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Understanding the Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian Languages

Even though they may sound rather similar, there is a huge difference between Ukrainian and Russian languages. Though for people from Russia someone who speaks Ukrainian sounds rather odd and sometimes funny. Both have the same origins but the history shaped them a lot different and, please, don’t think that it is the same language. These two languages have only 62 percent of words which are the same.

The Ukrainian language is much more similar to Belarusian, Czech, Slovakian and Polish languages and that is not only words but also the way they are pronounced. You can see that looking at this table:

UkraineLiving.com Presents:

The Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian

Letters

Both languages use the same Cyrillic alphabet. But there are some letters that you will never see in the Ukrainian language. Those are:

  • «э»
  • «ы»
  • «ъ»
  • «ё»

When you see any of them, it definitely means that you are not reading in Ukrainian.

The letters which are used only in the Ukrainian language are:

  • «є» (which has a different direction and pronunciation that Russian «э»)
  • «ї»
  • «і»
  • «ґ»
  • «’» (which is used to separate the pronunciation).

Letters «и» and «е» are in both languages, but the have not the same pronunciation.

Sounds

The problem which you may have studying the Russian language is that not all words are spelled the same way as you need to write them. The most common problem is that letter «о» is often spelled like «а» or «з» /«с» in the prefix. So even if you are a native speaker that can be sometimes problematic to decide what you should write. The Ukrainian language is much easier at that. However, some words still can be difficult.

Grammar

The grammar in both languages is almost the same. To contrast with English – Ukrainian and Russian have rather random words order which you can change. There is a big difference in rules how you should write words, but that is a subject for the whole book.

Stress

The other common thing is that stress in the word usually can be in any part of the word. It doesn’t have at the beginning or at the end of the sentence, so for each word you need to remember it. It also can change a meaning of words. For example words «мукá» (flour, both languages) / «мýка» (torture, both), «зáмок» (castle, both) / «замóк» (lock, both), плáчу (I cry, both) / плачý (I pay, both), гори̒ (Burn, ukr) / гóри (mountains, ukr).

Another Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian: Swear Words

One of the interesting subjects is the abusive or obscene language. In Russian, there is even separate word for it – «Мат». It has the same F*** words, its’ various forms and rude words forms for genitalia. Anyone who has ever met someone who is a native speaker in Russian for sure knows some of them. Or more likely they were the first words you ever learned.

Those who speak Ukrainian also often use Russian Mat with an accent and the meaning will be the same.

However, people from Ukraine use as well the dialectic words that are popular at Western part or some unusual phrases which Russian-speaking people won’t understand.

Surzhyk

At Ukraine also exists such thing as a mix of both languages. Surzhyk is Russian and Ukrainian words combined in one. It is typical for rural areas, but sometimes you can hear it also in big cities. I think it is better to choose one language than blending them together and not be able to communicate normally using one of them.

Dialects of Ukrainian Language

The most significant difference between Ukrainian and Russian can be seen in the Western part of Ukraine. The dialects of the Ukrainian language sometimes are even not understandable for people from other regions, such as Kiev.

That is a result of an influence of Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian. A lot of people think that those who live at the west do not understand Russian, but that is definitely not right and reasonable people will not treat you worse because of that. Though they will be much more hospital and happy if tourist speaks Ukrainian or just a little bit of it.

Language problem in Ukraine is very common. However, it often occurs when the public attention should be distracted from some other current affairs. The language question is always getting a lot of attention and discussions. At Ukraine, we have a lot of laws which are trying to prohibit the Russian language on TV or radio. Russian TV shows and sitcoms are already not allowed on the Ukrainian TV channels.

But I would like to abstract from the propaganda that I usually see or read and say that for me doesn’t really matter which language person speaks. I think both languages are rather challenging to learn but also want people to understand that Ukrainian is not some kind of Russian dialect—there is a HUGE difference between Ukrainian and Russian.

