Updated 11 November, 2023
This page brings together basic information about the Cyrillic script and its use for the Ukrainian language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Ukrainian using Unicode.
Richard Ishida, Ukrainian Orthography Notes, 11-Nov-2023, https://r12a.github.io/scripts/cyrl/uk
Стаття 1. Всі люди народжуються вільними і рівними у своїй гідності та правах. Вони наділені розумом і совістю і повинні діяти у відношенні один до одного в дусі братерства.
Стаття 2. Кожна людина повинна мати всі права і всі свободи, проголошені цією Декларацією, незалежно від раси, кольору шкіри, статі, мови, релігії, політичних або інших переконань, національного чи соціального походження, майнового, станового або іншого становища. Крім того, не повинно проводитися ніякого розрізнення на основі політичного, правового або міжнародного статусу країни або території, до якої людина належить, незалежно від того, чи є ця територія незалежною, підопічною, несамоврядованою або як‐небудь інакше обмеженою у своєму суверенітеті.
Ukrainian is the native language of around 40 million people and is written using a version of the Cyrillic script. Although Ukraine has many Russian speakers, particularly in the east and south of the country, in 2001 around 88% of Ukrainians were able to communicate in the Ukrainian language, and its use in the population has been increasing for some years.wul
українська абетка ʊkrɐˈjinʲsʲkɐ ɐˈbɛtkɐ Ukrainian alphabet
The script is named in honor of the two Byzantine brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the earlier Glagolitic alphabet. Modern scholars believe that Cyrillic was developed and formalized by early disciples of Cyril and Methodius.
Cyrillic is derived from the Greek uncial script, augmented by letters from the older Glagolitic alphabet, including some ligatures. These additional letters were used for Old Church Slavonic sounds not found in Greek, and the Cyrillic script was initially used for writing Old Church Slavonic (also called Old Bulgarian), The script has changed over the intervening centuries to the point that Old Church Slavonic is sometimes considered a separate script.
Several orthographic reforms were introduced over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The latest version of the orthography was defined by the Ukrainian National Commission on Spelling and approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on May 22, 2019.
Sources: Scriptsource, Wikipedia.
Cyrillic is an alphabet. Letters typically represent a consonant or vowel sound. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Ukrainian language.
Of the 441 characters in the Unicode Cyrillic blocks, 177 are historic (33%) and 2 are for Lithuanian dialectology. The remaining 262 are just letters – no punctuation, digits, or combining characters. These are all bicameral, which brings the number of distinct modern letters to 131. Although modern Cyrillic text tends to use precomposed forms, rather than combining diacritics separately with base letters, many extended characters are formed by slightly tweaking a set of basic shapes.
Ukrainian text runs left-to-right in horizontal lines.
Words are separated by spaces.
The script is bicameral. The shapes of the upper and lowercase forms are typically the same. There can be a significant difference, however, between regular and cursive/italic shapes for the same character. ❯ fontstyle
Modern Ukrainian has 32 consonant letters (64 if you include both upper- and lowercase), plus the hard and soft signs. ❯ consonants
Ukrainian is an alphabet where vowels are written using 10 vowel letters, 4 of which usually indicate palatalisation of the previous consonant. Palatalisation can otherwise be applied or removed using the hard and soft signs. ❯ vowels
Numbers use ASCII digits.
The visual forms of letters don't usually interact.
These are sounds for the Ukrainian language. For a useful summary of allophonic variants see Wikipedia.
Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.
Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.
u̯ and i̯ appear after the syllable nucleus where the orthography has в [U+0432 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER VE] or й [U+0439 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER SHORT I], respectively.
The other lighter coloured phones are allophones that appear in unstressed vowels, according to the following transformations:wup
|stops||p b||t d||k ɡ|
|affricates||t͡s d͡z||t͡ʃ d͡ʒ|
|palatalised||t͡sʲ d͡zʲ||t͡ʃʲ d͡ʒʲ|
|fricatives||f||s z||ʃ ʒ||x ɣ||ɦ|
Ukrainian is not a tonal language.
Click on the characters to find where they are mentioned in this page.
The Ukrainian alphabet has 33 letters.wua Each has upper and lowercase forms, shown above and below, respectively.
