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 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/ sometimes are 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

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

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

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 [tɛˈlʲæ]; and Common Slavic *kurčę 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 -CьjV, 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 *žitьje became Ukrainian [ʒɪtʲːæ]
    3. if V is Common Slavic *ь, then the combination became /ɛj/, e.g., genitive plural in Common Slavic *myšьjь 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 *ьl became /ɔw/. For example, Common Slavic *vьlkъ became /wɔwk/ in Ukrainian.[citation needed]


  1. Русанівський, Тараненко & Зяблюк (2004:104)
  2. Русанівський, Тараненко & Зяблюк (2004:407)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Solomija Buk, Ján Mačutek, Andrij Rovenchak. Some properties of the Ukrainian writing system
  4. 4.0 4.1 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. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 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<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Bilous, Tonia (2005), Українська мова засобами Міжнародного фонетичного алфавіту (DOC) Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mascaró, Joan; Wetzels, W. Leo (2001). "The Typology of Voicing and Devoicing". Language. 77 (2): 207–244. doi:10.1353/lan.2001.0123.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Русанівський, В. М.; Тараненко, О. О.; Зяблюк, М. П. та ін. (2004). Українська мова: Енциклопедія. ISBN 978-966-7492-19-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading

  • Zilyns'kyj, I. (1979). A Phonetic Description of the Ukrainian Language. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66612-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Багмут, Алла Йосипівна (1980). Інтонація як засіб мовної комунікації. Kiev: Наукова думка.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Тоцька, Н.І. (1973). Голосні фонеми української літературної мови. Kiev: Київський університет.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Тоцька, Н.І. (1995). Сучасна українська літературна мова. Kiev: Вища школа.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Пономарів, О.Д. (2001). Сучасна українська мова: Підручник. Kiev: Либідь.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>