Russian Language Grammar

    Gerunds

Russian gerunds are classified as follows:

 

Example

Meaning

Present

читая

(while) reading 

Past Imperfective не имев not having (had)
Past Perfective написав having written

Note:   There are no passive gerunds.

Characteristics of Gerunds 

Gerunds are verbal adverbs. They possess characteristics of both of these parts of speech.

1.   Adverbial characteristics:

   (a)   Gerunds never change. They have no gender, number, or case.

   (b)   Gerunds answer the same types of questions as adverbs, i.e. когда, как, почему, etc.

 

2.   Verbal characteristics:

   (a)   Gerunds, as indicated above, have two aspects.

IMPERFECTIVE

читая газету

(while) reading the paper

PERFECTIVE

прочитав газету

having read the paper

   (b)   They are formed from transitive and intransitive verbs, and express correspondingly a transitive or intransitive action.

TRANSITIVE

читая книгу

(while) reading the book

INTRANSITIVE

сидя в кресле

(while) sitting in an armchair

   (c)   They govern the same case as the verb from which they are formed.

VERB

командовать полком (instr.)

to command a regiment

GERUND

командуя полком (instr.)

(while) commanding a regiment

   (d)   In certain constructions, gerunds call for the same preposition as the verb from which they are formed.

VERB

играть в шахматы

to play chess

GERUND

играя в шахматы

(while) playing chess

Formation of Present Gerunds 

Present gerunds are formed from the third person plural, present tense, by dropping the endings -ут, -ют or -ат, -ят and adding -я or -a to the stem. The ending -a is added to stems ending in -ж, -ч, -ш, -щ. 

жить

живут

живя

читать

читают

читая

держать

держат

держа

сидеть

сидят

сидя

Irregular Formation

1.   The group of verbs ending in -вать preceded by да-, зна- or стa- form their gerund from the infinitive.

давать

(дают)

давая

вставать

(встают)

вставая

2.   Present gerunds may end occasionally in -учи or -ючи. This is usually limited to colloquial speech, folksongs or set expressions.

Examples:

едучи

going, driving (the only form used)

ерез поле идучи,

Русу косу плетучи."

"Walking through the field,

Braiding (her) blond braids."

жить припеваючи

to live in easy street, to be in clover (lit.:  to live and sing along)

Note: Only будучи, the present gerund of "быть", belongs entirely to literary Russian.

3.  From many verbs, the present gerund is either not formed at all, or practically never used. To these belong:

   (a)   The verbs with no vowel in the stem of the present tense, such as: ждать (to wait) – жду, ждёшь;   врать (to tell lies) – вру, врёшь.

   (b)   The verbs ending in -чь, such as: мочь – to be able; жечь – to burn (transitive).

   (c)   The verbs with the suffix -нуть, such as: гибнуть – to perish; мокнуть – to get wet.

   (d)   The verbs below, and a few others: 

бежать

to run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

лезть

to climb

бить

to beat

мазать

to daub, to spread

вить

to twine, to spin

петь

to sing

вязать

to tie; to knit

писать

to write

лить

to pour

плясать

to dance

казаться

to seem, to appear

пить

to drink

шить

to sew

чесать

to scratch

Formation of Past Gerunds 

Past gerunds are formed from the past tense in the following ways:

1. When the stem of both the infinitive and the past ends in a vowel, -л is dropped from the past and -в is added to the stem:

написать (to write)

написал

написав

спросйть (to ask)

спросил

спросив

The alternate forms написавши, спросивши, etc. are seldom used.

2. When the stem of the infinitive ends in a vowel, and the stem of the past ends in a consonant other than -л, the ending -ть is dropped from the infinitive and -в is added to the stem. 

запереть (to lock)

запер

заперев

привыкнуть (to get used to)

привык

привыкнув

Irregular Formation

1. A few verbs form their past gerunds from the perfective future, third person plural. To these belong:

   (a)   The compounds of идти

прийти (to come)

придут

придя

зайти (to drop in)

зайдут

зайдя

перейти (to cross)

перейдут

перейдя

найти (to find)

найдут

найдя

These gerunds resemble the present gerunds by form, that is by the ending -я. The parallel forms in -ши (пришедши, нашедши, etc.) are used less frequently.

   (b)   A few verbs which have the following past gerund forms:

привести (to lead to, to bring to)

приведут

приведя

принести (to bring)

принесут

принеся

услышать (to hear)

услышат

услышав

увидеть (to see)

увидят

увидев

предвидеть (to foresee)

предвидят

предвидя

Note:   Прочесть forms the gerund прочтя (of the same meaning as прочитав – which is formed from прочитать).

2. Finally, the past gerund in -a or -я is encountered in a few set expres­sions.

положа руку на сердце

frankly, honestly (lit. "with the hand on the heart")

спустя рукава

carelessly (lit. "with sleeves down")

сидеть сложа руки

to do nothing (lit. to sit with arms folded)

These adverbialized forms are limited to the expressions given above. Otherwise, the ending is regular: положив деньги в карман (having put the money in the pocket), сложив платок (having folded a handkerchief), etc.

