Stress, in Ukrainian, is the slightly higher level of energy expended by a speaker on a particular syllable (or the vowel in that syllable) in order to emphasise it. When reading the language, it is easy to see where one word ends and the next begins. In spoken language it can be difficult to distinguish the boundaries between words, and stress is one of the mechanisms which helps us to do this. Most words have only one stressed syllable, and the pattern of stresses in a string of words help the listener make sense of what is being said.
Ukrainian stress patterns are frequently (and with some justification) perceived as being unpredictable, and thus difficult to learn. Even native speakers frequently make mistakes with stress, so it is hardly surprising that learners find it difficult to acquire correct stress patterns in Ukrainian.
There are a number of reasons why stress in Ukrainian appears to be so complicated and unpredictable. The affinity of the literary Ukrainian language with the vernacular, its organic development from its vernacular roots and the relatively recent first attempts at standardising it (1920s period of Ukrainianisation), have had an effect on all levels of the language, including pronunciation and stress. Another factor was the strong mutual influence between the variants spoken in the east and west of the country (often caused by the political migration of intellectuals and others seeking a freer context for life and the expression of national identity). Today, progress has been made in standardising stress, and most stress patterns are accepted by all. There are still, though, many words where alternative stress is acceptable, and discussion continues about the correctness or otherwise of a number of lexical items.
Rules governing stress in Ukrainian
At many levels, the grammatical rules of Ukrainian are widely applicable and relatively straightforward (e.g. most Ukrainian nouns ending in –а are feminine). They do, of course, become more complex as one goes into more detail, but a limited number of rules can help learners to tackle grammatical forms (and many so-called exceptions), as well as to start evolving patterns and intuitive judgements as to language use.
One of the reasons why the stress issue is so complex is that the rules are many and varied, and apply at a level of detail which makes it difficult to understand the overall picture and develop an intuitive approach to the correct placing of stress.
On this website the principal rules relating to stress are listed on the relevant pages for each part of speech. More advanced learners, and those interested in how the language works, should find it worthwhile to study these. If you are a beginner, though, the best approach, at least initially, is to learn the stress patterns of useful and frequently-used words as you learn the words themselves. The structure of this website, it is hoped, will help you to do so.
Dealing with stress in Ukrainian
It is self-evident that correct stressing of words in Ukrainian is an important part of a speaker’s communicative competence and accuracy in using the spoken language. Additionally, some words change their meaning, depending on where the stress is placed. Although the meaning will normally be clear from the context, learners need to be aware of this. In printed texts, stress marks are sometimes used to avoid ambiguity. Click here to see some words like this.
The surest way to check the stress pattern of a word is to look it up in an orthographic dictionary, which gives information not only on stress, but on spelling, part of speech and morphology (including any irregularities in forms, declension or conjugation of words). The normative orthographic dictionary is prepared, published and updated by the Potebnia Institute of Linguistics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, in the Dictionaries of Ukraine series. The website Словники України consists of an extended version of the orthographic dictionary in the form of a database.
Please note that Dealing with Stress in Ukrainian only provides limited grammatical information, where this is needed to explain stress patterns. For explanations of some of the grammar rules and how these may affect stress patterns see Read Ukrainian!
Whilst by no means providing an exhaustive survey of the stress issue, this website aims to support learners by providing:
- a clear explanation of the principal rules of stress in Ukrainian, where these apply;
- examples of each type of stress;
- lists of the most frequently used (and useful) words which have particular stress patterns;
- exercises to give learners practice in stressing these words correctly.
The words in the lists in this resource have been included not only because they conform to certain stress patterns, but also because of the frequency with which they occur in Ukrainian (for this reason a number of single-syllable words, for which stress is not an issue, have been included). There are approximately 650 words in the lists, and anyone learning and/or revising them will be making a good start to the acquisition of a basic Ukrainian vocabulary.
Making best use of this resource
For each part of speech, e.g. nouns, verbs etc, you will find examples of the principal stress patterns, which it is recommended that you learn. If you need grammatical information on each part of speech and its use, links to the relevant pages in Read Ukrainian! are provided on most of the pages.
Once you have learned the example for a particular type of stress, click on the link to see other words of this type. Listed here are the most frequently used, and useful, words which have a similar stress pattern (based on frequency lists of modern Ukrainian). You can, therefore, kill two birds with one stone, by practising the particular stress pattern on these words, and learning their meanings and forms at the same time.
Once you feel confident, try doing the exercises which you will see at the bottom of many of the pages. You can do these as many times as you like, until you feel you are getting the stress right.