Do you wish to add Russian to your language arsenal? If yes, welcome on board!
Russian is one of the four surviving languages of East Slavia and has approximately 258 million speakers globally. Belonging to the Indo-European language family, it shares a high level of mutual intelligibility with Ukrainian and Belarusian. The East Slavic language remains the eighth most spoken language in the world and one of the United Nations’ six official languages; these should strengthen your resolve to learn the language.
Away from its history, let’s discuss the grammatical aspects of the major grammatical aspects every beginner should know. Beginners often face the challenge of choosing what grammatical areas to begin with. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. It’s advisable to begin with the simple grammatical aspects like morphology, nominal, verbs, and moods before proceeding to complex aspects like syntax, stylistics, and pragmatics. This article is a simple, but detailed guide on Russian tenses and verbs. You can also check out the following Russian topics:
The Cyrillic Alphabet
Every beginner is advised to begin with the alphabet, as its mastery would simplify complex areas like tenses, sentence structures, and word formation. Like any other standardized language, Russian has its own alphabet called the Cyrillic script. The script shows the distinction between soft and hard consonant sounds. Like the English language, stress is unpredictable in Russian. Thus, the script is effective in assigning stress markers to words and reducing unstressed vowels (schwa). Stress, in Russian, performs two major functions; to indicate how uncommon words are pronounced and distinguish between words that are homographic. Here’s an example of two homographic words:
зamόk – zamόk (lock)
зámok – zámok (castle)
The first example has the stress marker assigned to the phoneme “ό” while “á” is stressed in the second. Due to the change in stress, each word has its unique meaning, suggesting that stress marker placement determines the meaning of a word irrespective of its orthography. Below is the Russian alphabet:
Before discussing the Russian grammar tenses, let’s shed some light on the syntactic structure of the language.
The language follows the SVO sentence structure and assigns only the nominative case to the subject position. For the object position, other cases can be assigned to it.
|3rd person (masculine)||He||Его́||Его́||он||Нём||им||ему́|
|3rd person (neuter)||It||Его́||Его́||оно́||Нём||им||ему́|
|3rd person (feminine)||She||её||её||она́||ней||ею||ей|
The table above indicates that there are six cases in the language and they each function differently.
Genitive case – indicates possession.
Nominative case – serves as the subject of the sentence.
Instrumental case – indicates “by means of” or “with”.
Dative case – takes the indirect object position.
Prepositional case – placed after a preposition.
Accusative case – takes the direct object position.
Verbs in Russian with Tenses
Russian has three tenses and they include the following:
- Present tense
- Past tense
- Future tense
In addition to the three tenses, there are two verbal aspects and they are:
- Perfective aspect
- Imperfective aspect
The language has an initial or base form of words. An infinitive verb is the initial form of a verb which can be seen in a dictionary. Such verbs indicate a state of being or show action but don’t indicate the gender, number, or tense in which they’re used.
|To be able to||мочь|
While the infinitive represents the base form of verbs, nouns have the nominative singular form as their base. The infinitive seeks to answer questions like "что сде́лать?", as well as, "что де́лать?". Infinitives are verb forms that cannot be changed and most Russian verbs have the suffixes "-ти" or "-ть".
Russian infinitives are used for the following:
An infinitive is combined with present tense verbs to indicate if an action just started, is ongoing, or has ended. For example:
- They have started working - они начали работать.
He finished reading - он ко́нчила чита́ть.
- Infinitives are used in constructing expressions with compound future tenses. For example:
They shall work. - Oни бу́дем рабо́тать.
- They are combined with adjectives and adverbs. For example:
They need to go - Oни ну́жно идти.
- Infinitives are combined with motion verbs. For example:
To walk - ходи́ть
To fly - лете́ть
Despite the numerous word class combinations you can have with infinitives, infinitives shouldn't be used with the verb "to know - зна́ть"
Tense (Past) + Aspect (Imperfective)
- It’s used for actions which started and ended at a specific period in the past. The speaker is uninterested in the result.
- Used for recurrent activities which occurred in the past.
- Used during the nullification of an action’s result.
- Used for past actions which occurred simultaneously.
Tense (Past) + Aspect (Perfective)
- It’s used for actions which started and ended at a specific period in the past, with emphasis on the result.
- Used when the results of actions remain.
- Used for two past actions which followed consecutively with their results achieved.
Tense (Present) + Aspect (Imperfective)
- Indicates the current state.
- Used for factual statements.
- Indicates a habitual action.
- Used for an action that’s currently occurring.
Tense (Future) + Aspect (Imperfective)
- Used for actions that would be ongoing or repeated in the future, but unknown whether they would be completed or not.
Tense (Future) + Aspect (Perfective)
- Used for actions that would be completed at some point in the future.
The Present Tense in Russian
Being an L2 English speaker, it's comforting to know that Russian tenses are simpler and straight forward when compared to English tenses. In the English language, you must undergo the hassle of memorising numerous tense forms like the present continuous tense, present perfect continuous tense, and present tense. Russian, however, streamlines all these variations into the simple present tense form which comprises the "subject + verb" combination. For example:
I work - simple present tense
I'm working -present continuous tense
I've been working -present perfect continuous tense
The aforementioned tense variants are all translated into "Я работаю" in Russian. Likewise:
I read - simple present tense
I'm reading -present continuous tense
I've been reading - present perfect continuous tense
The aforementioned variants are translated into "я читаю" in Russian.
Like the English language whose verb is determined by the subject, Russian follows the "subject-verb agreement" rule. Russian, however, changes its verb endings according to two patterns known as:
- The first conjugation
- The second conjugation
To achieve subject-verb agreement in the present tense form, delete the last two infinitive phonemes “ть” and replace them with the correct ending. The endings include the following:
Verbs ending with “-ить” infinitive utilize the second conjugation. The following endings/suffixes are used for the second conjugation.
- ю or y
When spelling Russian words, don’t write Я, Ы, or Ю after either of the following letters “Щ, Ч, Ш, Х, Ж, К, Г”. Use the following instead “А, У, И”.
The Past Tense in Russian
Like the present tense, the Russian past tense uses only the past tense to represent the English past tense, past perfect, and past perfect progressive. In contrast to the present tense which focuses on the speaker, the past tense focuses on the subject’s gender. Thus, the subject’s grammatical gender is often a pronoun when referring to yourself. But for human subjects, you’ll have to select either the feminine or masculine gender. For plural subjects, choose the plural form. Below are the verb endings:
-л is used for the male gender.
-ла is used for the female gender.
-ло is used for the neuter gender.
-ли is the plural form.
The Future Tense in Russian
As the name implies, it’s an action that hasn’t happened; thus, it’s futuristic. It has the future simple tense and the future compound tense.
The Simple & Compound Future Tenses
The future simple forms are created using perfective verbs through the aid of personal endings. Perfective verbs perform single actions that are complete. The future compound forms, however, are constructed using imperfective verbs and they include:
The imperfective verb’s infinitive and the future simple form of “to be - быть”. Below are the future perfect conjugations:
We’ve only covered the basic Russian verb forms. We’re yet to discuss the complex aspects such as the moods, directionality, unprefix, unidirectional perfectives, and the participles. Employing the services of a native Russian tutor is recommended for these aspects. Superprof is a reputable tutoring platform to consider.