An irregular verb that keeps on giving… Posted by Rob on Aug 27, 2012 in language, Russian for beginners
According to a lot of grammarians, the Russian language has only FOUR basic verbs with “irregular conjugations.” Students of Russian may be skeptical of this. And it’s frankly hard to believe that a verb as wacky as (for example) лечь, “to lie down,” is by any stretch of the imagination regular! After all — just to refresh your memory — this is how the perfective verb лечь actually conjugates:
|Past||лёг, легла, легло, легли|
How the heck can that mess NOT be “irregular”?
In a strict academic sense, being “weird” and “a general pain in the butt for foreign students” is not what qualifies a Russian verb as irregular. Rather, the handful of Totally Irregular verbs have conjugations that are utterly one-of-a-kind, and not at all resembling the conjugational paradigms of any other basic, unprefixed verbs. In contrast, лечь follows roughly the same pattern as verbs like печь (“to bake”) and мочь (“to be able”) — which don’t conjugate exactly like лечь, but they’re fairly close.
So in this post, we’re going to focus on one of those four “Really and Truly Irregular Verbs”, namely…
…дать, the verb that keeps on giving!
As you may know, дать is a perfective infinitive with the meaning “to give.” And here’s how it conjugates:
|Past||дал, дала, дало, дали|
The past tense is actually quite normal-looking, but the future-perfect is totally bizarre in several ways. Instead of the normal -у/-ю ending that you’d expect in the 1st-person singular, there’s an -м, and the 3rd-singular has -аст instead of -ет or -ит. And given that the 3rd-plural они form is дадут, one would logically expect the 1st-plural form мы дадём and the imperative forms дади! and дадите!. Instead, it’s мы дадим and дай(те)!
In short — wildly irregular, and not resembling any other verbs. Or, rather, the only verbs with the same conjugational pattern as дать are its own prefixed derivatives… of which there happen to be quite a bunch, and most of them are utterly essential, which is why it’s worth your time to learn дать by heart. Rote-memorization gets a bad rap (’cause it’s freakin’ tedious!), but when you’re starting out in a foreign language, there’s really no substitute for it. Personally, I find that chanting is a helpful technique — just make believe that you’re the head cheerleader at a Defense Language Institute football game:
Дам, дашь, даст — kick ’em in the aaahh-ss!
Дадим, дадите, дадут — make ’em lick your boot! Go-o-o-o-o Army!!!
(And honestly I don’t know whether DLI actually has a football team; that’s why it’s called “make believe.”)
But by whatever means necessary, make sure you know the perfective дать backwards and forwards! And its imperfective mate, давать, is also essential, but slightly easier to learn (and not irregular!):
|Past||давал, -а, -о, -и|
Again, the past tense is well-behaved, but the present is slightly weird in that the -ва- disappears, although it magically reappears in the imperative. This “vanishing -ва-” stunt is also performed by a few other imperfective verbs that aren’t related to давать. (For instance, вставать, “to stand up”, and признаваться, “to admit, confess to” — their 1st-singular forms are, respectively, я встаю and я признаюсь.)
Now that we’ve discussed the basic pair давать/дать, let’s get acquainted with some of their prefixed derivatives. As I said, there are a bunch of these, but we’ll start with four in particular — because, well, you’re gonna be seeing them again in the very near future. Like, say, in my next post… [foreshadowing!]
The pair сдавать/сдать can have the basic meaning “to hand in, to turn in,” and in the poem we’ll be talking about on Wednesday, it’s even more specific: “to check in (luggage),” as at an airport, or “to check in (a coat),” as at a restaurant’s cloakroom. But this verb pair has several other highly important uses. The imperfective сдавать экзамен means “to take a test (at school),” while the perfective сдать экзамен means “to pass a test”. And when followed by a direct object that refers to living-space, such as квартиру (“apartment”, acc.) or комнату (“room”, acc.), сдавать/сдать means “to rent out.” Finally, the related noun сдача means “change” in the sense of “money that you get back from a cashier.”
Another derivative with a range of meanings is выдавать/выдать (and remember that perfectives prefixed with вы- are always stressed on the вы-!) The most concrete sense is “to hand out; to issue” — as in giving someone a receipt or a traffic-ticket. However, when followed by a direct object that refers to a person (including oneself), it means “to reveal the identity of; to betray as” — for example, Иностранный акцент выдал шпиона, “The foreign accent gave the spy away.” And with кого-нибудь/себя за кого-нибудь, the verb takes on the meaning “to pass (someone or oneself) for someone else”. Thus, you could summarize the plot of Mrs. Doubtfire with «Разведённый американский мужчина выдаёт себя за пожилую англичанку» (“A divorced American man passes himself off as an elderly Englishwoman.”)
Отдавать/отдать has a slightly narrower range of senses. It can mean “to return (something that was borrowed/stolen)” or “to pay back (a debt)” or simply “to hand over (something to another person).” When suffixed with -ся, on the other hand, it can colloquially express the idea of “giving oneself over sexually”: Я никогда не отдамся тебе, урод!, “I will never ‘put out’ for you, you freaky loser!”
And the last “give” verb that you’re going to see in my next post is the reflexive раздаваться/раздаться, which is used with subjects that describe noises and signifies “to be audible, to resound, to ring out.” However, when used without the -ся, раздавать/раздать means “to hand out, to issue” — similar to выдавать/выдать, except that the prefix раз- implies “distribution to multiple persons.”
P.S. Just to test yourself:
(1) Do you know the basic translations for these other prefixed forms of давать/дать? Hint: one of them of is a trick question!
- удаваться/удаться (noun: удача)
(2) If you’re a property owner who wants to “rent out” an apartment or spare bedroom, the verb pair to use is сдавать/сдать. But do you know the corresponding verb pair if you mean “to rent” from the point-of-view of a tenant?
(3) Finally, as mentioned at the top of the post, the perfective дать is one of the four basic “Totally Irregular” verbs in Russian. Can you name the other three?