Russian Verbs have a reputation of being difficult to
learn, and this is true, but only because the concepts governing them are
very different from the norms of Germanic or Romance languages. Fortunately,
there is a logic to the verb system, and highly irregular verbs are rare.
Here is a quick overview of the verb tenses of Russian:
The main feature that distinguishes Russian verbs from
English is the notion of Aspect. Russian has two aspects: the imperfective,
or несовершенный вид, which indicates an action which is either a) in progress,
b) not yet finished c) done repeatedly d) may or may not be completed in
the near future or e) may or may not be repeated in the future; and the perfective,
or "совершенный вид," which indicates actions that are a) completed once,
and successfully or b) an action that will be completed once in the near
For instance, I'll use the example of my first year Russian professor:
-Imperfective: "Кто ел мой сыр?!" -- Roughly "who's been eating my
cheese?" -- The implication is that said person has taken cheese more than
once over a period of time.
-Perfective: ""Кто съел мой сыр?!"" -- Roughly "who ate my cheese?"
-- The idea here, by contrast, is that the cheese, (all of it,) was eaten
all at once, and thus the action is perfective.
Russian verbs thus form perfective and inperfective pairs,
which have to be memorized. There is sometimes no logic in the verb pairs,
as Russian used to have more than just two aspects, but there are patterns
that emerge. There are about five ways to distinguish between the two:
1-Use of a prefix -- For instance, the imperfective of "to read" is читать,
but the perfective is прочитать (this is the most common form)
2-Change in the stem/suffix -- The imperfective of "to understand" is понимать,
and the perfective is понять (common, but less so than 1 and 3)
3-Change in the finial vowel -- The imperfective of "to enroll/join" is
поступать, and the perfective is поступить (these are fairly
4-Use of -ыв- or -ив- -- The imperfective of "to order" is заказывать,
perfective, заказать (used mostly on prefixed verbs and are easy
to spot after some practice)
5-Completely different verb -- The imperfective of "to say/speak" is говорить,
the perfective сказать (fortunately, these are not very common)
(If the idea of aspect is still puzzling, an excellent explanation can be
found here.) 21. Russian
Verbs - Present Tense
This refers to actions which are going on, obviously,
in the present. Since the action is ongoing, only imperfective verbs are
used in the present tense. These correspond to all English present tenses;
for instance "I see" and "I am seeing" as well as "I do see" have only one
corresponding form in Russian, я вижу.
Russian verbs are generally broken down into two or three
groups or "conjugations" generally the first and second; for the sake of
clarity, I will use a slight variant: 1a (e-verbs) 1b (ё-verbs) and 2 (и-verbs)
These three are very similar in appearance and the form for each subject
is distinctive; because there little room for confusion, pronouns are rarely
repeated more than once in a sentence.
The only difference here is the vowel preceding the ending,
and deciding which one is the real trick to all of this; in many cases,
it's fairly obvious: verbs ending in -ать are usually 1st Conjugation, and
verbs ending in -ить are usually 2nd Conjugation. Verbs ending in -еть can
be either, and verbs ending in -сти are almost always 1b, though their stems
tend to be irregular. The easiest way to find out for sure is when you look
up a verb in your dictionary, look at the ты or он form, and look to see
which vowel is used; the same series of endings are always used otherwise,
the rest is easy. Be sure to remember the spelling rules!
Verbs - Past Tenses
Refers to an action in the past which was repeated, left unfinished, or
Refers to an action, successfully completed once, and now done with.
Both of these tenses are formed in the same way, and
the aspect of the verb does the rest; simply remove the -ть and add -л plus
the appropriate vowel reflecting the biological gender (sex) of the
subject if it is human, or the gender of the noun itself otherwise.
The table below explains this; I'll use говорить (imperfective) -- сказать
(perfective) as examples.
About 90% of Russian Verbs form their past tense this
way, and for those that don't, usually only the stem changes. However, be
careful in choosing which aspect to use, as there are a number of nuances
to the meaning of each.
