Russian Verbs Conjugation Rules – Once and For All!

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I know that learning and remembering Russian verbs conjugation rules can be frustrating. I mean, I’ve been there.

First of all, don’t worry. It’s been more than 10 years since I first studied the Russian verbs conjugation rules and I admit that sometimes I still have some doubts and I make mistakes too. Be easy on yourself!

Russian verbs conjugation rules are just not easy: you have to understand which conjugation a verb belongs to, remember consonant changes and the letters to add, remove or replace.

Today I decided to write this post to spare you some effort and talk about the conjugation of Russian verbs in the simplest and most direct way possible.

At the end of the post you’ll find the Russian verbs conjugation PDF chart/infographic available for download.

Let’s get into it!

russian verbs conjugation

Russian verbs conjugation rules: Introduction

If you have already read my post on perfective and imperfective verbs, you already know about Russian verb aspects.

Conjugating Russian verbs in the past tense is really easy and even more is conjugating imperfective verbs in the future tense (as you can read here).

In this article I will focus on the present tense of imperfective verbs and the future tense of perfective ones, which are the two tenses that give us a headache in terms of conjugation.

Also, in Russian there are two conjugations, meaning that you can choose between two different sets of suffixes depending on the letters you find at the end of the infinitive form of a verb.

The Russian verbs of the second conjugation

Many Russian grammar textbooks begin from the first conjugation. But I like looking at things from an unusual point of view and so I’ll show you the second conjugation first.

Why? Because in my opinion it’s much easier and makes for an ideal starting point.

As a rule, Russian verbs of the second conjugation are those which infinitive form ends in “-ИТЬ” as our beloved verb “to speak, to talk” – “говорить.”

Let’s have a look:

Ground rule

ГОВОРИТЬ (to speak, to talk)
Я говорю (I speak, talk)Мы говорим (we speak, talk)
Ты говоришь (you speak, talk)Вы говорите (you speak, talk)
Он \ она \ оно говорит (he\she\it speaks, talks)Они говорят (they speak, talk)

What do you notice?

In order to conjugate Russian verbs of the second conjugation you should remove “-ить” at the end of the infinitive form and then add “-ю,” “-ишь,” “-ит,” “-им,” “-ите” and “-ят” according to the person. Note that the pronouns in the middle all feature a “И” while the last one has a “Я” in the conjugation.

Please, remember that after the “ш” of the second person singular you should always write “ь” and that the third person singular is basically the infinitive form WITHOUT “ь.”

These are typical mistakes that the Russians make and we should do better than them!

Exceptions

I wrote just above that the Russian verbs of the second conjugation are “as a rule” those that end in “-ИТЬ.” However, there are exceptions to any rule:

  • Some verbs ending in '-АТЬ': слышать (feel), дышать (breathe), гнать (drive away), держать (keep), спать (sleep) and лежать (lie down);
  • Some verbs ending in “-ЕТЬ”: смотреть (to look), видеть (to see), ненавидеть (to hate), зависеть (to depend), терпеть (to bear), обидеть (to be offended), ненавидеть (to hate), зависеть (to depend), терпеть (to bear), обидеть (to turn around) ).

These (and perhaps others that I may have forgotten) are verbs of the second conjugation even if they do not end in '-ИТЬ'.

СМОТРЕТЬ (to look at, to watch)
Я смотрю (I watch)Мы смотрим (we watch)
Ты смотришь (you watch)Вы смотрите (you watch)
Он \ она \ оно смотрит (he\she\it watches)Они смотрят (they watchj)

Nothing changed! You remove the ending of the infinitive form and conjugate the verb with the same letters for the previous one.

Now, let’s have a look at another verb.

ДЕРЖАТЬ (to keep, to hold)
Я держу (I keep)Мы держим (we keep)
Ты держишь (you keep)Вы держите (you keep)
Он \ она \ оно держит (he\she\it keeps)Они держат (they keep)

Here something changed indeed! And this is another rule you should always stick with:

Whatever conjugation the verb belongs to, after the sibilant consonants “ж,” “щ,” “ш” and “ч” (and also “г” and “к”) you NEVER add “-ю” and “-ят ” or ” -ют “, but always “-у” (first singular) and “-ат “/ “-ут” (third plural).

