There's no question that Russian verbs of motion are one of the hardest topics for learners of Russian. There are many of them to memorize and even when you have memorized them all, it's not always clear which one you should use.
That's right, Russian verbs of motion are just like perfective/imperfective verb pairs – a real nightmare for beginners.
For sure they have been for me! It took me years of practice and sleepless nights to master these verbs, so don't worry if you don't understand them right away.
I've decided to create this series of posts focused entirely on Russian verbs of motion, in which I’ll be going through all of them in a way that doesn’t make you want to curl up in a ball and cry.
In this first article I’ll talk about how I use Russian verbs of motion without prefix. In the following 13 posts you’ll find these same verbs, but with different prefixes. Consider subscribing to my newsletter to ensure you don't miss a single one!
At the end of this post you'll find a PDF table of Russian verbs of motion with their conjugations to download.
OK, let's go!
Russian verbs of motion: Introduction
I beg you to pay attention to this paragraph. It’s short but very important to understand!
There are 17 pairs of Russian verbs of motion (глаголы движения) and they are different from all the other Russian verbs.
All of Russian verbs of motion without prefix are imperfective. I repeat, they are all imperfective.
So what’s the difference between the two verbs in a pair?
In each pair, the first is used to describe an action happening as the person is speaking or an action that takes place once (mostly) or in one direction. These are called unidirectional verbs.
The second verb in the pair is used to describe repetitive, habitual actions, or movement in different directions. Thus they got the name of multi-directional verbs.
Let's look at the verb pairs that are most common in our day to day lives:
Идти — ходить
To go on foot.
And now imagine yourself at 10 am with bags under your eyes and another bag under your shoulder, on your way to class. Your cell rings, you answer and a voice on the other side asks you, 'Hey, what are you up to?'.
In this case you'd answer: 'Иду на занятия' (I'm going to class [on foot]), using the verb 'идти' (unidirectional) because that's the action you're performing while talking on the phone.
Now imagine it's Saturday afternoon. After a busy week a relative calls and asks, 'What are you doing in these days?'.
This time you'll use the verb 'ходить' (multi-directional) to answer and say: 'Хожу на занятия' (I go to class ) to make it clear that you usually, generally go to class every day (even if you end up not going to school and messing around instead).
So the two Russian verbs of motion in a pair are always interchangeable depending on the situation, right? No, not always. There are cases where only one of them can be used.
Let's look at a few examples:
In Russian, rain and snow 'go' – 'идут', but not 'ходят'! Even when you want to say, 'It snows every day' (and trust me, you'll be saying this a lot in Russia), which is a repeated, habitual action, you'll need to say, 'Каждый день ИДЁТ снег'.
If you have any good-looking friends, you might want to say to them, 'Тебе все идёт' (Everything looks good on you), even if everything always looks good on them.
You can use this verb in general to compliment clothing and hairstyle, but for colors I usually hear 'Тебе – к лицу' (It suits your face), where the dash stands for the color.
Read my post about colors in Russian!
Is everything going according to plan? Все идёт по плану!
The second most frequently used pair of Russian verbs of motion is:
Ехать — ездить
To go by car, or any kind of public and private transportation.
If you're on the metro going to work and someone calls you to ask where you are in that moment, you should respond: “Я в метро, еду на работу“. Alternatively, if they ask how you usually go to work, you should respond: “Езжу на работу на метро“.
Beyond the use of the verbs, you will have noticed that the prepositions are different.
Of course, because when you find yourself inside a means of transport, the preposition to use is 'в', while when you speak about a means of transport that you use to go anywhere, you should use 'на'.
This makes me think of another of the many paradoxes within the Russian language.
In Russia, public transport moves on foot. To speak about public transportation (not cars!), Russians use the verbs of motion идти — ходить.
If you are at the остановка (stop) and someone says “Автобус идёт“, it means that the bus is arriving right now. Probably, if you are waiting at the stop, you will hear “Автобусы не ходят по расписанию“, meaning that the bus is usually late, and they do not follow the schedule.
Look on the bright side: all the Russian verbs of motion without prefix work the same. The first is mainly used for one-off actions, or that are immediate and in one direction, the second is used for habitual actions.
The other Russian verbs of motion without prefix
In no particular order:
Бежать — бегать
This pair means 'to run'.
Бежать is to run to a place with a destination in mind, for example if you are late and бежишь на остановку (are running to the bus stop).
Бегать is multi-directional, so you can use it when talking about running in general, as in 'бегаю по утрам' (I run in the morning. I jog).
Лететь — летать
Russian verbs of motion лететь — летать mean 'to fly'.
'Самолёт летает' simply means the airplane’s ability to fly, regardless of the direction. 'Самолёт летит', on the other hand means the airplane is flying to a destination.
If you're engaged in one of these movements in Russian, you will virtually always use the first verb in the pair. Here's an example:
I'm flying Jack! Я лечу, Джек!
Плыть — плавать
The same thing is valid for boats and all that плывёт — плавает (swims, moves on or in the water).
When you ask someone if they can swim, you don't normally care in what direction or where they swim. You just want to know if they know how to do it, therefore you will ask: “Умеешь плавать?“.
If someone 'goes with the flow' in life, in Russian that would be expressed as 'плывёт по течению', with a clear direction.