23. Russian Verbs - Future Tenses
The Future-Imperfective: refers to an action which will, in the future of course,
be repeating, or that may or may not be completed. This is formed using
the appropriate conjugation of the verb быть plus the infinitive of an imperfective
Conjugation of "Быть"
For example, if I want to say that tomorrow, I will be reading a book, but
don't think I'll finish it, or don't plan on doing so, I would say:
Завтра я буду читать книгу.
Refers to an action that will be completed once in the near future
This tense is formed by conjugating a perfective verb in the same fashion
as an imperfective verb in the present tense; for this reason, you'll sometimes
see them referred to as "Future-Present" endings.
So if I was sure I'd finish reading the book tomorrow, or very determined
to do so, I'd say:
Завтра я прочитаю книгу.
24. Verb Irregularities
Unfortunately, Russian verbs have a few irregularities
to cover, such as added or changed letters that appear during conjugation.
However, the good news is that while you may not always be able to predict
WHEN such changes occur, 9 times out of 10, you can predict HOW they occur.
For the first item, let's try a few verbs: любить ("to
love"-impf,) -- (я) люблю, ("I love,") остановить ("to stop"-pf)
-- (я) остановлю, ("I will stop [something],") and, as we've already
seen, готовить ("to prepare"-impf,) я готовлю, ("I prepare/am preparing.")
The sounds of в and б, along with п and м, are what linguists call labials
-words made using your lips, and in Russian, an л is inserted after these
consonants in the 1st person singular (я,) but only here!
Next, are a number of verbs, usually of foreign origin,
though there are a number of native Slavic ones, which end in -овать. At
first glance, the conjugation seems obvious; ремонтировать (to repair) should,
in theory become я ремонтироваю.
However correct way would be я ремонтирую, ты ремонтируешь
and so forth. This is one little quirk for verbs with the -овать ending,
but is wholly predictable: all verbs with this ending take the letter у
plus the standard 1a ending when conjugated. Similarly, there are
a number of verbs ending in -авать that lose the -ва- in conjugation and
take the 1b endings. Thus давать becomes даю, даёшь, etc.
Finally, you may notice an odd change in some verbs that
seem fairly arbitrary insertions of hushes (ш щ ж ч) in many verb conjugations.
For instance простить (to forgive) becomes (я) прощу but also
has (он) простит, and рассказать (to tell-pf) becomes
(я) расскажу and (ты) расскажешь. This process is called palatalization,
and occurs when the syllable stress shifts onto or off of the stem during
conjugation. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot always predict wth
certainty when palatalization occurs, when it does happen, it's always following
a set pattern, outlined in the table below:
Тhese don't always apply to each form of the conjugated verb but these instances
are also highly regularized.
In the 1st Conjugation, when the ending is -ать, all forms of the
verb, я to они, change according to the above rules (1). But when the verb
stem ends in к, х, or г, only the я and они forms remain unchanged. (2)
In the 2nd conjugation, however, only я changes (3).
To Switch on
To Rise, Get up
To Meet (with)
To Select, Choose
To Switch off
To Say, Speak
To Eat Breakfast
To Stare at
To Wait for
To Search for
To Be Liked
To Eat Lunch
То Present, Represent
To Try, Taste
To Ask, Make a request
To Listen to
To Try, Endeavor
To Build, Create
To Estmate, Guess
To Eat Dinner
*Нравиться is most often used impersonally to
mean "like" or "enjoy," or a similar sentiment that doesn't quite warrant
the use of любить. Thus you would
say something like, "Мне понравился этот фильм" ("I liked that movie")
or "Им понравилась постановка ("they enjoyed the performance.")
A number of these verbs have some irregularities in conjugation, usually
The past tenses of these verbs are formed regularly.
26. Interrogative Pronouns
The two main Russian interrogatives are Кто (who) Что (what) like nouns,
these decline by case, but only in one gender and only on the singular.
The declined forms are most often used with prepositions to specify the
question, such as с кем (with whom?) от чего (from what?) or согласно кому
(according to whom?)
Где -- Where?
Куда? -- To Where?
Откуда? -- From Where?
Сколько? -- How many/much?
Чей? -- Whose? (declines like an adjective. Can also function as a relative-conjunction.)
Какой -- Which? (declines like an adjective)
Почему -- Why/What for? (Refers to past actions)
Зачем -- To What End? (Refers to a future or continuing action)
Как? -- How (This can also be a cunjunction
meaning "as" or "like")
Что такое? -- What? (Used in this case, the person asking wishes to know
facts, details, or a definition.)
Кто такой? -- Who? (Like что такое, this is used when you want a description
of or information about someone. This declines by gender and becomes Кто такая? for the feminine form)
Что это за... ? -- What kind of? (за is followed by a nominitive noun.
Что он/она/они за...? -- What kind of? (Refers to person. Он/она/они can
be replaced by a name as well.)
27. Cardinal Numbers
and Their Declensions
(Bold text shows stress)
While the numbers themselves are fairly straightforward,
using them properly in Russian is much more complex, for two reasons:
Nouns described by the number one take the nominative singular, while
nouns described by two, three, and four take the genitive singular, and nouns described by five and up take the genitive plural:
тридцать два рубля
тридцать две книги
Numbers also decline by case in the same way as regular nouns do. The
most complex is один, which takes the same general declension as an adjective:
numbers two, three, and four are somewhat simpler:
*Два is for masculine and neuter nouns; две is
for feminine nouns
remainder of cardinal numbers decline like feminine nouns ending in -ь.
Thus when using numbers with prepositions, the number
declines according to the case of the preposition, while the noun described
by the number takes the case dictated by the number. For instance, "The
Three Musketeers" in Russian is "Три Мушкетёра," whereas "about
the Three Musketeers" is "о трёх мушкетёрах."
28. Ordinal Numbers
These decline just like adjectives, and must agree in
gender, number, and case with the noun they describe.
There are a number of conjunctions in Russian, and while
they do tend to make sense, they also tend to re-use particles seen elsewhere,
so you should pay attention in at least recognizing their forms so you don't
mistranslate. They are listed in no particular order.
И -- And
-У меня в моей комнате есть телевизор и DVD-плеер -- In my room there
is a television and a DVD player
А -- And/But
-Моя мать - секретарша, а отец - менеджер -- My mother is a secretary,
but my father is a manager.
И..., и – Both x and y
-Да, я пригласил и Анну, и
Лену! -- Yes, I invited both Anna and Lena!
Или -- Or
-Я купил бы красный или серый. -- I would buy the red one or
the gray one.
Или..., или -- Either...or
-Я буду встречаться с ними или в Декабре, или в Январе --
I will be meeting with them either in December or in January.
Не...не...а – Nether x nor y, but z
-Моя машина не красная, не
чёрная, а зелёная. -- My car is neither
red nor black, but
Не...ни...ни – Neither...nor
-Я не хочу ни твоего присутствия,
ни твоего совета
-- I want neither your prescence nor your advice.
Чтобы- (in order) to, for...to, so that
-Надо работать, чтобы получать деньги... -- You have to work
(in order) to get money... (Verb infinitive used)
-Мама хочет, чтобы ты убрала комнату -- Mom wants (for)
you to clean your room. (Verb in past tense used)
-Мы тебе сказали, чтобы ты зналa правду. -- We told you so
that you would know the truth. (Verb in past tense used)
-Он говорит о компьютерах, словно изобрёл их -- He talks about computers
as though he invented them!
А то-or else
-Мы должны идти, а то опоздаем в театр. --
We have to go or
else we will be late for the theatre.
-Если будет дождь, я останусь дома сегодня.
-- If it's raining, I will stay inside today.
Ли-whether (or not)я
-Я не знаю, идёт ли дождь -- I don't know whether it's raining
or not, or I don't know if it's raining.
(Despite the use of "if" in the latter translation, ли and если cannot be
used interchangeably; if you can use "whether" in English, then you must
Negation in Russian is very simple. There are a few words
which indicate negation, but the two most common, and therefore most useful,
are не and нет.
The word не means "not" or "am not," and can be used
with or without verbs, as below:
Я не юрист -- I'm not a lawyer
Я вас не знаю -- I don't know you.
Although it is written as a separate word, не is pronounced
as though it were a part of the following word, and thus assumes the pronunciation
based of the stress patterns of the word it negates. In "proper" Russian,
the direct object of the negated verb is supposed to be put into the genitive
case regardless of gender. This doesn't always happen in speech, but it
is nonetheless recommended, particularly in writing.
Нет on the other hand means "no" or "there is/are no"
and is more complicated, since the word it negates takes the genitive case.
In some cases, word order can be shifted somewhat, but it usually pays to
be somewhat unambiguous.
Его здесь нет. -- He's not here.
нет машин. -- There are no cars on the street.
нет сыра! -- There's no cheese on this pizza!
Also, you should note that in Russian, the use of double
negatives, even large numbers of them, is not only allowed, but also necessary
in circumstances involving negative pronouns, (никогда, никуда, and so on;
see section 46 for a longer list.) Indeed, you are only limited by what
it is you want to say:
Она никогда не даëт ничего никому -- "She neverdoesn't give nothing to nobody," or more accurately
"She never gives anything to anybody."
31. Times and Dates
In my experience, learning
how to tell the time and date is one of the harder aspects of learning any
language, and Russian, sadly, is no exception, so it helps to try and learn
fairly early on. I've tried to include plenty of examples to help. Let me
begin by saying that while in my list of common phrases I said that "сколько
времени?" is how one asks for the time, this is true mainly for street language;
if you're looking to appear more "educated" or are in the presence of a
person of authority, I would recommend saying "который час?" instead.
Secondly, when used in writing and/or print, the 24-hour
clock (often called "military time" in North America ) is
used, but not when spoken; it may read as 16:10, but you would say it as
though it read 4:10. (This of course is barring
military usage, where spoken use of the 24-hour system over the 12-hour
is apparently universal.) And finally, time is often written with hours,
minutes and seconds are separated by periods/full-stops instead of colons.
I will use this format from now on.
Time can be told in one of two ways; the first is to
simply say the numbers displayed, so 16.10 (that is, 4:10pm) would be четыре
часа, десять. The second, while much more complicated to an English-speaker's
eyes and ears, is much more common.
To give an on-the-dot o'clock time, you say the hour
plus a declension of the word час, "hour." In telling time, on its own is
1 o'clock, but becomes часа after 2, 3, or 4, and часов after
5 and up. To say "at" such-and-such time, use the preposition в (accusative.)
-13.00 -- Час
-16.00 -- Четыре часа
-18.00 -- Шесть часов
For times in the top half of the hour (that is, .01 to
.29) you would say however many minutes, (минута, feminine-singular,) then
the ordinal of the following hour in the genitive-singular.
That's quite a mouthful, so here are some examples to help you catch your
- 15.10 -- десять минут четвёртого. (Literally "five minutes of the fourth")
- 11.17 -- семнадцать
- 9.03 -- три минуты десятого
- 7.22 -- двадцать двe минуты восьмого.
For "half-past" times, you use the word половина
plus an ordinal in the manner we saw just now. Thus:
- 6.30 -- половина седьмого.
- 14.30 -- половина третьего.
- 21.30 -- половина десятого.
Note that when used with the preposition в, половина
must decline accordingly, becoming в половину, "at half-past..." In colloquial
Russian, however, it can often be heard as в половине. When in doubt, I
would suggest saying в половину. [Native speaker note:
the way this is normally said and even written is half (половина) gets abbreviated to пол-. It is spelled as one word with the number if it starts with consonant and with a hyphen in between if it starts with vowel (which is just one - 11 - пол-одиннадцатого, i.e. 10:30).You wouldn't hear it otherwise normally. This way it doesn't incline, i.e. with "в" the form of пол-(number) remains the same in all cases.]
For times in the bottom half of the hour, you take the
minutes remaining until the next hour with the preposition без, followed
by the next hour in the nominative-cardinal form. Thus:
- 10.47 -- без тринадцати минут одиннадцать.
- 8.58 -- без двух минут девять
- 23.35 -- без двадцати пяти минут двенадцать
And finally for times of "quarter to" and "quarter
past, you use the word четверть in the same manner as the minutes are above:
- 7.15 -- Четверть восьмого
-7.45 -- Без четверти восемь
In all cases, you can use the adverbs утром (in the
morning,) днём (in the afternoon,) or вечером (in the evening,) if you feel
that there may be ambiguity over which one, or wish to add emphasis to the
fact. Also, instead of 12.00 and 24.00, you can say полдень
or полночь, respectively.
Dates are a somewhat different animal, and are, for better
or worse, equally as complex.
To say them, you must first learn the months of the
year and the days of the week:
*indicates a stress shift to the final syllable
To say "on" a specific day, you use the preposition
в (accusative,) while for months you use в in the prepositional case.
To give a specific date, you would first say the
day (if necessary) then the date and month, both in the genitive case, and
the year plus the word год ("year,") also in the genitive case. Years are
said in full, such as "one thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine." If you
are simply referring to the day, as in saying "today is..." the date is
given in the neuter-nominative.
For example, if asked my birthday I would say "Я родился
тридцать первого июля тысяча девятьсот восемьдесят шестого
года " (Literally, "I was born of the thirty-first of July, of the
one thousand eight hundred and eighty sixth year." Whereas if one was to
say "today is the 31st of July," it would be written as "Сегодня тридцать
первое июля." The year would be written the same.
If you are referring solely to a year and want to say
"in x-year" you say the year as above, but the last number and год take
the prepositional case. Note that you cannot use this form with days and
months; those always take the genitive. So, if I were to say "in 1986" it
would be written as "в тысяча девятьсот восемьдесят шестом году."
In many cases, года and году are abbreviated as г. or г.г. in writing, and
dates are always written day/month/year, with Roman Numerals sometimes used
to abbreviate the names of months.
For summary examples, below are a few dates in Russian
history. All dates are in the new style calendar. Genitive endings are used
because the ideas is that "X happened of this day," rather than "this day
is such-and-such of this month."
-Ivan IV crowned Tsar, the first ruler crowned as such -- January 16, 1547.
--Шестнадцатого января тысяча пятьсот сорок седьмого
-Election of Mikhail Romanov, foundation of the Romanov Dynasty -- February
--Двадцать первого февраля тысяча шестьсот тринадцатого
-Founding of St. Petersburg -- May 27, 1703.
--Двадцать седьмого мая тысяча семьсот третьего года.
of Aleksandr S. Pushkin -- June 6, 1799.
--Шестого июня тысяча
семьсот девяносто девятого года.
-Battle of Borodino -- September 7, 1812.
--Седьмого сентября тысяча восемьсот двенадцатого года.
-Birth of Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky -- November 11, 1821.
--Одиннадцатого ноября тысяча восемьсот двадцать первого
-Birth of Lev N. Tolstoy -- September 9, 1828.
--Девятого сентября тысяча восемьсот двадцать восьмого
-Abdication of Nicholas II -- March 15, 1917.
--Пятнадцатого марта тысяча девятьсот семнадцатого
-Surrender of Nazi leaders to Marshal Zhukov -- May 9, 1945.
--Девятого мая тысяча девятьсот сорок пятого года
-Declaration of the Russian Federation -- June 12, 1990.
--Двенадцатого июня тысяча девятьсот девяностого года.
32. Verbs of Motion
Now that we've examined regular Russian verbs, it is
necessary to get to know a special group of verbs in Russian: verbs of motion.
These forms are similain concept to the German verbs gehen and fahren in
that they tell you how the action was carried out (on foot or
by vehicle,) but in Russian, they also give information about the direction
of the motion itself, which can be further narrowed by the addition of prefixes,
not discussed here. These verbs have what amounts to three aspects: the
progressive, the imperfective, and the perfective; the progressive however,
is only used in the present tense.
The imperfective-progressive typically refers to an action
in progress, that is, like "I am going," but like English, these can also
be used like future tense verbs. In the tables below, these verbs are in
For example: Сегодня вечером, Саша идёт на концерт -- "This evening,
Sasha is going to a concert."
Imperfective verbs refer to motions which follow more
than one direction (i.e. a round trip/there and back), happens habitually
or more than once (i.e. the daily commute) or has no real destination but
the starting point (i.e. a stroll through the park). In the tables below,
these verbs are in blue text.
For example Каждый день я хожу на работу -- "Every day I go to work." or
Мария ходила в библиотеку -- "Maria went to the library (and has since returned)"
Perfective verbs refer to an motion in the past that
occurred once and in one direction, such as a direct flight, or such an
action that will occur in the future. Also important with the perfective
here is the method of completion; if a person goes somewhere, and at the
time you describe the action has yet to return, the perfective, barring
any contextual nuance, is used. Likewise these verbs are marked with red text.
For example: Катя пошла в магазин -- "Katya went to the store (and
has yet to return)"
Note: If you can't decide whether to refer to motion on foot or motion by
vehicle, and there is no illogic in choosing one or the other, simply use
Additional Verbs of Motion
There are a number of other verbs that either are or
behave like the Verbs of Motion above. The идти/ходить and ехать/ездить
pairs are repeated below to more clearly show the equivalents.
To Go (on foot)
шёл, шла, шли
To Go (by vehicle)
ехал, ехала, ехали
бежал, бежала, бежали
To Wander, Stroll
брёл, брела, брели
To Carry (by vehicle), Deliver
вёз, везла, везли
To Lead, Conduct
вёл, вела, вели
To Chase, Drive
гнал, гнала, гнали
лeз, лезла, лезли
летeл, летeла, летeли
нёс, несла, несли
To Swim, Sail
плыл, плыла, плыли
полз, ползла, ползли
the prefix по- to the verbs in the "Verb 1" column gives the equivalents
for поехать and пойти.
To Go (on foot)
ходил, ходила, ходили
To Go (by vehicle)
ездил, ездила, ездили
бегал, бегала, бегали
To Wander, Stroll
бродил, бродила, бродили
To Carry (by vehicle), Deliver
возил, возила, возили
To Lead, Conduct
водил, водила, водили
To Chase, Drive
гонял, гоняла, гоняли
лазал, лазала, лазали
летал, летала, летали
носил, носила, носили
To Swim, Sail
плавал, плавала, плавали
ползал, ползала, ползали
таскал, таскала, таскали
33. Food-related verbs
There are a number of verbs associated with food in Russian,
many of which have slight to major irregularities in conjugation, so it
makes sense to show them here. (The word-list for foods from the previous
edition will be added to a second edition in the future.)
The verb "to eat" in Russian is есть in the infinitive-imperfective,
and съесть in the perfective. Be careful not to confuse this verb with its
homophone which means "is."
these aren't the only verbs associated with food and drink. Some are regular,
others not. In the lists below the first verb is given in the present tense and after the hyphen is the future tense perfective.
The past tense of Печь
is irregular: Пёк (masc.,) Пекла (fem.,) Пекло (neut.,) Пекли (pl.) As is that of Жечь:
Жёг (masc.,) Жгла (fem.,) Жгло (neut.,) Жгли (pl.)
34. The Imperative
The Imperative Mood is used when giving instructions,
orders, or advice to another person. There are three forms, depending on
how well you know the person/people involved, how many people there are,
and how polite you want to be. We can break the imperatives down into three
groups via this criteria:
1-- Informal: used when you know the person well or when talking to children.
2--Formal/Plural: Used when talking to a person you just met, a person of
authority, or a group of people.
3--Informal-Plural: Used when talking to a group of people, when you have
no desire to indcate formality. Most often used in the Army and similar
How to form the Imperative:
For number 1, you have would add one of the following four endings to the
stem, and number 2 is simply adding -те onto number 1. This is, admittedly,
easier said than done, since the endting to be added is dependent on factors
of syllable stress and stem endings.
--и -If the stress moves at any point during conjugation.
i.e. Входить (the я вхожу ты входишь) Входите!
--ай -If the stress is on the ending and doesn't shift in conjugation; most,
but not all, verbs have -ать infinitive endings.
i.e. Передать - The stress is on the ending (a,) and does not change
in conjugation, so it becomes Передай.
--ь -If the stress is on the stem rather than the ending, and the ending
itself has a softening vowel, such as -ять, -еть, or -ить.
i.e. Доставить - The stress is on the stem, and does not change in conjugation,
and so it becomes Доставь.
--уй - for verbs ending in -овать.
which becomes голосуйте.
--ой - for verbs ending in -ыть, excluding быть.
i.e. Закрыть becomes закройте.
Number three is simply the infinitive form of the verb.
Aspect is also very important when using infinitives, and while Russians
don't always follow the general rules in place, (but then who does all the
time?) they are as follows:
-When the imperative is not negated (that is, it's a "do" command, not a
"don't do" command) the perfective is generally used first, and successive
repetitions of the command use the imperfective. That said, if the imperative
is used in conjunction with an adverb that indicates the repetition of (i.e.
всегда, etc.) or manner of doing said action (i.e. быстрее, громче, etc.)
or if you simply want the action done right away, the imperfective is generally
-In cases where the imperative is negated ("don't do" rather than "do")
the situation is generally reversed; in the majority of cases, the perfective
is used, while the imperfective generally serves as a warning of some dire
circumstance should we end up doing the action in question.
Don't be afraid to use imperatives in public situations as they are not
necessarily considered rude, though adding пожалуйста dampens even
In addition to the above forms, there is also the
word пусть, which translates as "let" and used in the same way it is in
English. For example:
"Пусть они едят торты," ("Let them eat cake.") Note how the verb
is conjugated in agreement with the subject, and not changing due to пусть.
The "Мы imperative"
Alongside the second-person imperative we have already
seen, Russian also posesses a first-person. For verbs of motion, this can
be as simple as taking the мы form of the verb, while omitting the subject
pronoun, and so can be as simple as "пойдём туда!" (let's go there!) When
used with more than two people, the sufffix -те can be added, though in
conversational speech only, the result being "пойдёмте туда."
More often, however, for both regualr verbs and verbs
of motion, the word давай(те) comes before. The word давай itself is the
imperative form of the verb давать (to give,) but aside from the literal
meaning is one of the most versatile words in Russian; depending on context
it can mean "let's go," "hurry up,""get going," or a host of other meanings
beyond the scope of this tutorial. As a result, to say "let's go see a movie,"you
could say "пойдём(те) в кино," давай(те) пойдём в кино," or "давай(те) сходим
The Past Imperative
The final imperative form to learn is the
past-imperative. Unlike the other imperative forms, however, the past-imperative
is mostly restricted to the verbs пойти поехать. We are already familiar
with the formation of the past tense, here, as always dependent only on
gender and number, so all you need to remember are the three main uses:
-An emphatic way of saying "let's go" or "let's get going."
-A direct (and, depending on whom you are talking to, impolite) way of saying
"get going" or "get moving."
-A response to a request to go somewhere or do something, meaning "on the
way" or "right away."
Relative Pronouns and Conjunctions
Relative clauses in Russian are difficult for two main
reasons, the first being that full relative clauses are rarely used in either
spoken or written English; the second that there are three different relative
constructions in use in Russian, which cannot be used interchangeagbly.
Each is examined individually below.
But first, what is a relative clause? Relative clauses
are a part of speech, which describes the subject or an object in the sentence,
usually wth the am of specifying one among many, with the use of a relative
pronoun to replace the subject and a verb and predicates to describe it.
They are, in effect, mini-sentences within a sentence.
For instance, look at the sentence "The woman, who was
standing on the corner, is my friend's wife." "...who was standing..." is
the relative clause in this example. Notice both how it s used to specifiy
which woman is the one you are talking about, and how the word "who" takes
the place of the noun in question, while the remainder of the words in the
sentence follow as though "who" was simply a repetition of the word described.
Russian relative pronouns work on this same principle, but must be used
in Russian, both written and spoken, unlike in English.
Который is equivalent to the English pronouns which,
who, and whom, and is used in much the same way, and is the most straightforward
of the relative pronouns use. As the final two letters imply, который declines
according to the gender and number of the word described, as well as with
any preposition you use, following the same paradigm as most adjectives.
However, который must be used when the subject of the relative clause is
a noun, rather than a pronoun. Now, let's see the above sentence in Russian:
"Девушка, которая стояла на углу, жена моего друга."