Vowels preceded by ʲ cause the preceding consonant to be palatalised. Where 2 transcriptions are given for a symbol they show stressed and unstressed pronunciations. Diphones typically occur for standalone vowel sounds. The bottom row shows the glides/semivowels used to make diphthongs.
For additional details see vowel_mappings.
Standard Ukrainian uses 10 vowel letters (20 characters).
The following 6 vowels are normally used after a 'hard' consonant (ie. one that isn't palatalised).
The other letters usually occur after a 'soft' (palatalized) consonant or as standalone vowels.
When used after a palatalised consonant these vowels don't begin with j-, eg. the following shows letter to sound associations for the word будяк
On the other hand, these letters may also be used after a hard consonant followed by ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE] (the hard sign), in which case the vowel sound is preceded by j-, eg. інтервʼю
The vowels generally have different pronunciations in stressed vs. unstressed syllables, however such allophonic variations are not captured in the orthography. Click on the letters in the tables above for more information on that.
Vowel diacritics only appear in decomposed text. In normal Ukrainian texts there are no combining marks.
The marks that appear after decomposition are:
Two consonant characters are used to form diphthongs.
й [U+0439 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER SHORT I] is occasionally used as a consonant, but is mainly used after a vowel to create diphthongs, eg. буйний
в [U+0432 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER VE] is generally used as a consonant, but when it appears as the coda of a syllable it is pronounced u̯, eg. кров
At the start of a word, or after another vowel, Ukrainian uses the 'ioticised' letters. Used in these locations, the sound of all the above vowels except і [U+0456 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER BYELORUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN I] is preceded by j-, eg. юний союз компʼютер імла
Vowel length is not marked.
Nasalisation is not marked.
Ukrainian is not a tonal language.
This section maps Ukrainian vowel sounds to common graphemes in the Cyrillic orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
й when it occurs after a vowel, or (in some words) before an initial consonant.
у in stressed syllables.
ю after palatalised consonant.
в allophone occurring as a syllable coda.
ю as a standalone vowel or after a hard sign.
у in unstressed syllables.
ю after a palatalised consonant in unstressed syllables.
ю as a standalone vowel or after a hard sign in unstressed syllables.
е in unstressed syllables.
є after a palatalised consonant in unstressed syllables.
и in unstressed syllables.
є in unstressed syllables.
є after a palatalised consonant.
є as a standalone vowel or after a hard sign.
а in stressed syllables.
я after a palatalised consonant in stressed syllables.
а in unstressed syllables.
я after a palatalised consonant in unstressed syllables.
я as a standalone vowel or after a hard sign.
я as a standalone vowel or after a hard sign in unstressed syllables.
For additional details see consonant_mappings.
Ukrainian uses 20 consonants (40 characters, if you include uppercase and lowercase), plus a hard and soft sign. Click on the lowercase letters for detail information about usage.
Most of the consonants can be pronounced with or without palatisation, ie. 'hard' or 'soft', respectively. During palatalisation the tongue is raised towards the palate while the consonant is pronounced, eg. compare банан баня
Palatalisation is indicated by the letter that follows the consonant. When the vowel letters ї ю є я follow a consonant, the initial j- sound which is associated with those characters in standalone positions is dropped, and the preceding consonant is palatalised.
Consonants can be palatalised when no vowel follows using the soft sign, ь [U+044C CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER SOFT SIGN], eg. більшість
The soft sign may also be used when you want the consonant to be palatalised but retain the initial j- of the following vowel, eg. досьє
To write a hard consonant followed by a vowel that retains the initial j-, follow the consonant with the hard sign, ʼ [U+02BC MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE], eg. пʼять
Note that this shows that there is a difference between пʼят and пять.
A few consonant sounds are generally always hard.
Unlike Russian, voiced consonants at the end of a syllable or word remain voiced, eg. шоколад трубкозуб
This section maps Ukrainian consonant sounds to common graphemes in the Cyrillic orthography. Click on a grapheme to find other mentions on this page (links appear at the bottom of the page). Click on the character name to see examples and for detailed descriptions of the character(s) shown.
Sounds listed as 'infrequent' may be allophones, or sounds used for foreign words, etc.
т when followed by a softening vowel.
д when followed by a softening vowel.
к when followed by 0456.
ц when followed by a softening vowel.
ч when followed by a softening vowel.
