Lithuanian has eleven vowels and 45 consonants, including 22 pairs of consonants distinguished by the presence or absence of palatalization. Most vowels come in pairs which are differentiated through length and degree of centralization.

Only one syllable in the word bears the accent, but exactly which syllable is often unpredictable. Accented syllables are marked with either a falling or rising tone. Its location in a word may also be affected during inflection.


Consonant phonemes of Lithuanian[1]
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
hard soft hard soft hard soft hard soft
Nasal m ⟨m⟩ ⟨mi⟩ n ⟨n⟩ ⟨ni⟩
Stop voiceless p ⟨p⟩ ⟨pi⟩ t ⟨t⟩ ⟨ti⟩ k ⟨k⟩ ⟨ki⟩
voiced b ⟨b⟩ ⟨bi⟩ d ⟨d⟩ ⟨di⟩ ɡ ⟨g⟩ ɡʲ ⟨gi⟩
Affricate voiceless t͡s ⟨c⟩ t͡sʲ ⟨ci⟩ t͡ʃ ⟨č⟩ t͡ɕ ⟨či⟩
voiced d͡z ⟨dz⟩ d͡zʲ ⟨dzi⟩ d͡ʒ ⟨dž⟩ d͡ʑ ⟨dži⟩
Fricative voiceless (f) ⟨f⟩ () ⟨fi⟩ s ⟨s⟩ ⟨si⟩ ʃ ⟨š⟩ ɕ ⟨ši⟩ (x) ⟨ch⟩ () ⟨chi⟩
voiced v ⟨v⟩ ⟨vi⟩ z ⟨z⟩ ⟨zi⟩ ʒ ⟨ž⟩ ʑ ⟨ži⟩ j ⟨j⟩ (ɣ) ⟨h⟩ (ɣʲ) ⟨hi⟩
Approximant ɫ ⟨l⟩ ⟨li⟩
Trill r ⟨r⟩ ⟨ri⟩

All Lithuanian consonants except /j/ have two variants: a non-palatalized one and a palatalized one, represented by the IPA symbols in the chart (i.e., /b/ – /bʲ/, /d/ – /dʲ/, /ɡ/ – /ɡʲ/, and so on). The consonants /f/, /x/, /ɣ/ and their palatalized variants are only found in loanwords. Consonants preceding the front vowels /ɪ/, /iː/, /ɛ/, /æː/ and /eː/, as well as any palatalized consonant or /j/, are always moderately palatalized (a feature Lithuanian has in common with the Belarusian and Russian languages but which is not present in the more closely related Latvian). Followed by back vowels /aː/, /ɐ/, /oː/, /ɔ/, /uː/, and /ʊ/, consonants can also be palatalized (causing some vowels to shift; see the Vowels section below); in such cases, the standard orthography inserts the letter i between the vowel and the preceding consonant (which is not pronounced separately), e.g. noriu [ˈnôːrʲʊ], ('I want'). Most of the non-palatalized and palatalized consonants form minimal pairs (like šuo [ʃuə], 'dog' ~ šiuo [ɕuə], 'with this one'), so they are independent phonemes, rather than allophones.[2][3]


Lithuanian has six long vowels and four short ones (not including the disputed /e/[by whom?] and /ɔ/). Length has traditionally been considered the distinctive feature, though short vowels are also more centralized and long vowels more peripheral:

Front Back
Short Long Short Long
Close ɪ ⟨i⟩ ⟨į, y⟩ ʊ ⟨u⟩ ⟨ų, ū⟩
Mid (e) ⟨e⟩ ⟨ė⟩ (ɔ) ⟨o⟩ ⟨o⟩
ɛ ⟨e, ia⟩ ɛː ⟨ę, ią⟩
Open (æː) ⟨ę, ią⟩ ɐ ⟨a⟩ ⟨ą⟩

In standard Lithuanian vowels [aː] and [ɐ] generally are not pronounced after any palatalized consonant (including [j]). In this position, they systematically shift to [æː] or [ɛː] and [ɛ] respectively: galia ('power' singular nominative) = gale ('in the end' singular locative) [ɡɐˈlʲɛ], gilią ('deep'(as in 'a deep hole') or 'profound' singular accusative) = gilę ('acorn' singular accusative) [ˈɡʲɪlʲæː].