Тащить — таскать
These verbs of motion are both translated as 'to drag' or carry something heavy.
There is a common Russian idiom: 'Тащи свой зад …' – get your butt somewhere. You use the first verb of the pair because it is usually followed by a location.
Now that we're in the gutter, 'таскать за волосы' means to pull someone's hair.
Нести — носить
The verbs нести — носить mean 'to carry in one's hands' or in one's arms.
Каждый день ношу на работу воду в бутылке (every day I bring a bottle of water to work). Every day, back and forth, therefore, ношу (multi-directional).
Now though, несу воду из магазина (I'm bringing the water [home] from work).
As we already saw with идти — ходить, Russian verbs of motion can also assume secondary meanings although in some cases the two verbs in a pair are not interchangeable. It depends on the situation.
Нести бред (and NOT носить) means to talk nonsense.
Носить (and NOT нести) also means to wear clothes or accessories. How can you remember that?
Дьявол носит Prada. The devil wears Prada in Russian.
Нестись — носиться
The reflexive relatives of the preceding Russian verbs of motion have completely different meanings.
Нестись — носиться mean 'to move very quickly', but they are not very common.
Катить — катать
Катить — катать are also rare. There are few occasions when you move something by rolling it.
Катить may also be translated as 'ride someone on something', or 'take someone for a ride': детей на санях (ride the kids on a sled).
Катиться — кататься
On the contrary, this verb pair is very common (especially the second verb).
I can confirm that they have taken on different meanings.
Катиться translates as 'to roll'. When old people complain saying, 'where will we end up?!', Russians say 'Куда катится мир?!', or rather, 'where is rolling the world?!'.
You'll probably already know “кататься” because it is one of the first verbs they teach to describe what you love to do in your free time.
Besides rolling, it is mainly used to mean 'ride something with the intent of having fun', therefore we have the verbs кататься на лыжах (to ski), кататься на коньках (to skate), кататься на велосипеде (to ride a bike), etc.
Вести — водить
This verb pair means 'to drive' or 'to lead'.
Do you have a license? Well then умеешь водить машину (you know how to drive a car). A touristic guide водит туристов (guides tourists).
At the same time, you can вести исследование (carry out a study) оr вести переговоры (negotiate).
Be careful. 'Вести себя' (literally 'conducting oneself') means 'to behave'. Веди себя хорошо! Behave well!
Вести also refers to hosting a television program. The Russian host is ведущий or ведущая.
Везти — возить
The verbs of motion везти — возить can be translated as 'to transport', meaning to move something from one place to another via some form of transport.
In this case we also see that the verb choice depends on the situation. Be careful not to confuse them with the previous verb pair!
Ползти — ползать
The significance of these Russian verbs of motion is 'to crawl', but they are also used to convey walking or strolling when tired. 'Я еле ползу' and not “ползаю”, because it describes one's state in the moment the sentiment is being expressed.
Russian children ползают around the room.
Лезть — лазить
(And also лазать, although it is used less frequently) are translated as 'to climb' or 'slide through'.
Children love to лазить по деревьям (climb trees) and since they are always going up and down, the second modal verb of the pair is used to express that. This is a general rule for all Russian verbs of motion.
'Лезть в карман' means to put one's hand in a pocket searching for something.
The same verb is used for 'to snoop or pry': лезть нe в cвoё дeлo.
Брести — бродить
Both mean to crawl tiredly.
Бродить, the multi-directional verb, is much more common for its secondary meaning: to wander.
It's not a coincidence that 'vagabond' or “tramp” in Russian is 'бродяга' as in 'Леди и Бродяга', the Disney film Lady and the Tramp!
Гнать — гонять
These two verbs of motion have many differing translations depending on the context.
The main means 'kick someone out' or 'to drive away'.
Гнать — гонять на машине, on the other hand, means to drive quickly. If you hear 'гони деньги' or, somewhat vulgar, 'гони бабло' interpret it as a threat: 'give me the money'.
On the contrary, 'не гони!' is an exclamation of surprise between 'nooo, I can't believe it' and 'don't speak nonsense'.
Гнаться — гоняться
This verb pair means 'to chase' and it is common in many expressions, for example: 'Гнаться за мечтой' – chase one’s dreams!
Now we're at the end! This last verb pair means 'to follow' someone or something.
Are you trying to conjugate Russian verbs of motion? You'll find their conjugation in the Russian verbs of motion PDF, available to download below.
You will need to memorize them. But let me give you a tip.
Multitran (one of the most-used online Russian dictionaries) has a really nice function that allows you to conjugate verbs. Insert the verb you want to use and click on “поиск” (search). Once the translation appears, click on the verb that shows up in blue.
The order may be a little scattered, but Multitran is still a great tool to learn about verb conjugation, and a lot more.
However, if you want to learn how to conjugate Russian verbs, read my post on Russian verbs conjugation rules!
Russian verbs of motion PDF table and conjugation
As I promised at the beginning, here you can download the PDF table of Russian verbs of motion.
Enter your name, your email and click on the button! The download link will appear below.
Russian verbs of motion with prefixes
Now that you know all about Russian verbs of movement without prefix, it’s time to move on to those with prefixes!
Have a look at these posts!
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