Russian Verbs – Perfective and Imperfective Aspects Posted by yelena on Mar 29, 2011 in language, Russian for beginners
I firmly believe that the Russian blog has the most awesome readers ever! One of the many reasons you are the best is because of all the fantastic comments – thoughtful, well-researched, in-depth, and immensely helpful you leave on this blog.
33 (!) comments on my previous post about short forms of Russian adjectives are a perfect example. If you haven’t followed them, make sure to check them out, especially if you’re trying to make sense of Russian grammar. Thank you, Joerg and Maria!
But as the Russian saying goes «это только приcказка, а сказка впереди» [this is just a story-teller’s introduction, the real tale is yet to be told].
For a native Russian speaker using correct verbal aspects is simple. But trying to explain the complicated rules of choosing between perfective and imperfective verbs is a whole different matter. And that’s why I was thrilled when, reading through the comments, I found Maria. She is a native speaker of Russian and a trained linguist. She also has the rare talent of «разложить по полочкам» [to unscramble] complicated grammatical topics. Most importantly, she is eager to share her knowledge with the rest of us!
What follows is Maria’s post on «глагольные виды» [verbal aspects]. If you like Maria’s post, please-please leave a comment here or on our fanpage.
Past, present, future – Russian language has just three tenses. Is such simplicity possible? Not so fast! In Russian, the absence of more verbal tenses, as in English or say, Italian, is partially compensated by aspectual forms. Verbal aspect is one of the most difficult topics in Russian grammar, especially for non-native speakers. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about in today’s post.
In dictionaries, verbs are usually in the imperfective form. Perfective verbs are formed in several ways:
- Using prefixes «на-, с-, про-, вы-, по-»etc: «лечить – вылечить» [to cure], «печь – испечь» [to bake], «строить – построить» [to build], «писать – написать» [to write], «читать – прочитать» [to read].
- Using suffix «-ну-» : «прыгать – прыгнуть» [to jump], «кричать – крикнуть» [to scream]
- Using both prefixes and suffixes – «менять – сменить» [to change]
- By switching between suffixes, frequently accompanied by shifting letters in the roots – «а(ть), –я(ть), –и(ть), –е(-ть)» – «пускать – пустить» [to let in], «умирать – умереть» [to die]
- By moving stress to a different syllable within a word: «рассыпать – рассыпать» [to scatter], «разрезать – разрезать» [to cut]
- From a different base: «говорить – сказать» [to speak], «искать – найти» [to search – to find], «брать – взять» [to take]
Some Russian verbs do not have clear aspect indicators listed above. For these the aspect is determined contextually. Examples include «жениться» [to marry], «велеть» [to order], «казнить» [to put to death], «воздействовать» [to influence], «использовать» [to use].
Perfective verbs are used to describe
An action that leads to a specific result:
- «Пришла зима. Выпал глубокий снег и покрыл дороги, поля, деревни.» [Winter came. Heavy snow fell and covered roads, fields and villages.] – The result is emphasized.
- «Он взял гитару и запел» [He picked up a guitar and began to sing.] – He began to sing; the result is that he is singing now.
- «К вечеру я выучу это стихотворение» [I will have learned this poem by tonight.] – The result is that by tonight I’ll know this poem by heart.
An action that is instantaneous and completed right away:
- «Он лишь кивнул в ответ.» [He just nodded in response.] – He nodded once.
- «Мальчик выскочил из вагона и побежал по перрону.» [A boy jumped out of the rail car and ran along the platform.] – The boy ran out very quickly.
Imperfective verbs, on the other hand, are used to describe:
A process without specifying the end result:
- «Приближалась зима. Дул холодный северный ветер, шёл мокрый снег.» [Winter was approaching. Cold northern wind blew; wet snow was falling down.] – Here the process is emphasized, not the end result.
- «Я работаю, перезвоните позже.» [I am working, please call back later.] – We don’t know when the action was started and when it will be finished.
Continuity, repetition and frequency of an action:
- «Он ничего не говорил, лишь кивал.» [He wasn’t saying anything, just kept nodding.] – He kept nodding for some time.
- «Я буду ходить на лекции по русской литературе.» [I will attend Russian literature lectures.] – I’m going to attend these lectures regularly.
Note that imperfective verbs have past, present and future tenses while perfective forms lack present tense:
«читал – читаю – буду читать» [read/was reading – read/reading – will read/will be reading]
«прочитал – прочитаю» [read/have read – will read/will have read]
The future tense will differ depending on the verb’s aspect. Imperfective verbs have compound form (will + infinitive or will be V+ing) – «буду делать». Perfective verbs’ future tense is just one word – «сделаю». Note that in English both forms are translated as “shall/will + infinitive” – “will do”.
And that is all there is to verbal aspects… for today. Tomorrow Maria will talk about some exceptions from these rules, so don’t miss it!