The soft sign is the letter ь, but it makes no sound.
In Old Church Slavonic, it represented a short (or “reduced”) front vowel. Now, it does not describe an individual sound but indicates the softness of the preceding consonant.
In the Ukrainian language, the soft sign is only used after seven dental consonants:
д т з с ц л н дз and р (if preceded by o)
and makes them soft.
Soft consonants are pronounced with the tongue raised to the roof of the mouth or palate.
д’ т’ з’ с’ ц’ л’ н’ дз’ and р’
You can listen to the pronunciation of the words here.
Мідь /m´idʹ/ – дощ /doshch/
Тінь /tʹinʹ/ – сон /son/
Міць /m´itsʹ/ – цар /tsar/
All consonants preceding i are also soft or semi soft.
Common words with the soft sign:
Батьки́ /batʹky/ – parents
Ба́тько /batʹko/ – father
Дя́дько /dʹiadʹko/ – uncle
До́нька /donʹka/ – daughter
Мі́сяць /m´is´iatsʹ/ – moon, month
Ти́ждень /tyzhdenʹ/ – week
In Ukrainian, the apostrophe is a diacritical (“distinguishing”) mark.
The apostrophe’s primary function is to separate a hard consonant from an iotated vowel so that sounds don’t influence each other.
The apostrophe shows that the previous consonant is hard and the following vowel (я, ю, є, ї) consists of two sounds (й+а, й+у, й+е, й+і).
For example, in the word м’яч /mjach/ м is hard and pronounced separate from iotated я.
Imagine if we were to write these two letters without the apostrophe:
мяч /m´iach/ then м is semi softened by я and я is pronounced without й.
The apostrophe is most commonly used after the labial consonants:
б п в м ф.
Common words with the apostrophe:
П’ять /pjatʹ/ – five
Де́в’ять /devjatʹ/ – nine
Сім’я́ /sʹimja/ – family
Ім’я́ /imja/ – name
Здоро́в’я /zdorovja/ – health
М’яч /mjach/ – ball
Під’ї́зд /p´idjizd/ – entrance, doorway. In Ukraine, під’їзд is an entrance to one block of apartments.
Now you know the basics about the soft sign and the apostrophe in Ukrainian. Give us examples of your favourite words with them in the comments, and feel free to ask us any questions.
Check out a new video on this topic from our YouTube channel “Speak Ukrainian”: SOFT SIGN IN UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE