All About Russian Verbs

By optilingo

Easy way to study Russian verbs, including Russian verbs, including Russian verb tense, Russian mood

Specifics of Russian Verbs

Understanding grammar will help you on your way to foreign language fluency. When learning the Russian language, it’s important to know that Russian has only three tenses – past, present, and future – as well as conditional mode (based on the past tense) and an imperative. Russian compensates for this lack of tenses with aspect, which is either perfective or imperfective. Russian infinitives can be perfective or imperfective and end in –ть, –ти(always stressed) or –чь.

When learning Russian grammar, remember that verbs are divided into two conjugations according to the “emblematic vowel” of the present tense endings. This is the vowel between the verb stem and the verb ending. To conjugate a Russian verb, you need to know the infinitive and the three other verb forms: the first person singular (because it can be irregular), the second person singular (which gives the stem vowel), and the third person plural.

The Present Tense of Regular Verbs and Endings of the Two Conjugations

To form the present tense, add the following endings to the verb stem (infinitive minus the infinitive endings):

First conjugation

дéла-ть (to do / make) ид-ти́  (to go on foot)
я дéла + ю ид + ý
ты дéла + ешь ид + ёшь
он / онá / онó дéла + ет ид + ёт
мы дéла + ем ид + ём
вы дéла + ете ид + ёте
они́ дéла + ют ид + ýт

The emblematic vowel of the first conjugation is e (unstressed) or ё (stressed), because it appears in all the endings except two. It is this vowel that determines whether a verb belongs to the first or second conjugation.

For the first-conjugation verbs, the vowel in the first-person singular ending (юorу) reappears in the third-person plural ending: дéлаю – дéлают; идý – идýт.

Second conjugation 

слы́ша -ть (to hear) говор-и́ть(to speak, say, tell, talk)
я слы́ш + у говор + ю́
ты слы́ш + ишь говор + и́шь
он / онá / онó слы́ш + ит говор + и́т
мы слы́ш + им говор + и́м
вы слы́ш + ите говор +и́те
они́ слы́ш + ат говор + я́т

The emblematic vowel of the second conjugation is и. In the second conjugation, the vowel in the ending of the first-person singular influences the ending of the third-person plural. If the first-person singular vowel is soft (ю). The third-person plural vowel will be soft: говорю́говоря́т. If the first-person singular vowel is hard (у), the third-person plural vowel will be hard: слы́шуслы́шат. The second variant reflects the spelling rule, according to which яand юcannot be written after certain consonants (ж, ш, щand ч).

Reflexive Verbs

The conjugation of reflexive verbs is the same as for non-reflexive verbs with the suffix сьadded to vowel endings and сяadded to consonant endings. Forexample: смея́ться, tolaugh – ясмею́сь / тысмеёшься / он/онá смеётся / мысмеёмся / высмеётесь / они́смею́тся.

The Present Tense and Consonant Shift

The stem consonant of several verbs shifts in the present-tense conjugation. This is called mutation of consonant shift. In the first conjugation, the shift affects all persons of the conjugation, whereas in the second conjugation, the shift only occurs in the first person singular. Mutation only affects certain consonants, which form a pair with another consonant.

First conjugation

дshiftstoж: éздить → я éзжу, ты éздишь, они́ éздят.

гshiftstoжinfirst-conjugationverbswhoseinfinitiveendsin –чь: берéчь, tocareforяберегý, тыбережёшь, они́ берегут; мочь, tobeable: ямогý, тымóжешь, онмóжет, мымóжем, вымóжете, они́ мóгут.

сshifts to шin all the persons ofписáть, to write: япишý, ты пи́шешь, они́ пи́шут.

Unless the stress is fixed, it falls on the final syllable in the first person singular, and on the first syllable in all other persons.