On the other hand, in everyday language [ɛː] usually shifts to [æː] (or sometimes even [aː]) if the vowel precedes a non-palatalized consonant: jachtą, ('yacht' singular accusative), or retas, ('rare'), are often realized as [ˈjæːxtaː] and [ˈrʲæːtɐs] (or sometimes even [ˈjaːxtaː] and [ˈrʲaːtɐs]) instead of [ˈjɛːxtaː] and [ˈrʲɛːtɐs] as the following consonants /x/ and /t/ are not palatalized.[31] This phenomenon does not affect short vowels.


Lithuanian is traditionally described as having nine diphthongs, ai, au, ei, eu, oi, ou, ui, ie, and uo. However, some approaches (i.e., Schmalstieg 1982) treat them as vowel sequences rather than diphthongs; indeed, the longer component depends on the type of stress, whereas in diphthongs, the longer segment is fixed.

Lithuanian long stressed syllables can have either a rising or a falling tone. In specialized literature, they are marked with a tilde ⟨˜⟩ or an acute accent ⟨´⟩ respectively. The tone is especially clearly audible in diphthongs, since in the case of the rising tone, it makes the second element longer (e.g., is pronounced [ɐɪ̯ˑ]), while the falling tone prolongs the first element (e.g., ái is pronounced [âˑɪ̯]) (for more detailed information, see Lithuanian accentuation). The full set is as follows:

or tilde
acute stress
ai [ɐɪ̯ˑ] [âˑɪ̯]
ei [ɛɪ̯ˑ] [æ̂ˑɪ̯]
au [ɒʊ̯ˑ] [âˑʊ̯]
eu [ɛʊ̯ˑ] [æ̂ˑʊ̯]
iau [ɛʊ̯ˑ] [æ̂ˑʊ̯]
ie [] [îə][32]
oi [ɔ̂ɪ̯]
ou [ɔ̂ʊ̯]
ui [ʊɪ̯ˑ] [ʊ̂ɪ̯]
uo [] [ûə][32]

Pitch accent

Main article: Lithuanian accentuation

The Lithuanian prosodic system is characterized by free accent and distinctive quantity. Its accentuation is sometimes described as a simple tone system, often called pitch accent.[33] In lexical words, one syllable will be tonically prominent. A heavy syllable—that is, a syllable containing a long vowel, diphthong, or a sonorant coda—may have one of two tones, falling tone (or acute tone) or rising tone (or circumflex tone). Light syllables (syllables with short vowels and optionally also obstruent codas) do not have the two-way contrast of heavy syllables.

Common Lithuanian lexicographical practice uses three diacritic marks to indicate word accent, i.e., the tone and quantity of the accented syllable. They are used in the following way:

As said, Lithuanian has a free accent, which means that its position and type is not phonologically predictable and has to be learned by heart. This is the state of affairs inherited from Proto-Balto-Slavic and, to a lesser extent, from Proto-Indo-European; Lithuanian circumflex and acute syllables directly reflect Proto-Balto-Slavic acute and circumflex tone opposition.

In a word-final position, the tonal distinction in heavy syllables is almost neutralized, with a few minimal pairs remaining such as šáuk, ('shoot!'), vs. šaũk, ('shout!)'. In other syllables, the two-way contrast can be illustrated with pairs such as: kóšė ('[he/she] strained [a liquid]') vs. kõšė ('porridge'); áušti ('to cool') vs. aũšti ('to dawn'); drímba ('lout') vs. drim̃ba ('it falls'); káltas ('was hit with a hammer'/'chisel') vs. kal̃tas ('guilty'), týrė ('[he/she] explored') vs. tỹrė ('mush'), atidúsai ('hey, the attive one!') vs. atidusaí ('you have come back from suffocation').

