Ukrainian phonology

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


Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes: /ɛ ɪ i ɑ ɔ u/. /ɪ/ may be classified as a retracted high-mid front vowel,[1] transcribed in narrow IPA as [e̠], [ë], [ɪ̞] or [ɘ̟].

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/ are sometimes difficult to distinguish.[3]


Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Pharyngeal /
Hard Soft
Nasal m n
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Affricate t͡s d͡z t͡sʲ d͡zʲ t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f 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 is no complete agreement about the phonetic nature of /ɦ/. According to some linguists it is pharyngeal [ʕ][4] ([ħ] [or sometimes [x] in weak positions] when devoiced).[4] According to others it is glottal [ɦ].[5]
  • Word-finally, /m/, /l/, /r/ are voiceless [], [], [] after voiceless consonants.[6] In case of /r/, it only happens after /t/.[7]
  • /w/ is most commonly bilabial [β̞] before vowels [8] but can alternate with labio-dental [ʋ] (most commonly before /i/).[8] 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]
  • The group of palatalized consonants consists of 10 phonemes: /j, dʲ, zʲ, lʲ, nʲ, rʲ, sʲ, tʲ, t͡sʲ, d͡zʲ/ 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 /p, b, m, f/ have just semi-palatalized versions, 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]

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, /wɔwk/ (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

It also has a non-syllabic [u̯] as an allophone of /w/. 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 /ˈwin iˈdɛ/ ('he's coming')
вона йде /wɔˈnɑ ˈjdɛ/ ('she's coming')
він і вона /ˈwin i wɔˈnɑ/ ('he and she')
вона й він /wɔˈnɑ j ˈwin/ ('she and he');
Утомився вже /utɔˈmɪwsʲɑ ˈwʒɛ/ ('already gotten tired')
Уже втомився /uˈʒɛ wtɔˈmɪwsʲɑ/ ('already gotten tired')
Він утомився. /ˈwin utɔmɪwsʲɑ/ ('he's gotten tired')
Він у хаті. /ˈwin u ˈxɑtʲi/ ('he's inside the house')
Вона в хаті. /wɔˈnɑ w ˈxɑtʲi/ ('she's inside the house')
підучити /piduˈt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('to learn')
вивчити /wɪwˈt͡ʃɪtɪ/ ('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 ˈdʲid] ('our grandfather')
  • [bɛˈrɛzɑ] ('birch')
  • [bɛˈrɛzkɑ] ('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].

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/.

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/
  • [t͡ɕ] for /t͡ʃ/ and, respectively, [ɕt͡ɕ] or even [ɕː] for [ʃt͡ʃ]
  • [rʲ] for /r/, [bʲ] for /b/, [vʲ] for /w/ (e.g. in words Харків, Об, любов'ю)
  • [v] or [f] (the latter in syllable-final position) for [w ~ β̞ ~ ʋ] (e.g. in words любов, робив, варити, вода)[8]
  • Final-obstruent devoicing

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 (*ŭ or *ĭ).[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 *pętĭ became Ukrainian /pjätʲ/ (п’ять); Common Slavic *telę became Ukrainian [tɛˈlʲæ]; and Common Slavic *kurĭčę became Ukrainian /kurˈt͡ʃä/.[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 /ˈjistɪ/
    2. after the post-alveolar sibilants where it became /ä/: Common Slavic *ležěti became Ukrainian /lɛˈʒätɪ/
  5. Common Slavic *i and *y are both reflected in Ukrainian as /ɪ/[citation needed]
  6. The Common Slavic combination -CĭjV, where V is any vowel, became -CʲːV, 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 *žitĭje became Ukrainian [ʒɪtʲːæ]
    3. if V is Common Slavic *ĭ, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšĭjĭ became Ukrainian /mɪ̞ˈʃɛj/
    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 /ˈmɪlɔ/[citation needed]
  9. Common Slavic *ǔl and *ĭl became /ɔw/. For example, Common Slavic *vĭlkǔ became /wɔwk/ 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 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 d 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)


  • Danyenko, Andrii; Vakulenko, Serhii (1995), Ukrainian, Lincom Europa, ISBN 9783929075083 
  • Жовтобрюх, М.А., ed. (1973), Українська літературна вимова і наголос: Словник - довідник, Київ: Накова думка, pp. 5–14 
  • Погрібний, М.І., ed. (1986), Орфоепічний словни, Київ: Радянська школа, pp. 3–14 
  • Press, Ian; Pugh, Stefan (2005), Ukrainian: A Comprehensive Grammar, London: Routledge 
  • Shevelov, George (1993), "Ukrainian", in Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville, The Slavonic Languages, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 947–998 
  • Bilous, Tonia (2005), Українська мова засобами Міжнародного фонетичного алфавіту [Ukrainian in International Phonetic alphabet] (DOC) 
  • Mascaró, Joan; Wetzels, W. Leo (2001). "The Typology of Voicing and Devoicing". Language. 77 (2): 207–244. doi:10.1353/lan.2001.0123. 
  • Shevelov, George Y. (1977). "On the Chronology of h and the New g in Ukrainian" (PDF). Harvard Ukrainian Studies. Cambridge: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. 1 (2): 137–52. 
  • Русанівський, В. М.; Тараненко, О. О.; Зяблюк, М. П. та ін. (2004). Українська мова: Енциклопедія. ISBN 978-966-7492-19-9. 
  • Жовтобрюх, М.А.; Кулик, Б.М. (1965). Курс сучасної української літературної мови. Частина I. Kiev: Радянська школа. 
  • Buk, Solomija; Mačutek, Ján; Rovenchak, Andrij (2008), Some properties of the Ukrainian writing system, arXiv:0802.4198free to read 

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.