Second conjugation

ви́деть, tosee: яви́жу, тыви́дишь, они́ ви́дят

люби́ть, tolove:я люблю́, ты лю́бишь, они́ лю́бят

плати́ть, topay:я плачý, ты плáтишь, они́ плáтят

Aspect

Russian verbs have two aspects: imperfective and perfective. Each English verb therefore has two forms in Russian. So to learn Russian verbs properly, you need to learn them in imperfective/perfective pairs. Perfectives can be formed with a prefix or a suffix, or might be an otherwise altered version of the imperfective or completely different from the imperfective:

знакóмиться – познакóмиться, to get to know someone

давáть – дать, to give

говори́ть – сказáть, to say, to speak, to tell, to talk

The choice of aspect depends on how the action is perceived:

  • The imperfective is used for actions that are repetitive or in progress, and is not concerned with the result of the action.
  • The perfective is used for one-off actions, actions occurring within a finite time or actions that have a result. The present tense has only an imperfective aspect, because the perfective cannot describe an action that is currently in progress.

Aspect in the present tense: There is no perfective present, and the imperfective present describes a linear action that takes place in the present: МáмазовётСáшу. –Mom is calling Sasha. It can also describe a permanent characteristic: Лю́динеумéютлетáть. –Peoplecannotfly. The imperfect present can also describe a repeated or habitual action: Вытакчáстохóдитевтеáтр!-You go to the theater so often!

The imperfective present can be translated by a simple present or a present continuous in English.

Aspect in the future tense: The imperfective future describes an action that will be in progress in the future: Нáдябýдетчитáть. –Nadya is going to read (we don’t know whether she will finish reading; we are only interested in the action). It can also convey an action that will be repeated or habitual in the future: Онбýдетприходи́тькнамкáждыйдень. –He will come to our place every day. The imperfect present can also reflect an action that continues for a certain amount of time or an action that happens simultaneously with another action: Яегóзнáю: онбýдетчитáтьцéлыйчас!-I know him: he will read for a whole hour!

The imperfective future can be translated by a simple future, a continuous future or the future with going to. The perfective future describes an action that will be completed and that will have a result in the future: Нáдяпрочитáеткни́гу. –Nadya will read the book (and will finish reading it; we are interested in the result of the action) or a one-off action in the future: Слéдующимлéтоммыпоéдем(perf.)намóре. –Next summer we’ll go to the seaside. The imperfect future can also apply to actions that will take place one after other: Сначáлатысдéлаешьто, чтояпроси́ла, апотóмпойдёшьгуля́ть. –First you’ll do what I asked, then you’ll go for a walk.

The imperfective future can be translated by a simple future, a future perfect or the future with going to.

Aspect in imperatives: The imperfective imperative describes an order or a request to do something more than once: Приходи́текнамповечерáм!-Come to our place in the evenings!It can also describe a request not to do something: Неоставля́йтедетéйодни́хдóма!-Don’t leave the children at home alone! The imperfect imperative may also appy when asking permission: Могýяпосмотрéтьэ́тибрю́ки?-May I look at these pants?Пожáлуйста, смотри́те(imperf.)!-Please, take a look!This tens may also apply in cases where the speaker wishes to convey emphasis on the way in which the action is performed: Говори́те,пожáлуйста, нетакти́хо. –Please don’t speak so softly.

The perfective imperative describes an order that must be executed immediately or only once:

Открóй, пожáлуйста, окнó, мнежáрко!-Open the window, please, I’m hot! It can also pertain to a warning or a demand: Неопоздáйнасовещáние!-Don’t be late for the meeting!Сдéлайтевсёктрёмчасáм!-Do everything by three o’clock!

Aspect in the past tense: The imperfective past describes an action that progressed without concern for result: Нáдячитáлакни́гу. –Nadya was reading a book (we don’t know whether she finished it; we are only interested in the action). The imperfect past also describes an action that was repeated: Мáмачитáламнекни́гикáждыйвéчер. –Mom used to read me books every night. It may also apply to an action that lasted, and we are interested in the course of the action: Онмылпосýдуцéлыйчас!-He washed dishes for a whole hour!

The perfective past describes an action that was completed and that had a result: Тыужéпомы́лпосýду?-Did you already wash the dishes (the dishes are washed; I can see the result of the action). It also applies to an action that happened only once: Мыпознакóмилисьудрузéй. –We met at a friends’ place. It may also apply to actions that occurred one after other: Сначáлатыпотеря́лключи́, потóмутебя́укрáликошелёк…Чтобýдетдáльше?-First you lost your keys, then your wallet was stolen…What will happen next?

Verbs of Motion and Verb Prefixes

There are 14 pairs of verbs of motion and each pair corresponds to a precise means of transport (on foot, by car, by plane, etc.). These verbs are divided into directional (they have a precise direction or purpose) and multi-directional (the action is repeated or has no precise direction). The first eight are intransitive (they have no object), and the next six are transitive verbs (they have a direct object).

Unidirectional

Multidirectional

идти́

ходи́ть

to go on foot, to walk

éхать

éздить

to go by vehicle/horse

бежáть

бéгать

to run

плыть

плáвать

to swim

летéть

летáть

to fly

брести́

броди́ть

to roam

ползти́

пóлзать

to crawl

лезть

лáзить

to climb

нести́

носи́ть

to carry, to bring on foot

вести́

води́ть

to drive (a vehicle)

везти́

вози́ть

to carry/ to bring by vehicle/horse

тащи́ть

таскáть

to drag

кати́ть

катáть

to ride

гнать

гоня́ть

to chase, to drive (animals)

The meaning of these verbs can be changed by prefixes: летéть, to fly-вы́лететь, полéтеть, прилетéть. Here are some of the most common prefixed verbs of motion:

  • выconveys the idea ofexiting from, going out of, leaving;
  • выходи́ть(imperf.)/ вы́йти(perf.), to leave (on foot); выезжáть,to leave (by vehicle); вылетáть(imperf.)/ вы́лететь(perf.), to depart (flying);
  • доconveys the idea of taking an action up to its completion or end point:дойти́, to arrive, to reach (on foot); довезти́, to take ([by vehicle] all the way somewhere);
  • заrefers to a spontaneous change in itinerary:заходи́ть, to drop in (on someone);
  • о, обdescribes a circular action (around):объéхать,to go around;
  • переconveys the idea of crossing (space or time) or transferring:перейти́, to cross (on foot);переноси́ть, to carry across (on foot), to transfer; переводи́ть, to translate; переезжáть, to move house;
  • приconveys the idea of to arrive, to come right up to:приходи́ть, to come/ to arrive (on foot);приноси́ть(imperf.) / принести́(perf.), to bring (on foot);
  • проmeans through or past:проходи́ть, to go through, to enter; пройти́, to go past (on foot);проéхать, to go past (by vehicle);
  • уmeans away or out:уходи́ть, to go away / to go out / to leave (on foot);уезжáть, to go away / to leave (by vehicle); улетéть, to leave (flying).

The Past Tense

To form the past tense, add to the infinitive stem the endings л, –ла, –ло, –ли, which are the same for verbs from all the conjugations.

  • дéлать, to do: дéлал, дéлала, дéлало, дéлали
  • слы́шать, to hear: слы́шал, слы́шала, слы́шало, слы́шали
  • говори́ть, to say, to speak, to tell, to talk: говори́л, говори́ла, говори́ло, говори́ли

There are also irregular verbs. The past is often a different form, but with the same past endings:

  • вести́, to lead (on foot): вёл, велá, велó, вели́(везти́and нести́ are conjugated in the same way, but keep the and from their stems)
  • идти́, to lead (on foot): шёл, шла, шло, шли
  • мочь, to be able: мог, моглá, моглó, могли́
  • умерéть, to die: ýмер, умерлá, ýмерло, ýмерли

The Future Tense

There are two future forms in Russian: perfective (simple future) and imperfective (compound future). The perfective future is concerned with the result of the action in future or the accomplishment of the action. The form is like a present tense but of a perfective verb.

