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Command Forms Beyond the Imperative in Russian Posted by on Jun 7, 2018 in language, Verbs and their grammar

You may know the imperative mood as one way of making requests or giving commands in Russian, but there are other, less common, ways you may come across. Read on to learn how to recognize and use them.

washing hands

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Imperative Mood — Повелительное наклонение

The most common way is, of course, the imperative mood. The forms can be “built” from the root of the verb — see more information in this past post. The distinction between perfective and imperfective imperatives (“мой!” vs “помой!” both meaning “wash!”) can be similar to that between perfective and imperfective indicative verbs. That is, perfective imperatives refer to a one-time, specific, or finite action, whereas imperfective imperatives can express a general recommendation or command. This will, of course, depend on the sense of each verb. To illustrate this using the verbs above (мыть/помыть), here are two examples:

  • Тща́тельно мо́йте о́вощи и фру́кты пе́ред употребле́нием в пи́щу.
    (Wash fruit and vegetables carefully before eating them.)
    [Прибор висячий (1997) // «Столица», 1997.06.17]
  • По́сле конта́кта с банкно́тами обяза́тельно помо́йте ру́ки.
    Make sure to wash your hands after handling bills.
    [Людмила Свистунова. Грязные деньги // «Зеркало мира», 2012]

You could argue that the second example presents the act of washing as a single, discrete event. Could you use “мойте” for that example? Absolutely, but then it would be closer to “every time you handle paper money, be sure to wash your hands,” while the current example could, ostensibly, refer to a specific situation that will not repeat itself.

In addition, perfective forms are more likely to be more direct and closer to commands that requests (e.g. садись vs сядь for “sit down”).

stop sign

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Infinitive — Инфинитив

A less common way of giving commands is the infinitive. This form is very direct and  not very polite. It is really closer to an order and may be heard in contexts with large disparities in power, e.g. military commands, talking to pets, or from an abusive superior. This form uses the imperfective infinitive.

  • «Стоя́ть! Шаг в сто́рону ― стреля́ем!»
    “Halt! Take a step, and we’ll shoot!”
    [Светлана Алексиевич. Время second-hand // «Дружба народов», 2013]
  • Ша́рик зна́ет всего́ па́ру кома́нд: «Сиде́ть! Лежа́ть! Дай ла́пу!»
    Sharik (dog’s name) knows just a few commands: “Sit! Down! Shake!”
    [Татьяна Соломатина. Большая собака, или «Эклектичная живописная вавилонская повесть о зарытом» (2009)]
  • ― Молча́ть! Де́лай, что прика́зано!
    “Quiet! Do what you’re told!”
    [Михаил Шишкин. Всех ожидает одна ночь (1993-2003)]
man exercising

Image via Pixabay

Past Tense — Прошедшее время

Finally, past tense forms may express commands, too. This is also quite direct and even rude. Perfective forms are used in this case.

  • От челове́ка в фо́рме ждёшь кома́нды «Упа́л! Отжа́лся!»
    You expect a person in uniform to order “Drop down and give me some push-ups!”
    [Владимир Антипин. Зажигалки Павлова // «Русский репортер», № 28 (156), 22-29 июля 2010, 2010]
  • — А ну, встал! ― закрича́л неожи́данно появи́вшийся ря́дом охра́нник.
    “Get up at once!” yelled the guard who suddenly appeared nearby.
    [Андрей Геласимов. Степные боги (2008)]

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.