Reverse exceptions

Exceptions in Russian verbs conjugation are also in reverse. In fact, there are some verbs ending in “-ИТЬ” that actually belong to the first conjugation, including:

  • Брить (to shave): я брею, ты бреешь,…, они бреют;
  • Стелить (to spread something on a flat surface): я стелю, ты стелешь,…, они стелют;
  • Short verbs such as:
    • Пить (to drink): я пью, ты пьёшь,…, они пьют;
    • Бить (to hit): я бью, ты бьёшь,…, они бьют;
    • Лить (to pour): …
    • EXCLUDING Жить (to live): я живу, ты живёшь …

Below you will find out how to conjugate these verbs.

Russian verbs of the first conjugation

Let’s move on to the Russian verbs of the first conjugation – those which infinitive forms end in “-АТЬ,” “-ЯТЬ,” “-ОТЬ,” “-УТЬ,” “-ЕТЬ,” “-ТИ” and so on.

Needless to say that this category is much broader and it allows us to identify more Russian verbs conjugation rules to follow.

Ground rule

Look at this verb: “to work” – “работать“:

РАБОТАТЬ (to work)
Я работаю (I work)Мы работаем (we work)
Ты работаешь (you work) Вы работаете (you work)
Он \ она \ оно работает (he\she\it works)Они работают (they work)

Comparing with the verbs of the second conjugation, we can see that a lot has changed:

First of all, for the verb of the second conjugation we removed '-ИТЬ', while here, in the first conjugation, we only get rid of the final '-ТЬ' and leave the vowel that precedes it (or we remove '-ТИ').

Then, the suffix of the first person singular remains the same, that of the third person plural has a sound “Ю” (it was a “Я” before) while in the other persons suffixes have “Е” instead of “И.”

Now we can say that:

To conjugate the Russian verbs of the first conjugation we only remove “-ть” from the infinitive form and add “-ю,” “-ешь,” “-ет,” “-ем,” “-ете” and “-ют”. Note that the persons in the middle all have a “Е” and the last person plural has a “Ю” in the suffix.

Short verbs and verbs ending in “-НУТЬ”

In Russian size does matter!

There are some Russian verbs of the first conjugation that are short (monosyllabic) and behave in a particular way.

This is the case of the verb 'идти' (to walk in one direction) and all the Russian verbs of motion that derive from it, except those with the prefix 'вы-.'

ИДТИ (to go, to walk)
Я иду (I go, walk)Мы идём (we go, walk)
Ты идёшь (you go, walk)Вы идёте (you go, walk)
Он \ она \ оно идёт (he\she\it goes, walks)Они идут (they go, walk)

A lot has changed, right?

And the same happens with many (not all) of the verbs ending in “-НУТЬ” (they are pretty much all perfective), in which you should remove the last three letters “уть” before conjugating them:

ОТДОХНУТЬ (to rest)
Я отдохну (I will rest)Мы отдохнём (we will rest)
Ты отдохнёшь (you will rest)Вы отдохнёте (you will rest)
Он \ она \ оно отдохнёт (he\she\it will rest)Они отдохнут (they will rest)

This is a future form because perfective verbs don’t have a present tense!

Again, many of the verbs mentioned above follow this rule, not all! For example, 'двинуть' (to move something) conjugates я двину, ты двинешь… and not двинёшь. Why?

Because in the first person singular the “у” is not stressed. In any case, this is what you should remember:

To conjugate short Russian verbs of the first conjugation and the majority of those ending in “-НУТЬ” you only remove “-ти” оr “-уть” from the infinitive form and add “-у,” “-ёшь,” “-ёт,' “-ём,' '-ёте' and '-ут.”

In short, in the endings “ю” turns into “у” and the letters “е” transform into “ё.”

Russian verb conjugation in which letters change

* thunder and lightning *

Everything I’ve written so far is nothing more than the basis of Russian verbs conjugation and it works for about 70% of Russian verbs.

What about the remaining 30%?

The letters in Russian nouns, adjectives and verbs are just like the staircases in Hogwarts. They like to change.

And we, Russian learners, have to learn and remember when to add, when to remove and when to replace letters in the conjugation of Russian verbs.