The imperfective future is formed using the future of the verbбыть, to be, as an auxiliary verb, plus the imperfective infinitive. The imperfective future expresses an action that takes place or that is repeated in the future.

The future of the verbбытьhas first conjugation endings:

я бýду           – I will be

ты бýдешь   – you will be

он бýдет       – he will be

мы бýдем    – we will be

вы бýдете    – you will be

они́ бýдут    – they will be

The Conditional

The conditional is very easy to form. Simply place the particle быbefore or after the verb in the past tense: Яхотéлбы (or быхотéл) попи́тькóфе. –I would like / would have liked to drink some coffe. Еслибыони́могли́, они́быпоéхалиснáми. –If they could [have], they would [have] come with us.

The conditional can be translated by would or would have in English. Where there are two clauses If…, …, the verb in both clauses is in the conditional in Russian.

The Imperative

The imperative is formed from the second-person singular present-tense stem plus the suffix йif the verb ends in a vowel, or иif it ends in a consonant: узнавáть, to recognize-узна – ёшь+й-узнáй!recognize! Also: идти́, to go-ид – ёшь+иàиди́!, go!

To form the imperative plural, add теto the singular:иди́ + теиди́те!-go! (you formal/pl.)The stress is the same as for the first person singular.

Imperative with a soft sign: Verbs whose first-person present tense stem ends in a consonant with non-final stress form their imperatives with the soft sign: взвéсить, to weight-взвéшу, взвéсишь + ь-взвесь!(pl.взвéсьте!), weight!

Imperative of reflexive verbs: Reflexive verbs form their imperatives in the same way, but add сьafter й, and сяafter a vowel or the soft sign: успокóйтесь, calm down!;смéйся, laugh!; взвéсься, weight yourself!; взвéсьтесь, weight yourself / yourselves!

Irregular Verbs

Verbs that end in овать(еватьafter sibilants) have their own conjugation: before the first-conjugation endings, –оватьis replaced by упопрóбовать(perf.), to tryпопрóбую, попрóбуешь, попрóбуют. Other examples include: паниковáть(imperf.), to panic; зави́довать(imperf.), to envy; волновáть(imperf.), to worry, to upset; воспóльзоваться(perf.), to take advantage of, to use; вставáть(imperf.), to get up;зааплоди́ровать(imperf.), to applaud;танцевáть(imperf.), to dance.

Note that some verbs that end in еватьlook like they belong to this group but because they do not have a sibilant before the ending, they do not follow this conjugation pattern. For example, успевáть(imperf.), to have time (to do something)успевáю, успевáешь, успевáют.

Verbs that end in аватьonly lose ва-(notава-). All the verbs in this conjugation are conjugated like продавáть(imperf.), to sell: продаю́, продаёшь, продаю́т.Examples: давáть(imperf.), to give; сдавáть(imperf.), to pass (an exam); узнавáть(imperf.), to recognize.

Note that the suffixes return in the past tense: паниковáть, to panic-паниковáл, he panicked.Also,танцевáть, to dance-танцевáл,he danced, продавáть, to sell-продавáл, he sold.

Verbs in –ти:

идти́, to go (on foot)идý, идёшь, идýт;

везти́, to drive / take (someone / something in a vehicle)везý, везёшь, везýт.

Verbs derived from идти́, to go (on foot), that end in йти́:

йдý, –йдёшь, –йдýт, (пойти́: пойдý, пойдёшь, пойдýт)

Verbs in стиandсть:

вести́себя́, tobehaveведý себя́, ведёшьсебя́, ведýтсебя́;

красть, tostealкрадý, крадёшь, крадýт;

класть, to put (horizontally)кладý, кладёшь, кладýт.

Verbs in ереть: умерéть, to dieумрý, умрёшь, умрýт.

Verbs in ать: начáть, to beginначнý, начнёшь, начнýт.

