Aspects of the verb

As you might already know, the Russian language has only three basic tenses: present, past and future. Quite easy, right? However, Russians couldn’t adequately communicate having just three tenses, so the aspects had appeared. There are only two aspects of the verb in Russian: the imperfective aspect [несоверше́нный вид] and the perfective aspect [соверше́нный вид]. And today we are going to explain you what is their role and how they work.

The audio in Russian is intended to help you to practice the prononciation and to memorize the typical patterns.

After studying this lesson you can practice use of Russian verbs in different aspects with Learn Russian Step by Step lessons.

Almost each Russian verb has its counterpart of another aspect. For example, for one English verb “eat” we have two corresponding Russian verbs «есть» и «поесть». Verbs of imperfective aspect are used for ongoing, repeated and habitual actions, verbs of perfective aspect indicate one-time and successfully completed actions. See the examples:

  • Я ем. – I’m eating.
  • Я не успе́л пое́сть. – I haven’t time to eat.

Even though often two verbs look very similar, you can’t create one aspect from another. There are two words for each form.

Here are some examples of verb pairs (imperfective/perfective):

  • де́лать / сде́лать – to do, to make
  • говори́ть / сказа́ть – to talk, to speak, to say
  • слы́шать / услы́шать – to hear

Remember: tenses are used to indicate when the action took place (in the past, in the present or in the future), and aspects tell whether an action was completed or not.

Examples with comments:

Imperfective aspect (несоверше́нный вид):

  1. Я тебя́ слу́шаю. – I’m listening to you.
    (present tense, ongoing action)
  2. Я разгова́ривала по телефо́ну, когда́ он пришёл. – I was talking on the phone when he arrived.
    (I was talking – ongoing, unfinished action)
  3. Я ходи́ла в магази́н. – I went to the store.
    (habitually repeated action, and we don’t know the result)
  4. Фильм дли́лся 2 часа́. – The movie lasted 2 hours.
    (specifying a length of time)
  5. Она́ не́рвничала. – She was nervous.
    (the state, no action)
  6. Я не чита́ла э́ту кни́гу. – I didn’t read this book.
    (something didn’t happen)
  7. Я чита́ла э́ту кни́гу. – I have read this book.
    (but you don’t know what I think about it – the result is unknown)
  8. Он хоте́л что-то сказа́ть, но переду́мал. – He wanted to say something but changed his mind.
    (he wanted – the actions was undone)

Perfective aspect (соверше́нный вид):

  1. Он съе́здил в Ита́лию. – He has been to Italy.
    (and now he isn’t there, completed action)
  2. Она́ пошла́ по дела́м. – She has gone on business.
    (She is gone, she is not here – completed action)

In negative (в отрица́тельных предложе́ниях):

If the action was failed, use the negative with perfective verbs. If you just want to say that action dind’t take place, use imperfective verbs.

  • Он не ду́мал об э́том. – He didn’t think about it.
    (and he may be was not expected to – imperfective)
  • Он не поду́мал об э́том. – He didn’t think about it.
    (he should to, but he didn’t – perfective)
  • Я не де́лала э́того. – I didn’t do it.
    (just a fact – imperfective)
  • Я не cде́лала э́того. – I haven’t done it.
    (I failed to do it, but I was definetely supposed to – perfective)

Actually it comes with practice. Read and listen to Russian text and try to analyze why one or another aspect is used.

Compare:

  • Он сдава́л экза́мены. – He took the exams.
    (but we don’t know if he passed it – imperfective)
  • Он сдал экза́мены. – He passed the exams.
    (the action is completed successfully, the result is known – perfective).

Also, there are situations, when it makes no difference which one to use, for example:

  • Он не слы́шал тебя́.
  • Он не услы́шал тебя́.

You can use both when he didn’t hear you, but was expected to.

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6 comments on “Aspects of the verb

  1. Francisco says:

    Exactly what is required: Straightforward examples which talk by themselves without confusing or excessive explanations.

    My sincerest thanks

  2. Muhammad khalid ansari says:

    The way you used to make us understand is very good
    And really it helped me so much !
    Thank you !

  3. Hi! This is really helpful 🙂 I just have one question:

    Я чита́ла э́ту кни́гу. – I have read this book.
    (but you don’t know what I think about it – the result is unknown)

    Since the verb is читать rather than прочитать, does this mean that the person has not finished the book? So maybe “I have read some of this book”? Thanks 😀

    • Everyday Russian says:

      Hello Patrick,

      It can be so, but usually it doesn’t. Russians often use the imperfective verbs when talking about actions in the past that took them some time.

      For example, I can say “я ходила к врачу проверить зрение” doesn’t mean I went there a few times, but it took me a few hours to do it.

      Another example: if somebody says ‘I’ve seen this movie already’, most likely you’ll hear “я уже смотрел” or “я уже видел этот фильм”. Not “просмотрел” и “увидел”, that would be very wrong.

      On the other hand, you can’t say “я уже отправляла письмо”, it doens’t sound right as it’s a short-time action.

      I hope it helps, thanks for your interesting question.

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