If you will listen to those who speak these languages, you can hear how differently they sound even though there are a lot of words in common.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by the same local Ukrainian girl who penned the article about reasons to travel to Kiev. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

– UkraineLiving

PS: There aren’t really any programs out there to learn Ukrainian on the internet, but Rocket Russian is a fantastic course. To find out more, and take a free trial, click here.

  • March 4, 2017
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 31 comments
eddie_7

Nice and detailed article.
Quite informative and logical too.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Thanks Eddie, we’ll past the compliments on to her.

    Reply
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Sergii

1. The note in this article about origin of Ukrainian dialects is definitely misleading. Actually, the ancient history of Kyivan Rus (= modern Ukraine and Ukrainian-populated region of RF) clear defined kingdoms and tribes (ethnic nations) corresponding the modern Ukrainian dialects (both in East, Central, and West parts of this biggest European country). Nothing new, except South steppe regions new Black Sea (under numerous flows of nomad tribes in past centuries).

2. Word “surzhik” usually corresponds to subcultures of immigrant communities. E.g., there is a well-known Jewish-Ukrainian mixed “surzhik” in Odessa port or Tatar-Jewish-Ukrainian “surzhik” of criminal groups in coal-mining areas (prisoners used for mining both in collapsed Romanoff empire and during collapsed Soviet occupation too).

3. It would be reasonable also to mention that Ukrainian is one of the oldest Slavic languages, influenced also be Old Bulgarian language of ancient Bible translation (so-called, “Church Rus language” or Cyrillic one due to name of famous Greek monk-translator). The same Old Bolgarian also had been used by Mr. Alex Pushkin in his successful attempt to form a new North-Russian language for Romanoff ruling class (this artificial language is now usually named as “the Russian” language). Their ruling class had been based on West and Tatarian immigrants (“dvoryanye”, literary meaning “in-yard servants”). So, they used a lot of foreign words and, therefore, there are so many differences with other Slavic languages.

Hence, actually, all main differences between Ukrainian (“Rus”) and Neorussian (“Russian”) are usual differences between any original folk-n-literature language and any author-made language for the immigrant-originated social groups.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Okay Sergii…and where are you from?

    Reply
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Dave

The difference between UA and RU is about as much as between German and Dutch. The Dutch can understand most of German. But, if you are a Dutchman and speak Dutch at a normal speed to a German, he will hardly understand anything.

While many words are ” the same” ( in Slavic languages), their pronunciation is often different and they are used differently.

If you know Slavic roots, you will be able to figure out what a piece of writing is all about. However, when people start speaking, this is when it becomes hard to understand.

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Misha Sibirsk

Although of these languages, I only speak Russian (dabbled in the others), I am happy to flatly contradict the assertion that Ukrainian is “much” more similar to Belarusian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian (than to Russian). The three East Slavic languages stand in a kind of triangular relationship, and are closer to each other than any is to any non-ES, although Bel. & Ukr. share features with Polish that Russian doesn’t, as does Ukr. also with Slovakian and Bulg. As I say, I have dabbled in most of the Slavic languages (much the 2nd furthest in Srb-Cr). I, just by a refraction through Russian, can understand an article in Bel. or Ukr., although it gives me a headache after a few pages – perhaps also Bulg. or Mac.. Can’t really do that with Polish; certainly not Czech. Dave hit the nail on the head regarding Dutch/German. The Dutch can understand the Germans, but not vice versa, not due to any intrinsic relative language difficulty, but because the geo-linguistic reality predisposes monolingual Germans to laziness. The same applies to Russians, or rather, monolingual Russophones. They are the Anglophones of eastern Eurasia, and expect everyone – not just fellow Slavs – in their “sphere of influence” to speak Russian.

Reply
SkyWolf

What about Polish “dzien” and muscovites “день” and etc. then? Both languages are closely related to each other and don’t worry about theirspelling 😉 for these languages are the tools of colonisators of Ukraine.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    What about them, exactly?