Kóšė is perceived as having a falling pitch (/ˈkôːɕeː/ or /ˈkóòɕeː/), and indeed acoustic measurement strongly supports this. However, while kõšė is perceived as having a rising pitch ([ˈkǒːɕeː] or [ˈkòóɕeː]), this is not supported acoustically; measurements do not find a consistent tone associated with such syllables that distinguish them from unaccented heavy syllables. The distinguishing feature appears to be a negative one, that they do not have a falling tone.[33]

If diphthongs (and truly long vowels) are treated as sequences of vowels, then a single stress mark is sufficient for transcription: áušta /ˈauʃta/ > [ˈâˑʊʃtɐ] ('it cools') vs. aũšta /aˈuʃta/ > [ɐˈuˑʃtɐ] ('it dawns'); kóšė /ˈkooɕe/ > [ˈkôːɕeː] ('[he/she] strained [a liquid]') vs. kõšė /koˈoɕe/ > [koˈoˑɕeː] ('porridge').

The Lithuanian accentual system inherited another very important aspect from the Proto-Balto-Slavic period, and that is the accentual mobility. Accents can alternate throughout the inflection of a word by both the syllable position and type. Parallels can be drawn with some modern Slavic languages, namely Russian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene. Accentual mobility is prominent in nominal stems, while verbal stems mostly demonstrate phonologically predictable patterns.

Lithuanian nominal stems are commonly divided into four accentual classes, usually referred to by their numbers:

number case Accent paradigm 1 Accent paradigm 2 Accent paradigm 3 Accent paradigm 4
sg N výras rankà galvà diẽvas
V výre rañka gálva diẽve
A výrą rañką gálvą diẽvą
G výro rañkos galvõs diẽvo
D výrui rañkai gálvai diẽvui
L výre/vyrè rañkoje galvojè dievè
I výru rankà gálva dievù
pl NV výrai rañkos gálvos dievaĩ
A výrus rankàs gálvas dievùs
G výrų rañkų galvų̃ dievų̃
D výrams rañkoms galvóms dieváms
L výruose rañkose galvosè dievuosè
I výrais rañkomis galvomìs dievaĩs

The previously described accentual system primarily applies to the Western Aukštaitian dialect on which the standard Lithuanian literary language is based. The speakers of the other group of Lithuanian dialects – Samogitian – have a very different accentual system, and they do not adopt standard accentuation when speaking the standard idiom. Speakers of the major cities, such as Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda, with mixed populations generally do not have intonational oppositions in spoken language, even when they speak the standard idiom.[citation needed]

Change and variation

The changes and variation in Lithuanian phonetics include diachronic changes of a quality of a phoneme, alternations, dialectal variation, variation between corresponding sounds of individual inflectional morphemes of the same grammatical category, which is at the same time qualitative and quantitative, diachronic and synchronic.

Variation in sounds takes place in word formation. Some examples:

infinitive present tense,
I person,
past tense,
I person,
a noun of
an action
other noun related short
related short
meaning (for an infinitive)
rasti randu
I am finding;
I find
I found
a finding
to find (notice)
busti bundu budau budimas budrus vigilant to wake
pulti puolu puoliau puolimas pulkas[dubious ] a regiment to begin (on) suddenly; to attack; to descend
pilti pilu pyliau pylimas pylimas a mound,
an embankment
pilis a castle
pilvas a belly
pilnas full to pour (any non solid material e.g. water, sand)
kilti kylu kilau kilimas kelias a road
kelis a knee
kalva a hill
kalnas a mountain
kilnus noble to arise, lift (for oneself); to emerge, start; to grow, get bigger

keliu kėliau kėlimas to raise, lift (something), to wake somebody else; to improve
svirti svyru svirau svirimas to slope
sverti sveriu svėriau svėrimas svoris a weight to weigh
gerti geriu gėriau gėrimas gėrimas a drink,
a beverage
to drink
durti duriu dūriau dūrimas to prickle, job
vyti veju vijau vijimas vytis a chaser
pavojus a danger, alert
to chase; to strand, wind
visti vysta (III p.) viso (III p.) visimas visas visàs – all (feminine), vi̇̀sas – whole (masculine) to breed (for oneself)
veisti veisiu veisiau veisimas vaisius a fruit
vaistas a drug
to rear, to breed (something)
vysti vystu (I p.)
vysta (III p.)
vytau (I p.)
vyto (III p.)
vytimas to fade, wither, languish

