My quest to learn Ukrainian continues, and lately I have been spending a lot of time learning how to use verbs. This post is not an exhaustive coverage of how verbs work in Ukrainian language, but hopefully this will help fellow non-Ukrainian learners make more sense of the patterns based on my limited field-experience. This post will cover present tense, past tense, future tense and reflexive verbs.
Since Ukrainian is an Indo-European language, if you ever studied Latin or Ancient Greek, or any other modern European language, some things will feel pretty familiar. Others will likely catch you by surprise. Compared to Japanese verbs (more on that in a future, comparative post), this will feel somewhat like home.
Disclaimer: this post uses Cyrillic alphabet. If you’d like to learn more about reading Cyrillic, or Ukrainian in general, I highly recommend Ukrainian Lessons. Anna is an amazing teacher.
Disclaimer #2: apologies for any mistakes or omissions. Я ще вчуся (I am still learning).
From what I’ve figured out so far, the present tense for Ukrainian verbs is the hardest to learn. That’s good since you learn it first and can get the hard part out of the way. The bad news is that present tense really is complicated. So far I have found it the hardest part of Ukrainian to be honest.
Like other Indo-European languages, the verb endings are inflected, meaning they change depending on who says it (and singular vs. plural). They follow a pretty standard pattern:
|First person (“I”, “We”)||I am doing X, |
or I am X’ing
|We are doing X|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||You are doing X||You all are doing X|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||He/she/it is doing X||They are doing X|
There’s also the infinitive form: “to do X”. This one’s important, so don’t forget.
So, let’s take a typical verb like працювати meaning “to work”. I like this verb because it seems to follow a pretty easy to follow pattern, and is a useful verb. If you take the infinitive form, працювати, simply drop the вати ending, you can then attach the ending for whoever is doing the action (e.g. who’s working):
|First person (“I”, “We”)||працюю||працюємо|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||працюєш||працюєте|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||працює||працюють|
Ok, that’s not too bad, right? Six endings, and they all have the same root. However, let’s look at another verb: писати meaning “to write”. The infinitive looks a bit different than працувати, and conjugates a bit different. For this verb, drop the сати, add ш, and add the personal ending:
|First person (“I”, “We”)||пишу||пишемо|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||пишеш||пишете|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||пише||пишуть|
Hm, ok, the endings are a bit different aren’t they? You can see how the pattern is kind of the same, but also subtly different.
But surprise! There’s more! Let’s look at жити meaning “to live”. Here we drop the ти, add an в, and then attach the personal endings:
|First person (“I”, “We”)||живу||живемо|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||живеш||живете|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||живе||живуть|
Again, it’s almost the same as the other two, but subtly different.
So … you might be asking yourself how many verb types exist in Ukrainian. Evidentially there are 9 types of verbs, 4 of which fall under the more common 1st-conjugation, and 5 that fall under the less-common 2nd conjugation. The first conjugation verbs have е or є in some personal endings, while 2nd conjugation verbs use и instead as in любити meaning (“to love”) or to really like something.
|First person (“I”, “We”)||люблю||любимо|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||любиш||любите|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||любить||люблять|
If this makes your head hurt, that’s ok. It’s probably not worth memorizing every pattern; there are just too many. Instead learning specific verbs you need to know, and then recognizing that there is a pattern is probably the best way to gradually learn these. Onward and upward. Knowing the infinitive form of a verb really seems to help too because you can usually intuit the rest once you get familiar with the patterns.
Thankfully past-tense is a lot easier.
Ukrainian has an interesting, though straightforward pattern for past tense verbs. Rather than based on the usual grammatical “person”. Instead, it’s based on the gender of the subject. Is the person doing past-tense masculine or feminine or plural? Ukrainian Lessons has an excellent article about this, so I won’t repeat here.
Again, the key is to know the infinitive of the verb, drop the ти and add the appropriate ending. The fact that it’s based on gender and number, not on grammatical person is fascinating though.
Future tense seems to be even easier than the previous two. For the future tense, simply use the verb бути + infinitive verb. The auxiliary verb бути conjugates the same way we saw earlier with the present tense, but beyond that, knowing the infinitive is once again useful. Let’s use the previous example of працювати (“to work”):
|First person (“I”, “We”)||буду + працювати||будемо + працювати|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||будеш + працювати||будете + працювати|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||буде + працювати||будуть + працювати|
The actual verb we are concerned about (e.g. “to work”) stays the same infinitive form, as you can see. Only the auxiliary verb changes.
Ukrainian Lessons points out that there are a couple other auxiliary verbs used to express other nuances of future tense (e.g. “actions completed”, “actions started”, etc), but the pattern seems to be same.
The last one I wanted to cover were reflexive verbs. This one took me by surprise because I have never heard of the concept of “reflexive voice” until now,1 and many languages don’t explicitly use it, but Ukrainian does.
Reflexive simply means the verbs subject and object are the same. Some verbs lend themselves to this, others don’t. For example the verb дивитися (“to watch”) is often expressed in reflexive voice: I am watching TV ( is just the infinitive дивити + reflexive ending ся or сь. What’s interesting is that the verb still conjugates like we saw above, but the ся/сь remains mostly unchanged:
|First person (“I”, “We”)||дивлюсь||дивимося|
|Second person (“You”, “You All”)||дивишся||дивитесь|
|Third person (“He, she, it”, “they”)||дивиться||дивляться|
Of course many verbs can also be expressed in more typical active form, or passive. It just depends on what the object is. Ukrainian Lessons has more about it here.
This is not an exhaustive look at Ukrainian verbs, but this is what I’ve learned so far and provides a fascinating glimpse at how Ukrainian is similar to other European languages, and yet how it is unique too.
1 I was confused by this at first because Ancient Greek and Sanskrit both have the concept of a middle-voice, which kind of does the same thing. The middle voice is somewhere between the usual active and passive voices, but also often expressed self-interest. So at first I was confused on how this differed from