20.3 - Apostrophe and stress


In these materials so far you have been encouraged to treat the apostrophe as simply part of the spelling of a word. For completeness, however, a little more needs to be said on this topic.

The apostrophe's main function is to separate a hard consonant from a iotated vowel, so that that each sound is given its full value. For example, in the word дюйм (inch), the ю softens the д to дь, giving the pronunciation дьуйм (roughly). Where the д is followed by an apostrophe, as in the word ад'ютант, the д and ю are given their full value (ад-ю-тант).

The apostrophe is also used, with a few exceptions, after the labial consonants б (e.g. б'ю from бити), в (e.g. зв'язок), м (e.g. м'ясо), п (e.g. п'ю from пити) and ф (e.g. торф'яний from торф), and also, in some cases, after р occurring at the end of a syllable (e.g. матір'ю from матір).

The fact that a word contains an apostrophe will not change its alphabetical order in a dictionary or other lists.


In some languages, certain letters of the alphabet are modified if marks or accents (known as diacritics) are added to them. In French, for example, the function and pronunciation of the letter e changes depending on its accent: è, é, ê or ë.

This does not happen in Ukrainian. The only marks on letters in the alphabet are those in і, ї and й, which are stable letters in their own right and not subject to change.

You will, however, sometimes come across stress marks in Ukrainian printed texts. These do not belong to standard written language, and may be inserted for the various reasons:

  • to assist learners of Ukrainian (both native speakers and foreign learners) to navigate the minefield of correct stress in pronunciation (not addressed in these materials);
  • to indicate alternative stress; e.g. the word мабуть is shown in dictionaries as ма́бу́ть to indicate that the stress may fall on either syllable;
  • to avoid confusion, usually in subordinate clauses and, specifically, in indirect or reported speech, where there is ambiguity in the text; in such cases a stress mark, e.g. as in що́, may be placed on the word by the editors or printers:
Я пам'ятаю, що я вчора співала. I remember that I was singing yesterday.
Я пам'ятаю, що́ я вчора співала. I remember what I was singing yesterday.

You may have noticed, incidentally, that on page 12.3 a stress mark was placed on the verb in the second example: «Я пла́чу, слухаючи блюз», to distinguish this verb (I cry) from one with the same spelling but different stress «Я плачу́» (I pay), which would have made the line somewhat less romantic!

Part of the collection of resources at UkrainianLanguage.org.uk
© 2007 Marta Jenkala