Russian Language Grammar

    Aspect

There are two aspects in Russian - Imperfective and Perfective.

The Imperfective expresses a continuous or repeated action and answers the question "что делать?" (what to do?).

Он сидел и читал.

Не was sitting and reading.

Я всегда читал газету в поезде.

I always used to read the newspaper in the train.

The Perfective stresses the result, or pertains to the end, the completion of an action. It answers the question "что сделать?" (what to have done?).

Она прочитала ваше письмо.

She read (has read) your letter.

Sometimes, the perfective pertains to the beginning of an action:

Ребёнок заплакал.

The child started to cry.

Or it pertains to actions of short duration:

Он чихнул.

Не sneezed.

Also to actions of a longer duration:

Мы погуляли в парке.

We walked (for a while) in the park.

Remarks:

1.  An aspect expresses the nature of an action at the moment it takes place. For instance:

В детстве я много читал.

In my childhood I used to read a lot. (Imperfective: at that moment, the action was not completed or single.)

Я прочитаю это завтра.

I will read this tomorrow. (Perfective: at that moment, the action will be completed.)

2.  The basic correspondence between the principal English and Russian verbal forms is shown in the examples below:

ENGLISH

RUSSIAN

Present Continuous

I am writing

Present

Я пишу

Present

I write

Present

Я пишу

Past Continuous

I was writing

Past Imperfective

Я писал

Past

I wrote

Past Imperfective

Я писал

Past Perfective

Я написал

Present Perfect

I have written

Past Perfective

Я написал

Past Perfect

I had written

Past Perfective

Я написал

Future Continuous

I will be writing

Future Imperfective

Я буду писать

Future

I will write

Future Imperfective

Я буду писать

Future Perfective     

Я напишу

Notes: 

(a)   The translation of I wrote, I will write and similar expressions depends on the context (imperfective for continuous or repeated actions; perfective for single and completed actions).

(b)   I used to write, etc. is translated by я писал (Imperfective).

(c)   The Present Perfect Continuous and the Past Perfect Continuous are frequently translated with the aid of уже – already.

Я уже давно здесь живу.

I have been living here for a long time.

Я уже давно не был там.

I had not been there for a long time.

Formation of the Aspects

The connection between the aspects of most verbs is usually obvious. However, the formation of one aspect from another varies according to the types listed below, as well as within these types.

Prefixes

Many perfective verbs are formed from the imperfective by adding a prefix:

IMPERFECTIVE 

 

PREFIX 

PEREECTIVE 

читать

to read

пpo- 

прочитать

писать

to write

нa- 

написать

делать

to do, to make

c- 

сделать

плакать

to cry

за- 

заплакать

резать

to cut

раз- 

разрезать

ждать

to wait

подо-

подождать

строить

to build

по- 

построить

мыть

to wash

вы- 

вымыть

красть

to steal

у-

украсть

глохнуть

to grow deaf

о-

оглохнуть

 Remarks:

1.  In addition to these prefixes, there are others which form the so-called "modified perfectives".   In these, the basic meaning is altered:  

IMPERFECTIVE

BASIC PERFECTIVE

MODIFIED PERFECTIVE

писать

написать

переписать   (to copy, to rewrite) 

вписать       (to enter, to write in) 

подписать       (to sign) 

Note:   Some prefixed verbs remain imperfective:

(а)   Indefinite verbs of motion, such as ходить which forms the imperfectives приходить – to come; уходить – to leave; входить – to enter, etc.

(b)   A group of verbs with the suffix -ва, such as давать which forms the imperfectives передавать – to hand over, to transmit; отдавать – to give back, to return;   продавать – to sell, etc.

2.   The prefixes пo- and за- impart various meanings to the newly formed perfective verbs.

The prefix пo- expresses:

   (a)   Completion of an action: строить – построить (to build); красить – покрасить (to paint)

Он построил дом. 

Не built a house. 

   (b)   Doing something for a while; occasionally suggesting a certain informality: гулять – погулять (to walk); говорить – поговорить (to talk)

Я погулял в парке. 

I took a walk in the park. 

Мы поговорили немного. 

We talked for a while. 

    (c)   The beginning of an action with Definite (Actual) Verbs of Motion: плыть – поплыть (to swim); ехать – поехать (to go not on foot), etc.

Он поплыл к берегу. 

Не started to swim towards the shore. 

   (d)   A gradual change: стареть – постареть (to age); худеть – похудеть (to lose weight)

За последнее время он очень постарел. 

Lately, he has aged quite a lot. 

   (e)   A single action of a short duration:

Он мне позвонил утром. 

Не telephoned me in the morning. 

Note:  покупать is the imperfective of купить.

  

The prefix за- expresses:

   (a)   The beginning of action:   петь – запеть (to sing);   дрожать – задрожать (to tremble):

Она запела мою любимую песню. 

She started to sing my favorite song. 

This type, however, is limited to a small number of verbs. Normally, the beginning of an action is expressed with auxiliary verbs:

Он начал работать. 

Не has begun to work. 

Она стала хорошо учиться. 

She is starting to study well. 

   (b)   The completion of an action:  мёрзнуть – замёрзнуть (to freeze);  сохнуть – засохнуть (to dry up).

Река замёрзла. 

The river has frozen. 

Internal Changes

1.   Suffixes -ыва and -ива. With the aid of these suffixes, a modified perfective may form a new imperfective of the same meaning and with the same prefix: переписать – переписывать (to copy); подписать – подписывать (to sign);   достроить – достраивать (to finish building).

In contrast to the above, the basic perfectives (such as написать) as a rule do not form a second imperfective with -ыва or -ива. Exceptions are rare:   читать – прочитать – прочитывать.

