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In this post, we will look at the ways you can introduce temporal clauses in Russian. We will concentrate on past verb forms. Translations are used to illustrate the meaning of the Russian phrases and may not reflect your local dialect of English.
If we want to describe one action that happened before another, we can use the conjunctions перед тем как and до того́ как, both loosely translated as “before.” In terms of punctuation, a comma usually comes before the whole conjunction, although it may come before как. More details on punctuation are available here. Перед тем как is also often used to refer to an action by the same subject that happens before another action.
Note that nouns are preceded by до (before, up until) or пе́ред (before, ahead of). No comma is necessary after the temporal clause.
If one thing was happening while another was also happening, we can use пока (while) or во время того как (during) to introduce the temporal clause. Both sentences will use an imperfective verb.
Note that if you need to express “during + noun,” use во время + genitive case: Во вре́мя совеща́ния постоя́нно звони́л телефо́н (The phone was constantly ringing during the meeting).
What if one instantaneous action occurred in the middle of another sustained action? In that case, you will use an imperfective verb in the dependent clause following пока́/во вре́мя того́ как and a perfective verb in the main clause:
You will remember from the point above that while-clauses in Russian can be introduced by пока. The way Russian expresses until-clauses is, literally speaking, “while not” (пока́ не). Note that не does not have to follow immediately after пока́. The dependent clause will have a perfective verb.
This scenario is similar to the before-clause. The “change-inducing” or preceding action of the dependent clause is usually expressed by a perfective verb (you could come up with an imperfective example). The verb in the main clause may be perfective or imperfective depending on whether a repeated or one-time action is meant.
One final note concerns the conjunction когда́ (when). The sense of the sentence is largely defined by the verb aspect (perfective/imperfective). “Когда + imperfective, perfective” refers to one action that occurs in the middle of another or interrupts it:
“Когда + imperfective, imperfective” refers to two concurrent actions, similar to пока, or repeated actions:
“Когда + perfective, perfective” refers to two consecutive actions, just like после того как:
What aspects of temporal clauses do you find logical/confusing/fascinating? What other scenarios would you like to have covered here? Obviously, this post only touches upon certain structures and omits others, and there is much more to be added!