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Verb Aspects in Russian: Understanding the Perfective and Imperfective



Verbs are a crucial part of speech because they denote actions. In Russian, you can build up sentences that consist of only verbs, for example “Пошли!” (Poshli! – Let’s go!) and “Давай!” (Davai! – Go ahead!). Because mastering verb usage will help you to understand and speak the language better, we’re going to introduce you to the perfective and imperfective verb aspects in Russian.

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What is Verb Aspect?

To show the completeness of an action, we use the perfect tense in English:

  • I do my homework.

  • I’ve done my homework.

In Russian, there is no perfect tense, so we show an action is completed through the help of the verb aspect. The imperfective describes the process of acting, while the perfective shows the result of an action.

  • Я делаю домашнее задание. (Ya delaiu domashnee zadanie.) – I’m doing my homework.

  • Я сделал домашнее задание. (Ya sdelal domashnee zadanie.) – I’ve done my homework.

The first sentence is an example of the imperfective aspect: the speaker emphasizes the process of acting. The second sentence is an example of the perfective aspect—the result of an action.

Do You Need to Use the Perfective or Imperfective Aspect?

Whether you use the perfective or imperfective depends on your purpose: If you're talking about the result, use the perfective aspect. If you want to emphasize the process of doing something, use the imperfective.

  • Он закончил школу. (On zakonchil shkolu.) – He has finished school.

  • Он закончит школу в следующем году. – He will finish school next year.

Use the perfective when

  • you want to stress the desire or intention to do something Я сделаю это завтра. (Ya sdelaiu eto zavtra.) – I’ll do it tomorrow.

  • you are describing a sequence of actions Они встретились, выпили пива и пошли в кино. (Oni vstretilis’, vypili piva i poshli v kino.) – They met, drank beer, and then went to the cinema.

  • the action is done only once Сегодня он узнал о повышении. (Segodnya on uznal o povyshenii.) – Today he has found out about his promotion.

Remember, the result of an action could have occurred in the past or will occur in the future. Therefore, you should use the perfective aspect only when using the past or future tense.


Use the imperfective aspect when

  • the process is important Он учится в школе. (On uchitsya v shkole.) – He goes to school.

  • the action is repeated or done regularly Каждое утро она пьет кофе. (Kazhdoe utro ona p’yot kofe.) – She drinks coffee every morning.

How to Form the Perfective Aspect of Verbs

Have you noticed that the verb form differs in the imperfective and perfective aspects? The perfective aspect of verbs is formed from the imperfective with the help of prefixes:

  • Делать – сделать (delat’ – sdelat’) – to do

  • Смотреть – посмотреть (smotret’ – posmotret’) – to watch

  • Работать – поработать (rabotat’– porabotat’) – to work

  • Гулять – погулять (gulyat’ – pogulyat’) – to walk

  • Играть – поиграть (igrat’ – poigrat’) – to play

Sometimes Russians build up the imperfective form with the help of suffixes, but this is less common:

  • Показывать – показать (pokazyvat’ – pokazat’) – to show

  • Рассказывать – рассказать (rasskazyvat’ – rasskazat’) – to tell

  • Отвечать – ответить (otvechat’ – otvetit’) – to answer


The Perfective and Imperfective in Different Tenses

Let’s look at both forms in different tenses.


Present Tense

Imperfective

  • Я делаю (Ya delaiu) – I do

  • Я смотрю (Ya smotriu) – I watch

  • Я читаю (Ya chitaiu) – I read

There is no perfective form in the present tense.


Past Tense

Imperfective

  • Я делал (Ya delal) – I was doing

  • Я смотрел (Ya smotrel) – I was watching

  • Я читал (Ya chital) – I was reading

Perfective

  • Я сделал (Ya sdelal) – I’ve done

  • Я посмотрел (Ya posmotrel) – I’ve watched

  • Я прочитал (Ya prochital) – I’ve read


Future Tense

Imperfective

  • Я буду делать (Ya budu delat’) – I will do

  • Я буду смотреть (Ya budu smotret’) – I will watch

  • Я буду читать (Ya budu chitat’) – I will read

Perfective

  • Я сделаю (Ya sdelaiu) – I will do

  • Я посмотрю (Ya posmotriu) – I will watch

  • Я прочитаю (Ya prochitaiu) – I will read

As you can see, the imperfective form in the future tense requires use of the verb “буду” (budu – will).


How to Become Fluent in Russian

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