Gerunds Formed from Verbs Ending in -ся

Gerunds are formed from reflexive verbs according to the basic rules given above. Two additional rules follow:

All reflexive gerunds end in -сь.

Past reflexive gerunds are formed with the suffixes -вши and -ши (not -в). 

Present Gerund:

одеваться

одеваются

одеваясь

Past Gerunds: 

одеться

оделся

одевшись

запереться

заперся

запершись

Exceptions:   A few reflexive past gerunds have a variant form which resembles the present gerund. 

обидеться (to get offended)

обидясь or обидевшись

прищуриться (to squint)

прищурясь or прищурившись

прислониться (to lean against)

прислонясь or прислонившись

проститься (to say goodbye)

простясь or простившись

встретиться (to meet)

встретясь or встретившись

Usage of Gerunds 

A. Gerunds versus Subordinate Clauses

   1.   The same idea may be expressed by a gerund or by a subordinate clause containing когда, пока, в то время как, потому что, так как, etc.

Когда я приехал домой, я нашёл его письмо.

When I arrived home I found his letter.

Or: Приехав домой, я нашёл его письмо.

Пока он одевался, он слушал новости по радио.

While he was dressing he was listening to the news on the radio.

Or: Одеваясь, он слушал новости по радио.

Я пошёл пешком, потому что я опоздал на автобус.

I went on foot because I was late for the bus.

Or: Опоздав на автобус, я пошёл пешком.

Студент сдал экзамены и уехал домой.

The student passed his examinations and went home.

Or:   Сдав экзамены, студент уехал домой.

   2.   Sometimes a subordinate clause is preferred to a gerund. For instance:

Опоздав на автобус, я решил идти пешком – can be replaced by:

Когда я опоздал на автобус, я решил идти пешком.

When I missed the bus, I decided to walk.

Or, by:

Я решил идти пешком, потому что я опоздал на автобус.

I decided to walk because I missed the bus.

The subordinate clause clarifies the statement.

   3.   When a gerund acquires the meaning of an adverbial expression of manner, it cannot be replaced with a subordinate clause:

Она смотрела на меня, как бы не понимая, в чём дело.

She was looking at me, as if she didn't understand what was it about.

Он вошёл в комнату, стуча сапогами.

He entered the room stamping his feet (lit. his boots).

   4.   Since the gerund expresses an action which qualifies the main one, both actions must refer to the same subject. In other words, it is impossible to replace with a gerund a sentence such as:

Когда я вернулся домой, у меня болела голова.

When I returned home, my head was aching.

Exceptions to the above rule are rare. They may be found, however, in some impersonal sentences, when the subject is clearly implied:

Вспоминая об этом, мне всегда хочется смеяться.

When I think of it, I always feel like laughing.

Хорошо плыть по Волге осенней ночью, сидя на корме баржи. (Горький)

It is good to sail down the Volga on an autumn night, sitting on the stern of a barge.

Or in constructions with a predicative infinitive:

Моя цель – окончив университет, приняться за работу.

My aim is, after I finish my college studies, to start working.

 

B.   Intrinsically, a gerund does not express any definite time. Present Gerunds express an action which takes place simultaneously with the principal one. It may refer to the present, past, or future.

Example: Сидя в вагоне, он читает (читал, будет читать) книгу.

The use of the gerund establishes a certain perspective between the main and the accompanying actions.

Thus, both verbs are equally important in:

Мы слушали его и смеялись.

We listened to him and laughed.

But the main verb is смеяться in "Слушая его, мы смеялись" – and the main verb is слушать in "Смеясь, мы слушали его."

 

C.   Past gerunds can be formed from both imperfective and perfective verbs.

   1.  Past gerunds are formed from imperfective verbs but are hardly ever used in current speech. They are found sometimes in negated construc­tions, with verbs which have no perfective, or with verbs which are used in both aspects:

не имев возможности

not having (had) the opportunity

обещав много раз

having promised many times

   2.  Past gerunds formed from perfective verbs are used frequently. They, as a rule, express an action which precedes the main one; they may refer to the past, present or future:

Окончив лекцию, он пошёл (идёт, пойдёт) домой.

After finishing the lecture he went (goes, will go) home.

Very rarely, there may be found a digression from this rule of antecedence. In the following sentences (seemingly anachronistic) the gerund indicates the consequence of the main action:

Ваза упала, разбившись на куски.

The vase fell and broke into pieces (lit. having broken into pieces).

Где-то вблизи ударил гром, напугав всех.

Somewhere in the vicinity, thunder struck and frightened everybody (lit. having frightened everybody).

 

D.   A clause may contain both a past and a present gerund. The past gerund will refer to an action preceding the one expressed by the present gerund:

Повесив пальто

и снимая шляпу,

он сказал ...

Having hung his coat

and taking off his hat

he said ...

(precedes main action)

(simultaneous with main action)

(main action)

Сняв шляпу

и вешая пальто,

он сказал ...

Having taken off his hat

and hanging his coat

he said ...

(precedes main action)

(simultaneous with main action)

(main action)