Russian Perfective and Imperfective: A New Series

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Well, well, well, I think the time has come for a brand new series on this blog: Russian perfective and imperfective verbs.

Let’s face the truth: for us “strangers” who are not native speakers of a Slavic language the whole “Russian perfective and imperfective verbs” thing is extremely confusing and even scarry.

I can remember losing sleep over Russian verb aspects during my university years. Then I moved to Moscow and things started to sort themselves out.

This is exactly the reason why I decided to create this series of five posts on the topic of Russian perfective and imperfective – using my personal experience to make Russian perfective and imperfective clear (or at least I hope so).

This is more of a general introduction to the topic, the following posts will focus on choosing between Russian perfective and imperfective in present, past, future and infinitive sentences.

At the end of this post you can download a Russian perfective and imperfective verb list in PDF, where you find the 50 pairs of the most common verbs in Russian (data from 2018).

russian perfective and imperfective

Russian perfective and imperfective verbs: Introduction

In this first post I will write about the basics, the fundamental concepts of Russian verb aspect and I will also give you many examples to clear up at least some doubts.

In the following articles I will go into detail and try to schematize when to use Russian perfective or imperfective verbs in different sentences and grammatical constructions.

You will find the links to all the posts of the series at the end of the page, but leave me some time to write them! 🙂

Be patient and take your time as well, as this is one of the most difficult topics of the entire language together with Russian verbs of motion and the conjugation of Russian verbs (yes, all of them).

Perfective and imperfective for Russians

Let me start this post with a fun fact: Russians have a totally different way to look at Russian verb aspect.

As you will see in the chart of the 50 most common verbs in Russian, we are used to learning Russian perfective and imperfective verbs in pairs and it’s brilliant, because it makes our life much easier: говорить – сказать, покупать – купить, and so on.

But this is something only us foreigners do.

Russian children don’t learn verbs in pairs; to them they are separate verbs and in order to understand which one should be used, are they taught to ask themselves the questions 'что делать?' and 'что сделать?'

And guess what? Russians make many mistakes when they speak and write but they NEVER get the verb aspect wrong.

The errors regarding the aspect of the verb are typical of foreigners. They are generally not serious, but can affect the meaning of the sentence.

Russian imperfective verbs

As a general rule, Russian imperfective verbs (глаголы несовершенного вида) are used to indicate a prolonged action or an action that is repeated over time.

I know that this explanation is found everywhere and I also know that it is anything but clear, so let me clarify.

In short, when in English you can use the “-ing form” the action would be considered as “prologued” and therefore in Russian you would express it with an imperfective verb.

In fact, Russian imperfective verbs have three tenses: past, present and future.

Russian imperfective verbsWhen? How often?
Анна слушает музыку (Anna listens to the music OR Anna is listening to the music)Каждое утро (every morning)
Каждый день (every day)
Каждый вечер (every evening)
Антон покупал газету (Anton used to buy a newspaper OR Anton was buying a newspaper)Часто (often)
Регулярно (regularly)
Обычно (usually)
Мы будем играть в теннис (We are going to play tennis OR We will be playing tennis)Редко (rarely)

Imperfective verbs are usually matched with adverbs that answer the question “how often”.

Russian perfective verbs

Unlike the previous ones, Russian perfective verbs (глаголы совершенного вида) are used to describe a single action, which has a very short duration, or the result of an action.

Russian perfective verbs have only two tenses: past and future. Becuse how would you know the result of an action that is happening in the present?!

You can’t!

Russian perfective verbsWhen?
Маша посмотрела фильм (Masha watched a movie)Утром (in the morning)
Сегодня (today)
Сергей купил журнал (Sergey bought a newspaper)Один раз (one time)
В пятницу (on Friday)
Уже (already)
Мы сыграем в теннис (We’re having a tennis match).Ещё не (still did not)
Вчера (yesterday)

These are just the main rules, but there’s a lot more you need to know.

Russian perfective and imperfective verbs list

The aspect pairs

I don’t know who invented the the aspect pairs system to learn Russian verbs, but may the heaven bless them, because it’s excellent for memorizing Russian perfective and imperfective verbs.

From now on, there will never be any more solitary verbs in Russian for you.

Every time you see a new verb, immediately find the pair (for example on Викисловарь) and memorize both, repeating them out loud 100 times.

It works! You can start with this chart and continue with the 50 pairs of the most common verbs in Russian available for download at the end of the post.

ImperfectivePerfectiveTranslation
ГоворитьСказатьTo speak, to talk
ПолучатьПолучитьTo receive
ПокупатьКупитьTo buy
СмотретьПосмотретьTo watch
ДелатьСделатьTo make, to do

In each aspect pair the first verb is alway imperfective, the second is perfective.

First things first

When explaining Russian perfective and imperfective verbs, many Russian grammar books write that the imperfective is the only aspect that is used for present actions.

As we saw above, this is true from a grammatical point of view, because perfective verbs have only past and future tenses.

Also, imperfective verbs are the only that can express the “-ing” form in the present.

Be very careful, though!

Perfective verbs are used in sentences and idioms that in English and many other Eruopean languages would be translated with the present tense.

That’s enough! Here below you will find the other posts of this series.

Russian verbs list PDF

As I promised at the beginning, here you can download a list of Russian perfective and imperfective verbs in which you will find the 50 pairs of most common verbs in Russian (data from 2018) with their translation.

Enter your name, your email and click on the button! The download link will appear below.

    Have a look at these posts!

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    One thought on “Russian Perfective and Imperfective: A New Series

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