Therefore I tried to group the verbs in different categories – to outline these phenomena and make it easier for you to memorize them.

You will also find an infographic in the Russian verbs conjugation PDF chart available at the end of this post.

russian verbs conjugation rules

An “L” appears in the first person singular

In all Russian verbs of the second conjugation in which there is a “б,” “п,” “в,” “ф,” or “м” before “-ИТЬ” you should add an “л” only in the first person singular.

ЛЮБИТЬ (to love)
Я люблю (I love)Мы любим (we love)
Ты любишь (you love)Вы любите (you love)
Он \ она \ оно любит (he\she\it loves)Они любят (they love)

This is a RULE!

  • Купить (to buy) – я куплю
  • Знакомить (to make known) – я знакомлю
  • Готовить (to cook) – я готовлю
  • Спать (to sleep) – я сплю

There are also some verbs of the first conjugation that take an “л” in all persons singular and plural, but they are rare so I skip them. The most used is дремать (to nap) which is slang and goes: я дремлю, ты дремлешь, он дремлет and so on.

An “N” appears everywhere

There is a small group of perfective verbs in which an “n” appears not only in the first, but in all persons.

ВСТАТЬ (to stand up)
Я встану (I will stand up)Мы встанем (we will stand up)
Ты встанешь (you will stand up)Вы встанете (you will stand up)
Он \ она \ оно встанет (he\she\it will stand up)Они встанут (they will stand up)

The verbs 'надеть' (to wear) and 'одеть' (to dress someone) also belong to this category.

Conjugation of Russian verbs ending in “-ОВАТЬ” and “-ЕВАТЬ”

In order to conjugate all Russian verbs of the first conjugation ending in “-овать” you should replace this ending with a “-у-.”

ЗАВИДОВАТЬ (to envy)
Я завидую (I envy)Мы завидуем (we envy)
Ты завидуешь (you envy)Вы завидуете (you envy)
Он \ она \ оно завидует (he\she\it envies)Они завидуют (they envy)

The same applies to some of the Russian verbs ending in “-евать,” but not all of them, because some others are conjugated as regular verbs of the first conjugation (and no, there’s no way to tell which is which).

ТАНЦЕВАТЬ (to dance)
Я танцую (I dance)Мы танцуем (we dance)
Ты танцуешь (you dance)Вы танцуете (you dance)
Он \ она \ оно танцует (he\she\it dances)Они танцуют (they dance)
НАДЕВАТЬ (to wear)
Я надеваю (I wear)Мы надеваем (we wear)
Ты надеваешь (you wear)Вы надеваете (you wear)
Он \ она \ оно надевает (he\she\it wears)Они надевают (they wear)

You see? Here is a bit of a lottery game!

Short verbs with “Ы” in the middle

Let’s be honest: the letter “ы” is hard to pronounce. This is probably why even the Russians sometimes replace it with an “о”.

Remember! To conjugate short verbs that have an “ы” in the infinitive form you have to replace it with “о” in all the persons. The “o” is always stressed.

МЫТЬ (to wash)
Я мою (I wash)Мы моем (we wash)
Ты моешь (you wash)Вы моете (you wash)
Он \ она \ оно моет (he\she\it washes)Они моют (they wash)

This is also true for the verb “петь” (to sing). However, here the last vocal is stressed: я поЮ, ты поЁшь, он поЁт and so on.

Conjugation of Russian verbs ending in “-ОЧЬ” е “-ЕЧЬ”

Good news – there’s few of them. Bad news – they are quite annoying.

In the conjugation of these verbs, the endings “-ЧЬ” and “-ЧЬ” are sometimes replaced by “г”, other times by “к” in the first person singular and third plural and then “г” becomes 'ж' and 'к' becomes 'ч' in the other persons.

Let me show you.

МОЧЬ (to can)
Я могу (I can)Мы можем (we can)
Ты можешь (you can)Вы можете (you can)
Он \ она \ оно может (he\she\it can)Они могут (they can)
ПЕЧЬ (to bake)
Я пеку (I bake)Мы печём (they bake)
Ты печёшь (you bake)Вы печёте (you bake)
Он \ она \ оно печёт ( he\she\it bakes)Они пекут (they bake)

I know you’d like me to tell you exactly when you should add “г” and “ж” and when “к” and “ч” instead.