    Reply
Alena Jacobs

It would be greatly appreciated if you correct Kiev to Kyiv.
Thank you.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Search engines pick up more terms for Kiev.

    Reply
bohdana

I was born in Toronto and have spoken Ukrainian all my life, especially so now that I am in almost daily contact with Ukrainians who are new to Canada and also that I travel to Ukraine frequently. I can assert that Russian is a very different language that I understand poorly and certainly do not speak. However, I easily understand Polish, Czech and Slovak.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Of course it’s different!

    Reply
Artem

1) Kyiv not Kiev please.

2) «The dialects of the Ukrainian language sometimes are even not understandable for people from other regions» — Oh, c’mon… Modern Ukrainian dialects are understandable for all Ukrainians. Moreover, even Belarusian language is understandable for Ukrainian speakers. Most likely your «source» is Russian speaker if it does not understand Ukrainian dialects.

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Oh shut up.

    Reply
    Kharkiv

    What is interesting that Ukrainians may to learn speak the Russian language within two or three monthes. Russians are not able to master the Ukrainian language even they live in Ukraine for decades.

    Reply
Харків

All so called language problems arises from the Russia’s idea to implement Russian World ideology by forsing to use Russian language all around considering that if there is Russian language there is Russia.
Russians invented name for Ukrainian language as Surzhyk try to make Ukrainians be shy when using it.
Russia were trying many times to forbid using Ukrainian language:
http://argumentua.com/stati/zaborona-ukra-nsko-movi-dokumenti-xvii-xx-stol-t

Reply
    Andrew

    Wait, Surzhyk is an invention? Doesn’t Surzhyk refer to a blend of Russian and Ukrainian that is apparently quite prelavent in Ukraine?

    There seems to be a lot of inconsistency in how Surzhyk is defined.

    Reply
Tarney Baldinger

Interesting. Yes, please use Kyiv, and never mind the damned search engines. It is the Ukrainian name for the capital of Ukraine. I do suggest that you run your writing past someone who is a native English speaker and you will be taken more seriously by American readers. What you write is understandable, but there are many small errors, especially in the use of articles (or none) which is very challenging for people who speak Slavic language. Yes, English is a ridiculous language to learn!
As for Surzhyk, in central Ukraine (I am familiar with the Cherkasy region), it is Ukrainian with the inclusion of Russian words with a Ukrainian accent, making it very frustrating for people trying to learn Ukrainian!

Reply
    Ukraine Living

    Shut up, Tarney. We’ll do whatever works for our business. You clearly have no clue about anything to do with search engines or business.

    Clearly you have nothing better to do with your time either.

    So please, shut your mouth with your nonsense.

    The mistakes were left in there on purpose, for charm.

    This site is run by native speakers.

    Next time, why don’t you work on your comprehension — seems you could use the English practice! Sad!

    Reply
      Luba Demko

      You just lost me with your too frequent use of “shut up”. Rather rude, aren’t you?

      Reply
        Ukraine Living

        I’m tired of the rudeness of Ukrainians who comment here. I know English isn’t their first language and all, but we don’t say shit like, “Kyiv not Kiev please.”

        There’s also the matter of letting things go. You wouldn’t believe the amount of BS that’s been posted over something as simple as a slight spelling difference.

        They need to get over it.

        And while I love Ukraine and it’s people in this business you can’t take anyone on the internet seriously.

        Reply
    Nick

    “the capital of Ukraine” is impossible thing. The Ukraine is a steppe (the land of the free and the home of the brave) and hence has no capital. Kiev is a russian urban reservation. “Kyiv” was invented after 1991.

    Reply
      Kharkiv

      Who invented?

      Reply
        Nick

        Kharkiv, russian clowns

        Reply
Ivone Leskiw

I would like to learned more about Ukrainian language because I am 3rd generation of Ukrainian descendant.

Reply
Ivone Leskiw

I would like to learn more about Ukrainian Language

Reply
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