Isolated verbs:

бежáть, torunбегý, бежи́шь, бегýт;

брать, totakeберý, берёшь, берýт;

дать, togiveдаю́, даёшь, даю́т;

есть, toeatем, ешь, ест, еди́м, еди́те, едя́т;

éхать, to go (by vehicle)éду, éдешь, éдут;

ждать, to waitжду, ждёшь, ждут;

жить, toliveживý, живёшь, живýт;

звать, tocallзовý, зовёшь, зовýт;

пить, todrinkпью, пьёшь, пьют;

плáкать, tocryплáчу, плáчешь, плáчут;

сесть, tositся́ду, ся́дешь, ся́дут;

стать, to become and its compoundsстáну, стáнешь, стáнут;

спать, tosleepсплю, спишь, спят;

хотéть, towantхочý, хóчешь, хóчет, хоти́м, хоти́те, хотя́т.

Use of the Instrumental Case After Some Verbs

Some verbs govern the instrumental case. The instrumental is used after the infinitive, the past and the future of the verb быть, to be, when the noun that comes after denotes an occupation, a condition, an emotional state, a quality, etc. For example: Еёбратвсегдáбылжáдным. –Her brother has always been stingy. Рáньшеонбылпродавцóм. –He used to be a sales assistant.

The instrumental is used after the verb стать, to become: Έслиястáнубогáтым, якуплю́себéбольшýюдáчу. –If I get rich, I’ll buy myself a big country house.

The noun that denotes the occupation after the verb рабóтать, to work, is in the instrumental: Кемтырабóтаешь?-What do you do (What do you work as)?(Ярабóтаю) Врачóм.  I’m (I work as) a doctor.

Impersonal Constructions and the Special Use of the Second Person Singular and Third Person Plural

There are several types of impersonal construction in Russian: With the third person plural and no subject: Говоря́т, скóробýдетóченьхóлодно. –They say it will be very cold soon.Такобы́чноидéлают. –That’s how they usually do it, That’s how it is usually done.

It may also be accomplished with the third person verb in the neuter past tense: Навечери́нкебы́ловéсело. –It was fun at the party. Impersonal construction may also be achieved with the third person singular of a reflexive verb. In this construction the agent of the action is in the dative case: Мнехóчетсяпить. –I’m thirsty (“to-me wants-self to-drink”). Inthepast, theverbisneuter:

Намвсегдá хотéлосьпоéхатьвΆнглию. –We’ve always wanted to go to England.

Another way to achieve impersonal construction is with an adverb / short-form adjective plus the person concerned in the dative: Мнехóлодно, авамсмешнó. –I’m cold and you think it’s funny (“to-me cold, to-you funny”).

The Verb to Be

The verb to be is not used in the present tense, but in the past and future in phrases and sentences with nouns, short-form adjectives or adverbs. The verb agrees in gender and number with the subject of the action; for impersonal constructions about time, the verb goes into the third-person singular. Они́должны́готóвитьсякэкзáменамвсюнедéлю. –They have to prepare for the exams all week. Они́должны́бы́лиготóвитьсякэкзáменамвсюнедéлю. –They had to prepare for the exams all week.

The verb to be in constructions of absence: To express the absence or lack of something in the present tense, the wordнет is used with a noun in the genitive case. Ихнетдóма. –Theyaren’thome. Уменя́ нетдéнег. –I don’t have any money. Еёнет. –She isn’t here.

On the other hand, in the past, the verb to be is used in this negative construction: the negative particle не, which is always stressed, plus the neuter past of быть: Ихнé былодóма. –Theyweren’thome.Уменя́нé былодéнег. –Ididn’thaveanymoney.Еёнéбыло. –She wasn’t here.

In the past tense, the verb to be can also mean to go somewhere:Мыбы́ливтеáтре. –We went (have been) to the theater. Note that to be is followed by the preposition + Prepositional were at, whereas to go is followed by the preposition + accusative went to. Мыходи́ливтеáтр. –We went to the theater.