The Russian verb is a mandatory element in the syntactic structure of the language as it indicates a state of being, habitual action, or ongoing activity. A fusion of a subject (noun or pronoun) and the verb makes up a complete sentence. Beginners are advised to begin with foundational aspects such as the Cyrillic alphabet, nominative pronoun forms, numbers, tenses, and conjugation. Once you’re done mastering these aspects, you can proceed to learn the technical aspects of the language which would be discussed shortly. By the way, here are guides to learning other Russian topics:
Note that this article doesn’t cover the most used Russian verbs. Rather, it’s an explanatory guide to the subsections of the verb such as the perfective/imperfective aspect, motion verbs, verbs, and their tense forms. For improving your vocabulary, download a standard Russian-English dictionary that can be used on the go; there are umpteen Russian-learning apps you can use for supplementary learning. Let’s get started!
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Russian Verb Basics
Mastering every single verb isn’t sufficient to attain fluency, as you would have to use them in sentences. That’s why a thorough understanding of Russian verb conjugation, tense, and aspect is a must. Keep in mind that the phonemes “-ть” are inserted after a vowel while “-ти” ends a consonant. Let’s briefly discuss Russian tenses and aspects.
Verbs in Russian with Tenses
The Russian Present Tense
The Russian present tense is easy as you’re only concerned about the present tense form. There are no additional variants like the progressive, perfect, or perfect progressive forms. The simple present tense form is concerned about who is speaking (1st, 2nd, or 3rd person).
The Russian Past Tense
Like its present tense variant, it has only one form. The past tense form, however, is determined by the grammatical gender of the subject.
л functions for the male gender.
-ла functions for the female gender.
-ло functions for the neuter gender.
-ли serves as the plural form.
Learning the verbal aspects is a strange concept to L2 English language speakers as English doesn’t utilize the perfective and imperfective verbal aspects.
"Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things." ‒ Flora Lewis
Perfect vs. Imperfect Verbs
The major distinction between both aspects is the completion of action for the perfective form and the incomplete or ongoing state of action for the imperfective form. Furthermore, while the perfective aspect is a one-time act, the imperfective is a repetitive act whose timing is unknown.
Below are the perfective and imperfective forms of some verbs:
Russian Motion Verbs
Motion verbs are a unique verbal class found in some Slavic languages. It’s been discovered that non-native learners encounter difficulty in learning verbs of motion due to its complex semantic orientation. But with time, you’ll get the hang of it.
Verb-framed languages have the path encoded within the verb while the manner of movement or motion is expressed using complements. Russian, however, has these concepts encoded within the verb’s root and particles; thus making it a satellite language. Unprefixed imperfective motion verbs are split into pairs of either multidirectional or unidirectional verbs, based on the direction of motion. As stated earlier, Russian verbs have roots; roots of Russian motion verbs indicate the manner of movement such as running, crawling, and walking. Furthermore, the roots indicate the mode of movements such as by one’s power or transport.
The verbs “ехать ” and ” идти ” are unidirectional while “ездить ” and ” ходить ” are multidirectional. The Russian adverbs indicate the frequency with which trips are made and they include the following:
Often - часто
Usually - обычно
Always - всегда
Every day - каждый день
Sometimes - иногда
Rarely - редко
For the above adverbs, the indefinite verbs “ездить” and “ходить” are used.
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The Russian Verb Variant of “to be”
быть is the Russian variant of the verb “to be” with its stem varying based on mood and tense. This verb has an irregular conjugation although its infinitive ending is normal.
The Present Tense Form of Быть
Although “есть” is the present tense form of “быть”, it is rarely used in the written or spoken form. Native speakers often combine subjects with adjectives in actual speech while they replace the verb with a hyphen in the written form. For example:
он– доктор – He is a doctor.
Они – cтyдeнтьl – They are students.
The Past Tense Form of Быть
The stem of the past tense form is not modified; thus, it is conjugated like other verbs. For example:
|Feminine – ОНА, ТЬІ, Я||была|
|Masculine – ОН, ТЬІ, Я||был|
|Neuter – OHO||Было|
|Plurals – ОНИ, МЬІ, ВЬІ||Были|
Future Tense form of быть
The verbs “to have” and “to be” function as auxiliary verbs in compound tenses. With Russian having few compound tenses, this future tense form works with only imperfective verbs.
|Будет||OHO, OHA, OH|
"It is astonishing how much enjoyment one can get out of a language that one understands imperfectly." — Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve
Learn Russian Verbs of Motion
|Definite Motion Verb Usage||Indefinite Motion Verb Usage|
|It’s used when there is one defined movement|
I walked home.
|It’s used when there is an uncoordinated or indefinite movement|
I drove all over the city.
|When movement occurs once|
I ate today.
|When the movement is multidirectional and regular|
I jog around the field and down the hill every Saturday morning.
|When movement is regular but in a single direction. It means that the return movement is executed differently|
I walk to school daily.
|When there is a one-time back-and-forth movement|
Yesterday, I visited a friend – implying the subject returned home after the visitation
|When giving commands for unidirectional movement|
Go home! Come here!
|When a movement is exhibited as a habit or skill|
I dance well. The cow eats grass.
|When asking about movement that is ongoing|
Where are you leaving for?
|When asking questions about regular movements|
How do you get to work daily?
Below are some commonly used definite and indefinite motion verb pairs:
|гиать||гоять||To chase or drive|
|везти||возить||To transport via vehicle|
Prefixed Motion Verbs
Prefixes, when added to motion verbs, slightly change the meaning of the verbs. This inclusion adds an extra direction to the meaning. For instance, the independent verb “walk” has a distinct meaning, but adding “in” would change both the meaning and direction of the phrase “walk-in”.
If you find it difficult learning prefixes, you can cram each of the verbs. This way, you’ll treat each verb as an independent word, as against a group of related verbs. This method is recommended for learners with good word memory. Conceptual thinkers, however, might choose to learn the workings of the pre-fixes; a little of both methods is advised. Below are some of the prefixes:
|as far as||до-|
Irrespective of how important learning Russian verbs are, knowing how to spell words correctly is just as important. You can write creative texts more often to improve orthography, read the Russian dictionary for vocabulary, and utilize flashcards to improve spelling. There are fun games that are designed to improve language learning for native, as well as, non-native speakers of the language. Learning the Russian language is easier than you think. With patience, dedicated hours of study, and constant practise, you’ll gain fluency. There’s no better time to kick-start your language learning process than now. Happy learning!