Well, unfortunately I can’t. It’s something you have to know yourself. But I can tell you to pay attention to these two:

  • Лечь (to lie down) also changes the vowel to “я”: я лягу, ты ляжешь, он ляжет, ecc.
  • Жечь (to burn) loses the vowel: я жгу, ты жжёшь, он жжёт, ecc.

Consonant alternation

Brace yourself!

In my opinion, consonants alternations are the most difficult part of the conjugation of Russian verbs.

And I swear to you: over time it will become more and more natural for you to understand and know which letters to replace, but at the beginning it’s a real nightmare.

Here again I tried to divide alternations in three groups.

That’s for sure

We like a little certainty.

To conjugate the Russian verbs of the second conjugation that have “д,” “т,” “з,” “с” and “ст” before “‘-ИТЬ,” in the first singular person you need to replace the letter with “ж,” “ч,” “ш,” or “щ.”

The problem is that we don’t really know which one.

In general, “д” and “з” become “ж”, “т” becomes “ч” and the other three can turn into either “ш” or “ж”. But it’s not a rule, rather an observation.

ХОДИТЬ (to walk)
Я хожу (I walk)Мы ходим (we walk)
Ты ходишь (you walk)Вы ходите (you walk)
Он \ она \ оно ходит (he\she\it walks)Они ходят (they walk)

As you can see, only the first consonant changes! The same applies to “встретить” (to meet), “возить” (to carry), “просить” (to ask), “простить” (to forgive), ecc.

Every consonant changes

Yes, in some verbs the consonant changes in all the persons singular and plural.

There are no methods to identify these verbs, I can only leave you a model and then some of the more frequent “metamorphoses”.

ПИСАТЬ (to write)
Я пишу (I write)Мы пишем (we write)
Ты пишешь (you write)Вы пишете (you write)
Он \ она \ оно пишет (he\she\it writes)Они пишут (they write)

Here “с” in the infinitive form is replaced by “ш” in the conjugation.

Among the most frequent:

  • “КАЗ” becomes “КАЖ”: Заказать (to order – я закажу …), Сказать (to say – я скажу …), Доказать (to prove – я докажу), …
  • “С” becomes “Д”: Вести (to lead – я веду, ты ведёшь …), Упасть (to fall – я упаду, ты упадёшь …), Красть (to steal – я краду, ты
  • “СТ” becomes “Т”: Прочесть (to read – я прочту, ты прочтёшь…), Изобрести (to invent – я зобрету, ты изобретёшь…)

What the EF?

There are some Russian verbs that just don’t follow the rules and change completely. In some cases, their conjugation doesn’t look anything like the infinitive form.

Here are three examples:

БРАТЬ (to take – imperfective)
Я беру (I take)Мы берём (we take)
Ты берёшь (you take)Вы берёте (you take)
Он \ она \ оно берёт (he\she\it takes)Они берут (they take)
ВЗЯТЬ (to take – perfective)
Я возьму (I will take)Мы возьмём (we will take)
Ты возьмёшь (you will take)Вы возьмёте (you will take)
Он \ она \ оно возьмёт (he\she\it will take)Они возьмут (they will take)

And look at this!

ЕСТЬ (to eat)
Я ем (I eat)Мы едим (we eat)
Ты ешь (you eat)Вы едите (you eat)
Он \ она \ оно ест (he\she\it eats)Они едят (they eat)

Here you won’t find any Russian reflexive verbs because otherwise it would have been too much.

Now that you know how to conjugate Russian verbs, you need to practice a lot both in a passive (listening) and active (speaking, writing) way.

A final tip

Always keep in mind that in Russian many verbs are created by simply adding prefixes.

Almost all prefixed verbs conjugate exactly like the verb they originated from! This means that every time you learn how to conjugate a Russian verb, you actually already know the conjugation of many others.

For example, “записать” (to write down or to record) is conjugated just like “писать” (to write), “собрать” (to collect) is conjugated like “брать” (to take) and so on!

Russian verbs conjugation rules PDF chart/infographic

As I promised, here you can download the Russian verbs conjugation PDF chart/infographic.

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

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