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Understanding Russian Verb Conjugation


One of the most common mistakes those learning Russian make is using the wrong verb endings. Instead of “я говорю” (ya govoriu – I speak), they say, “я говоришь” (ya govorish’). Native speakers will understand what you mean, but it’s always better to speak correctly, isn’t it? This post will teach you how to prevent these mistakes.

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What Is Verb Conjugation?

Verb conjugation is the process of changing verb endings according to the number and person of the subject. It also exists in English: I am, you are, she is. In Russian the system is more complicated.


Verbs can be divided into two groups: verbs of the first and second conjugation.


How to Determine Verb Conjugation

Verbs whose infinitive form ends in

  • –чь (“печь” – pech’ – to bake)

  • –ти (“идти” – idti – to go)

  • –ать or –ять (“стоять” – stoyat’ – to stand)

  • –еть (“болеть” – bolet’ – to be sick)

belong to the first conjugation.


Verbs whose infinitive form ends in

  • –ить (“любить” – liubit’ – to love)

  • –еть

  • –ать

belong to the second conjugation.


Only eight verbs end with –еть:

  1. обидеть (obidet’) – to hurt

  2. терпеть (terpet’) – to handle

  3. ненавидеть (nenavidet’) – to hate

  4. зависеть (zaviset’) – to depend

  5. вертеть (vertet’) – to spin

  6. видеть (videt’) – to see

  7. смотреть (smotret’) – to look

  8. гореть (goret’) – to burn


Only four verbs end with –ать:

  1. слышать (slyshat’) – to hear

  2. гнать (gnat’) – to drive fast or to chase

  3. дышать (dyshat’) – to breathe

  4. держать (derzhat’) – to hold


Our advice is to learn these 12 exceptions that belong to the second conjugation. All other verbs, except those ending with –ить, belong to the first conjugation group.


First Conjugation Verbs

If the subject of the sentence is

  • first person singular (I), verbs of the first conjugation group end with –у (–ю). Я рисую. (Ya risuui.) – I draw.

  • first person plural (we), the verb ending is –ем. Мы рисуем. (My risuem.) – We draw.

  • second person singular (you), the verb ending is –ешь. Ты рисуешь. (Ty risuesh’.) – You draw.

  • second person plural (you), the verb ending is –ете. Вы рисуете. (Vy risuete.) – You draw.

  • third person singular (he, she, it), the verb ending is –ет. Он рисует. (On risuet.) – He draws.

  • third person plural (they), the verb ending is –ут (–ют). Они рисуют. (Oni risuiut.) – They draw.


Second Conjugation Verbs

If the subject of the sentence is

  • first person singular (I), verbs of the second conjugation group end with –у (–ю). Я готовлю. (Ya gotovliu.) – I cook.

  • first person plural (we), the verb ending is –им. Мы готовим. (My gotovim.) – We cook.

  • second person singular (you), the verb ending is –ишь. Ты готовишь. (Ty gotovish’.) – You cook.

  • second person plural (you), the verb ending is –ите. Вы готовите. (Vy gotovite.) – You cook.

  • third person singular (he, she, it), the verb ending is –ит. Он готовит. (On gotovit.) – He cooks.

  • third person plural (they), the verb ending is –ат (–ят) Они готовят. (Oni gotovyat.) – They cook.


How to Approach Russian Verb Conjugation

First, you need to determine to which conjugation group the verb belongs. After this, find out what number and person the noun or pronoun has and determine the appropriate ending. Replace the infinitive ending –ть with the ending that agrees with the number and person of the subject.


Let’s take the verb “петь” (pet’– to sing) as an example. The infinitive ends in –еть, meaning it’s the first conjugation. If you want to say that someone’s singing, you need the ending –ет, as in “она поет” (ona poyot). If you are singing, you say, “я пою” (ya poiu) and use the ending –ю.

This is one of the most difficult topics to master when learning Russian, so don’t give up if it’s hard for you to understand it at first. Conjugate verbs, learn, and practice with our Russian teachers.

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