 

2.   Suffixes -а, -я and .

In any couple of verbs with these suffixes, the one ending in -а(ть) or -я(ть) is the imperfective, the one ending in -и(ть) is the perfective: получать – получить (to receive); решать – решить (to decide); разрешать – разрешить (to allow); выполнять – выполнить (to fulfill). It should not be assumed that the suffix alone means that the verb is perfective. The following verbs, for instance, have in both aspects:

Imperfective:  говорить – to speak;  курить – to smoke;  пилить – to saw

Perfective:   поговорить, выкурить, распилить

 

3.   The suffix -ва is found in a large group of imperfective verbs:

давать – дать (to give);   вставать – встать (to get up);   узнавать – узнать (to recognize)

and many others where -ва is preceded by да, зна or ста.

The same occurs with prefixed verbs: передавать – передать (to transmit; to give, to hand);   отдавать – отдать (to give back, to return).

 

4.    Suffix -ну

   (a)   The suffix -ну is found in the perfective aspect of a number of verbs: исчезать – исчезнуть (to disappear); толкать – толкнуть (to push);  кричать – крикнуть (to yell).

   (b)   However, when the verb indicates a more gradual, often "involuntary," action, both aspects may have the suffix -ну:   мёрзнуть – замёрзнуть (to freeze);  мокнуть – промокнуть (to get wet);  киснуть – скиснуть (to become sour). This class of verbs expresses a state rather than an action.

 

5.   In addition to these four principal types, there are a large number of verbs which undergo various changes in the stem:

падать – упасть 

to fall 

спасать – спасти

to save, to rescue

помогать – помочь

to help

предлагать – предложить

to offer, to suggest

начинать – начать

to begin

запирать – запереть

to lock

умирать – умереть

to die

понимать – понять

to understand

собирать – собрать

to gather, to collect

Likewise, the verbs of the same root: занимать – занять (to occupy; to borrow money); выбирать – выбрать (to choose, to elect); убирать –  убрать (to take away; to tidy), etc.

  

6.   Four verbs have the reflexive ending -ся in the imperfective only: ложиться – лечь (to lie down); садиться – сесть (to sit down); становиться – стать (to become);  лопаться – лопнуть (to burst).

 

7.   Читать has two perfectives: прочитать and прочесть. Likewise возвращать(ся) (to return) has возвратить(ся) and вернуть(ся).

Different Roots

In a few instances, the imperfective and perfective aspects have different roots: говорить – сказать (to say); брать – взять (to take); класть – положить (to put).

Change in Stress

Occasionally, the position of the stress changes the aspect. This may take place in the infinitive:

Imperfective: отрезать – to cut off  (Present:   отрезаю, отрезаешь… отрезают)

Perfective: отрезать  (Future:   отрежу, отрежешь… отрежут)

Or, in other tenses:

Present: узнаю, узнаёшь… узнают    (Infinitive: узнавать – to recognize)

Future Perfective: узнаю, узнаешь… узнают  (Infinitive: узнать)

Single Verbs

 Not every verb has two aspects.

   (a) The following verbs occur only in the Imperfective:

заведовать

to manage, to be in charge of

зависеть

to depend

значить

to mean, to signify

иметь

to have

находиться

to be located

недоумевать

to be perplexed, to wonder

нуждаться

to need

обитать

to dwell

обладать

to possess

обожать

to adore

опасаться

to fear

отрицать

to deny

отсутствовать

to be absent

повествовать

to narrate

повиноваться

to obey, to comply (with)

подозревать

to suspect

подражать

to imitate

подразумевать

to imply

покровительствовать

to patronize

предвидеть

to foresee

предчувствовать

to have a premonition, to feel

преследовать

to pursue

принадлежать

to belong

проповедовать

to preach

противоречить

to contradict

разговаривать

to talk

содержать

to contain

сожалеть

to regret

соответствовать

to correspond

состоять

to consist (of)

стоить

to cost

угнетать

to oppress

утверждать

to affirm*

   (b) The following verbs occur only in the Perfective:

заблудиться

to lose one's way*

грянуть

to sound (of thunder)

очнуться

to regain consciousness

очутиться

to find oneself

устоять

to withstand

понадобиться

to be needed

ринуться

to rush

состояться

to take place

стать

to start*

хлынуть

to gush out, to spout, to rush

* The verbs marked with an asterisk do have another aspect but only in a different meaning. Thus, утвердить (perf.) means "to approve (something), заблуждаться (imperf.) - "to err," становиться (imperf.) - "to become".

   (с) The following verbs can be used in either aspect:

велеть

to order

 

блокировать

to block

обещать

to promise

завещать

to give in will

жениться

to get married

рекомендовать

to recommend

использовать

to use, to make use of

обследовать

to investigate, to inspect

исследовать

to explore, to examine, to study

образовать

to form

казнить

to execute

ранить

to wound, to hurt

миновать

to pass, to elapse; to elude

ремонтировать

to repair, to fix 

And many others borrowed from foreign languages:

арестовать

to arrest

 

ликвидиро­вать

to liquidate

атаковать

to attack

организовать

to organize

конфисковать

to confiscate

деградировать

to degrade

Examples:

Он всегда много обещает, а потом ничего не делает.

Не always promises a lot and then does nothing.   (imperf.)

Если он обещал вам прийти, я уверен, что он придёт.

If he has promised you to come, I am sure he will.   (perf.)

Пока мы атаковали…

While we were attacking…   (imperf.)

Они неожиданно атаковали нас с тыла.

They unexpectedly attacked us from the rear.   (perf.)

Remark: The need for a distinction between two aspects has accounted here for the appearance of another (prefixed) perfective: повелеть; поранить; пожениться; порекомендовать; пообещать, etc.

Через два года они поженились.

Two years later they got married.

Раз он пообещал, наверно, он придёт.

Since he promised, he surely will come.