The examples in the table are given as an overview, the word formation comprises many words not given here, for example, any verb can have an adjective made by the same pattern: sverti – svarus 'valid; ponderous'; svirti – svarùs 'slopable'; vyti – vajùs 'for whom it is characteristic to chase or to be chased'; pilti – pilùs 'poury'; but for example visti – vislùs 'prolific' (not visus, which could conflict with an adjective of a similar form visas 'all, entire, whole'). Many verbs, besides a noun derivative with the ending -i̇̀mas, can have different derivatives of the same meaning: pilti – pyli̇̀mas, pylà, pỹlis (they mean the act of the verb: a pouring (of any non solid material)); the first two have meanings that look almost identical but are drawn apart from a direct link with the verb: pylimas 'a bank, an embankment', pylà 'pelting; spanking, whipping'; the word svõris 'a weight', for example, does not have the meaning of an act of weighing. There are also many other derivatives and patterns of derivation.


  1. ^ a b c Pakerys (1995), p. ?.
  2. ^ Adapted from Lituanus
  3. ^ Ambrazas, Vytautas; Alexas Girdenis; Kazys Morkūnas; et al. (1999). Lietuvių kalbos enciklopedija. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos inst. pp. 497–498. ISBN 5-420-01433-5.
  4. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), pp. 36, 40.
  5. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), pp. 15, 36.
  6. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 15, 22.
  7. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), p. 41.
  8. ^ a b Augustaitis (1964), p. 23.
  9. ^ Augustaitis (1964), p. 16.
  10. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), pp. 41, 46–47.
  11. ^ a b Ambrazas et al. (1997), p. 40.
  12. ^ Mathiassen (1996), p. 22.
  13. ^ a b c d Ambrazas et al. (1997), pp. 46–47.
  14. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 16–18.
  15. ^ a b Augustaitis (1964), pp. 20–22.
  16. ^ The transcription [t͡ʃ˖, d͡ʒ˖, ʃ˖, ʒ˖] follows Laver (1994:251–252). Other scholars may transcribe these sounds differently.
  17. ^ Ladefoged & Maddieson (1996), p. ?.
  18. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 13–14.
  19. ^ a b c Mathiassen (1996), pp. 22–23.
  20. ^ a b Ambrazas et al. (1997), pp. 36, 46–47.
  21. ^ a b Mathiassen (1996), p. 23.
  22. ^ Augustaitis (1964), p. 19.
  23. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 18–19.
  24. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 19–20.
  25. ^ Girdenis, Aleksas. Teoriniai lietuvių fonologijos pagrindai (The theoretical basics of the phonology of Lithuanian, in Lithuanian), 2nd Edition, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos inst., 2003. pp. 68–72. ISBN 5-420-01501-3
  26. ^ A. Pakerys. "Bendrinės lietuvių kalbos fonetika" Vilnius, 1995
  27. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), p. 36.
  28. ^ Augustaitis (1964), pp. 24–25.
  29. ^ Augustaitis (1964), p. 37.
  30. ^ Ambrazas et al. (1997), p. 24.
  31. ^ Dabartinės lietuvių kalbos gramatika. Vilnius, 1997, page 23, §14(2)
  32. ^ a b Girdenis, Aleksas (2011-12-28). "Vadinamųjų sutaptinių dvibalsių [ie uo] garsinė ir fonologinė sudėtis". Baltistica (in Lithuanian). 44 (2): 213–242. doi:10.15388/baltistica.44.2.1313. ISSN 2345-0045.
  33. ^ a b Phonetic invariance and phonological stability: Lithuanian pitch accents Grzegorz Dogil & Gregor Möhler, 1998 [1][dead link]