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As a native English speaker the endings -ий, -ій, and -і all seem to sound the same to me. I can somewhat understand the difference between -ий and -ій, but it seems almost indistinguishable. Analogous pronunciations in English would be helpful.

My first question is whether there is a noticeable pronunciation difference between these endings.

My second question is whether I could still be understood pronouncing all of them the same.

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The main difference between the endings -ий and -ій is not the vowel, but the quality of the consonant before those endings.

Before -ий the consonant is not palatalized:

великий [vɛ'lɪkɪj], малий [ma'lɪj], чорний ['tʂ͡ɔrnɪj]

Before -ій the consonant is palatalized, it is always [nʲ]:

синій ['sɪnʲij], майбутній [maj'butʲnʲij]

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As for English speaker IPA for English might be helpful:

і: [i] кіт, key

и: [ɪ] миша, six

й (at the end of the word and before consonants): [i̯] гай, найшов, йти: coin

I'm not sure about last one: at least I pronounce "i" in coin totally differently.

You can just try to pronounce "й" at the end of word a little bit longer and more vowel-like comparing to "й" before vowel:

й (before vowels): [j] йога yes

As for being understood: I've found 40454 words that have all three endings. It is usual for adjective to have all of those in different grammatical forms. For example: adjective "високий" (high/tall):

високий: single masculine grammatical gender

високі: plural adjective for high

високій: single locative case feminine grammatical gender

So it WILL be misleading, though from context it is probably possible to guess what you mean... There are other cases where words or their forms differ by these endings so it would be better to learn to distinguish them and pronounce them properly.

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    «Й» is always /j/, there's nothing like /i̯/ in Standard Ukrainian, there are no Ukrainian non-syllabic vowels. What's the source of that heresy? Can you give a link? – Yellow Sky Feb 11 '17 at 6:28
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    :) Of course I can. "Орфоепічний словник Погрібного" to begin with. IPA for Ukrainian link in this answer. Ukrainian wiki on phonetics: uk.wikipedia.org/wiki/… And many others. Ukrainian language has two non-syllabic vowels: ĭ and ў – Kyrylo Yatsenko Feb 11 '17 at 6:36
  • З вікі, бо там багато всього й складно знайти: "Фонема /j/ твориться як приголосний [j] у позиції перед голосними. У позиції перед приголосними та в кінці слова вона набуває більшої звучності й твориться як нескладотворчий голосний [i̯]." – Kyrylo Yatsenko Feb 11 '17 at 6:42
  • And in my book «Українська літературна вимова і наголос» by Жовтобрюх there's nothing about those non-syllabic vowels. – Yellow Sky Feb 11 '17 at 6:43
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    Current results of discussion: there is no /i̯/ in Ukrainian - slashes denote allophones. I was talking about sounds, not allophones, so I've changed slashes to "[]". thank you, @YellowSky – Kyrylo Yatsenko Feb 11 '17 at 8:56
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The difference between и and і is like the difference between fit and feet.

I cannot think of an example of an Enlgish word with -ий or -ій. The й part may be hard to hear sometimes, but it is present like [ɪ] (a very short English sound i) at the end of stay. IPA does not show that sound like Ukrainian [j], but you will sound close enough.

If you don't pronounce й correctly, you will still be understood, no doubt. Human ear can take much more abuse than that.

The exact meaning can differ, if you say и and і incorrectly, but in a context it will be clear. For example, pronouncing голодний as голодні can change the meaning from [I am] hungry to [you-plural are] hungry (or [he is] hungry to [they are] hungry). So you may end up with the wrong people fed, but I guess there will be enough clues in the context to understand the meaning.

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