щ when followed by a softening vowel.
в allophone sometimes found before back vowels.
ф usually only when followed by і.
в allophone occuring before front vowels.
с when followed by a softening vowel.
з when followed by a softening vowel.
ш when followed by a softening vowel.
х when followed by і.
м when followed by і.
н when followed by a softening vowel.
в generally found before back vowels.
р when followed by a softening vowel.
л when followed by a softening vowel.
́ [U+0301 COMBINING ACUTE ACCENT] is used to indicate where the stress falls in a word for educational materials, dictionaries, and such. The position of the stress is distinctive, and not always predictable, eg. compare за́мок замо́к
The other diacritics shown above are produced only by Unicode decomposition: ◌̆ [U+0306 COMBINING BREVE] from й [U+0439 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER SHORT I], and ̈ [U+0308 COMBINING DIAERESIS] from ї [U+0457 CYRILLIC SMALL LETTER YI]. Normally precomposed characters are used.
Cyrillic runs left to right in horizontal lines.
bidi_class properties for characters in the Ukrainian orthography described here.
Cyrillic uses ASCII digits.
This section brings together information about the following topics: writing styles; cursive text; context-based shaping; context-based positioning; baselines, line height, etc.; font styles; case & other character transforms.
You can experiment with examples using the All Cyrillic character app and the Ukrainian character app.
The Cyrillic script is not cursive, and involves no significant context-based shaping or positioning. Nor are there significant issues around baselines or inline alignment.
Cyrillic doesn't normally have any of the changeability of complex scripts. Characters are typically separate and self-contained. However, there can be a significant difference in shape between regular and italic/cursive font shapes for the same character.
Note in particular the italic form of т in the figure just above, which looks similar to the italic form of м shown in the previous figure.
The shapes of the italic forms can also vary by language.w
The shape of the breve sign in Cyrillic is different from that used for Latin text.s A font such as Brill can detect the appropriate shape from the adjacent characters.
Ukrainian is bicameral, and applications may need to enable transforms to allow the user to switch between cases.
Ukrainian graphemes are straightforward, and can be mapped to Unicode grapheme clusters.
The 2 combining marks that occur in Ukrainian appear only on the rare occasions when the text is decomposed, and only one combining mark at a time appears after any base. All such decompositions conform to Unicode grapheme clusters.
Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.
Words are separated by spaces.
Cyrillic uses ASCII punctuation.
, [U+002C COMMA]
; [U+003B SEMICOLON]
: [U+003A COLON]
. [U+002E FULL STOP]
? [U+003F QUESTION MARK]
! [U+0021 EXCLAMATION MARK]
Ukrainian commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.
( [U+0028 LEFT PARENTHESIS]
) [U+0029 RIGHT PARENTHESIS]
Ukrainian uses angle quotation marks without space, like Russian, or the low and high marks used for Polish and German.wua,#Letterforms_and_typography
CLDR lists the following additional punctuation marks.
Spaces between words provide the primary line break opportunities.u
As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.
Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Ukrainian orthography.
The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in Ukrainian. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.
Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.
Justification is done, principally, by adjusting the space between words.
This section looks at ways in which spacing is applied between characters over and above that which is introduced during justification.
Cyrillic uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.
Cyrillic has little in the way of ascenders and descenders, and mostly the font metrics are the same as for ASCII text. One difference is the use of a couple of diacritics, which rise above the ASCII ascender height in capital letters..
To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Cyrillic glyphs from Noto fonts.
fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Doulos SIL and Helvetica fonts.
You can experiment with counter styles using the Counter styles converter. Patterns for using these styles in CSS can be found in Ready-made Counter Styles, and we use the names of those patterns here to refer to the various styles.
The modern Ukrainian orthography uses 4 alphabetic styles, besides the ASCII decimal numeric style.
The lower-Ukrainian alphabetic style uses these letters.
The lower-Ukrainian-full alphabetic style uses these letters.
The upper-Ukrainian alphabetic style uses these letters.
The upper-Ukrainian-full alphabetic style uses these letters.
The default list style uses a full stop + space as a suffix.
This section is for any features that are specific to Cyrillic and that relate to the following topics: general page layout & progression; grids & tables; notes, footnotes, etc; forms & user interaction; page numbering, running headers, etc.