/, ллєш /lʲːɛʃ/, etc.), the verb ссати /sːɑtɪ/ and derivatives.
  • In other cases for /n/.

When two or more consonants occur word-finally, then a vowel is epenthesized under the following conditions.[14] Given a consonantal grouping C1(ь)C2(ь), where C is any consonant. The vowel is inserted between the two consonants and after the ь. A vowel is only inserted if C2 is either /k/, /w/, /l/, /m/, /r/, or /ts/. In this case:

  1. If C1 is either /w/, /ɦ/, /k/, or /x/, then the epenthisized vowel is always [o]
    1. No vowel is epenthesized if the /w/ is derived from a Common Slavic vocalic *l, for example, /wowk/ (see below)
  2. If C2 is /l/, /m/, /r/, or /ts/, then the vowel is /ɛ/.
  3. The combinations, /-stw/ /-sk/ are not broken up
  4. If the C1 is /j/ (й), then the above rules can apply. However, both forms (with and without the fill vowel) often exist

Ukrainian has a non-syllabic [ɪ̯] as an allophone of /j/.[citation needed] It also has a non-syllabic [u̯] as an allophone of /v/. Moreover, due to their semi-vocalic nature these sounds alternate with the vowel phonemes /i/ and /u/ respectively, the latter being used at the absolute beginning of a phrase, after a pause or after a consonant and the former following a vowel and preceding a consonant (cluster), either within a word or at a word boundary:[citation needed]

він іде /vin idɛ/ ('he's coming')
вона йде /vɔnɑ jdɛ/ ('she's coming')
він і вона /vin i vɔnɑ/ ('he and she')
вона й він /vɔnɑ j vin/ ('she and he');
Утомився вже /utɔmɪwsʲɑ wʒɛ/ ('already gotten tired')
Уже втомився /uʒɛ wtɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('already gotten tired')
Він утомився. /vin utɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('he's gotten tired')
Він у хаті. /vin u xɑtʲi/ ('he's inside the house')
Вона в хаті. /vɔnɑ w xɑtʲi/ ('she's inside the house')
підучити /pidut͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')
вивчити /vɪwt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')

This feature distinguishes Ukrainian phonology remarkably from Russian and Polish, two related languages with many cognates.

Consonant assimilation[edit]

Voiceless obstruents are voiced when preceding voiced ones, but the reverse is not true.[15]

  • [nɑʃ] ('our')
  • [nɑʒ dʲid] ('our grandfather')
  • [bɛrɛzɑ] ('birch')
  • [bɛrɛzkɑ] ('small birch')

The exceptions are the words легко, вогко, нігті, кігті, дьогтю, дігтяр, and derivatives where /ɦ/ may be devoiced to [h], or even its phonological voiceless counterpart [x]. Prefixes ending in /z/ may be devoiced before voiceless obstruents, especially in fast speech.[citation needed]

Affricates are not formed across prefix-root, or root-root boundaries, or across word boundaries, however they are formed across left boundaries of suffixes /sʲk/ and /stw/.[citation needed]

Sibilant consonants (including affricates) in clusters assimilate place of articulation and palatalization state of the last segment in a cluster. The most common case of such assimilation is verbal ending -шся where |ʃsʲɑ| assimilates into /sʲːɑ/. This assimilation is specific to morpheme boundaries because such clusters don't occur within one morpheme.[citation needed]

Deviations of spoken language[edit]

There are some typical deviations which may appear in spoken language (often under influence of Russian language),[16] usually they are considered as phonetic errors by linguists.[17]

  • [ɨ] for /ɪ/
  • [ɕ] for /t͡ʃ/
  • [rʲ] for /r/, [bʲ] for /b/, [vʲ] for /v/ (e.g. in words Харків, Об, любов'ю)
  • [v] or [f] for [w ~ β̞ ~ ʋ] (e.g. in words любов, робив)

Historical phonology[edit]

Main article: Proto-Slavic language

Modern standard Ukrainian descends from Common Slavic and is characterized by a number of sound changes and morphological developments, many of which are shared with other East Slavic languages. These include:

  1. In a newly closed syllable, that is, a syllable that ends in a consonant, Common Slavic *o and *e mutated into *i if the following vowel was one of the yers (*ĭ/ь or *ŭ/ъ).[citation needed]
  2. Pleophony: The Common Slavic combinations, *CoRC and *CeRC, where R is either *r or *l, become in Ukrainian:
    1. CorC gives CoroC (Common Slavic *borda gives Ukrainian boroda)
    2. ColC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *bolto gives Ukrainian boloto)
    3. CerC gives CereC (Common Slavic *berza gives Ukrainian bereza)
    4. CelC gives ColoC (Common Slavic *melko gives Ukrainian moloko)
  3. The Common Slavic nasal vowel *ę is reflected as /jä/; a preceding labial consonant generally was not palatalized after this, and after a postalveolar it became /ä/ Examples: Common Slavic *pętь became Ukrainian /pjät/ (п’ять); Common Slavic *telę became Ukrainian [tɛ'lʲæ]; and Common Slavic *kurčę became Ukrainian /kur't͡ʃä/.[citation needed]
  4. Common Slavic *ě (Cyrillic ѣ), generally became Ukrainian /i/ except:[citation needed]
    1. word-initially, where it became /ji/: Common Slavic *(j)ěsti became Ukrainian /'jistɪ̞/
    2. after the post-alveolar sibilants where it became /ä/: Common Slavic *ležěti became Ukrainian /ɫɛ'ʒätɪ̞/
  5. Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /ɪ̞/[citation needed]
  6. The Common Slavic combination -CьjV, where V is any vowel, became -CʲCʲV, except:[citation needed]
    1. if C is labial or /r/ where it became -CjV
    2. if V is the Common Slavic *e, then the vowel in Ukrainian mutated to /ä/, e.g., Common Slavic *žitьje became Ukrainian [ʒɪ̞tʲːæ]
    3. if V is Common Slavic *ь, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšьjь became Ukrainian /mɪ̞'ʃɛj/
    4. if one or more consonants precede C then there is no doubling of the consonants in Ukrainian
  7. Sometime around the early thirteenth century, the voiced velar stop lenited to [ɣ] (except in the cluster *zg).[18] Within a century, /ɡ/ was reintroduced from Western European loanwords and, around the sixteenth century, [ɣ] debuccalized to [ɦ].[19]
  8. Common Slavic combinations *dl and *tl were simplified to /l/, for example, Common Slavic *mydlo became Ukrainian /'mɪ̞ɫɔ/[citation needed]
  9. Common Slavic *ǔl and *ьl became /ɔv/. For example, Common Slavic *vьlkъ became /vɔv̥k/ in Ukrainian.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Русанівський, Тараненко & Зяблюк (2004:104)
  2. ^ Русанівський, Тараненко & Зяблюк (2004:407)
  3. ^ a b c d Solomija Buk, Ján Mačutek, Andrij Rovenchak. Some properties of the Ukrainian writing system
  4. ^ a b c Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:12)
  5. ^ Stefan M. Pugh, Ian Press. Ukrainian. A comprehensive grammar. 1999. The sound is described as "laryngeal fricative consonant" (гортанний щілинний приголосний) in official orthography: '§14. Letter H' in Ukrains'kyj pravopys, Kyiv: Naukova dumka, 2012, p. 19 (see e-text); Encyclopedia Ukrains'ka mova, Kyiv, 2000, p. 85.
  6. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:6 and 8)
  7. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8)
  8. ^ a b c Жовтобрюх & Кулик (1965:121–122)
  9. ^ Русанівський, Тараненко & Зяблюк (2004:522–523)
  10. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8–10)
  11. ^ Danyenko & Vakulenko (1995:8 and 10)
  12. ^ Сучасна українська мова: Підручник. ред. О.Д. Пономарів. — с. 16, 20
  13. ^ Пономарів, с. 14-15
  14. ^ Carlton, T.R. A Guide to the Declension of Nouns in Ukrainian. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 1972
  15. ^ Mascaró & Wetzels (2001:209)
  16. ^ Олександр Пономарів. Культура слова: мовностилістичні поради
  17. ^ Віталій Маргалик. Проблеми орфоепії в молодіжних телепрограмах
  18. ^ Shevelov (1977:145)
  19. ^ Shevelov (1977:148)


Further reading[edit]

  • Zilyns'kyj, I. (1979). A Phonetic Description of the Ukrainian Language. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66612-7. .
  • Багмут, Алла Йосипівна (1980). Інтонація як засіб мовної комунікації. Kiev: Наукова думка. 
  • Тоцька, Н.І. (1973). Голосні фонеми української літературної мови. Kiev: Київський університет. 
  • Тоцька, Н.І. (1995). Сучасна українська літературна мова. Kiev: Вища школа. 
  • Пономарів, О.Д. (2001). Сучасна українська мова: Підручник. Kiev: Либідь.