Learning Ukrainian: progress report #2

It’s now one week since my first progress report.

Apparently I’ve learned 95 new words in the past seven days. Duolingo previously said that I had learned 105 words in the first three days. Eek, am I slowing down?

Aside from the word count, most of what I’ve learned has been names of family members and the rather complicated number system. What do I mean by “number system”? We need to distinguish, of course, between the way the Ukrainians write numerals and the way they write the names of the numbers. I’m talking about the latter, as Ukrainians use the same Hindu-Arabic numerals as we do. As for the names, what makes them complicated is how the numbers interact with case and gender. For the full story—at the least as full as I’ve learned so far—see this entry in Duolingo’s Tips and Notes. Here are the highlights:

  • Use a singular noun when it’s preceded by the number 1—no surprise there—but also if it’s preceded by 21, 31, 41, etc. So ‘one cat’ is as you would expect, but ‘twenty-one cats’ would be just twenty-one cat.
  • So is this for all numbers ending in the digit 1? Oh no, because 11 is different: ‘11 cats’ is eleven of the cats, i.e. the noun is in the genitive plural, as is true for all higher numbers as long as the last digit is not 1.
  • But wait! For 2, 3, 4, and all other numbers for which the last digit is 2, 3, or 4, the noun is in the nominative plural—gendered, of course.
  • The names for 1 and 2 are gendered, but not for higher numbers.
  • And then we get this juicy comment: “The rule of making Genitive Plural of nouns is pretty complicated and is not explained in this course. We recommend you to just memorize the Genitive form of nouns.”

Got that?


Then there’s the question of multiple negatives. As we all know, they are frowned upon in English, but it turns out that they are required in Ukrainian. Consider, if you will, ніхто ніколи нікому нічого не прощає, pronounced “nixto nikoly nikomu ničoho ne proščaje,” really meaning ‘No one ever forgives anyone anything’ but literally ‘No-one never to no-one nothing does not forgive.’) Maybe this rule will turn out to be consistent. We math teachers like consistency; exceptions make us nervous.

At this point in my learning, unfortunately, there are still only disconnected phrases and sentences. Will we get stories? Time will tell.

At least it’s an Indo-European language. That really does help a lot. It may not sound like it helps, but it definitely does.

Categories: Linguistics