Notice how both the relative pronoun and verb both agree
with the word being described (женщина) in gender and number. The same applies
if you use a preposition with который:
"Девушка, с которой я учился, сейчас работает
врачoм." (The woman I went to school with is now a doctor, or more accurately,
the woman, with whom I went to school, now works as a doctor.)
Again, notice how the ending on который follows the gender
and number of the word described (femnine, singular) and the case dictated
by the preposition c (instrumental.) In this sentence, however, the verb
ending corresponds with that of я rather than девушка, since the description
within the relative clause is based not around the action of the person
in question, but the speaker.
The real difficulty comes when you do just that, and
describe in a relative clause based on your own experience; который must
be declined in accordance not only with the word being described, but how
который fits into the relative clause, as though it were a standalone sentence;
the gender and number come from the word beng described, but everything
else is determined by the relation to the verb of the relative pronoun.
-"Девушка, которую я знаю..." (The woman, whom I know...) In this
instance, the relative pronoun is the direct object of the verb with the
speaker as the subject, and thus it takes the accusative case. And:
-"Девушка, которой он дал подарок..." (The woman, to whom he gave
the gift...) Here, it takes the place of the indirect object, and so takes
the dative case, since in the relative clause the woman is the recipient
of the gift, regardless of the case of the word in the rest of the sentence.
The pronoun который, however, is only used when the thing
described is written as a noun in the sentence. There are of course instances
where the use of a noun is impractical or simply repetitive. In such cases,
you would use a то, что or то, кто construction, depending on whether you
are referring to a thing or person, respectively. The best way to learn
them is to see examples of how they are used:
The construction то, что (that which) along with тот, кто (he who) / та, кто (she who) / те, кто (plural, which doesn't depend on gender and can be followed by singular verb or plural verb) are somewhat more difficult to learn to use properly. These pronouns can be declined according
to context, with or without prepositions. In addition, they are used in
instances where in
English you can attach prepositions to an action or verb instead of a noun
or pronoun as a result of weak case governance and the expansion of roles
of participles. Russian, along with most languages, however, does not allow
this, as a preposition must be tied to a noun or pronoun, no exceptions.
То, как is really more of a conjunction than a relative pronoun, but I include
it here due to the similarities with то, что and то, кто.
You would not use these construction in spoken language, but would simply say "кто" or "что", which are abbreviated versions of these longer pronouns.
-Я не знаю то, о чём ты говоришь. -- "I don't know what you are talking about."
-Преподаватель спросил нам о том, что мы делали. -- "The teacher
asked us about what we were doing."
не нашёл то, что я ищу. -- "I still haven't found what I'm
-Кошки любят тех, кто их кормит. -- "Cats love those who feed
-Бог помогает тем, кто себе помогает. -- "God helps those who help themselves."
-Бери только то, что нужно, чтобы выжить. -- "Take only that which is necessary to survive."
хотели бы пoблагодарить
ваc за то, что вы пришли сюда сегодня. -- "We would like
to thank you for coming here today." -Перед
тем, как я ухожy на работу, я каждый день готовлю для семьи кофе. - "Before I leave for work, every morning I make coffee for the rest
of the family."
-В своей книге Социальный Контракт, философ Руссо говорит о том,
какстроить идеальную демокрацию. - "In his book The
Social Contract, the philosopher Rousseau writes about how to build the perfect democracy."
Also, if you use a pronoun other than то to one
of its declensions such as их, тебя or нас and so forth, the same applies.
36. Expressing "To
While Russian does have a verb "to be," it is unique
in both the Slavonic family, as well as Indo-European languages as a whole
in that it is generally omitted in Russian in the present tense, a phenomenon
present in Turkish, Hebrew and Arabic as well. Therefore, not only does
Russian have no articles, it also has no common words for "is" or "are."
In writing, the "is," among other things, is represented by a dash, but
not always. Thus you get statements such as: "Твоя подруга - красивая девушка"
or "Your girlfriend is a beautiful young woman." Spoken Russian can
be quite terse, as a result, but understanding it is not overly difficult
once you get used to the idea, however.
To express "there is," the infinitive есть plus the nominative
case. The verb есть can also be used to emphasize the "is" or "are," especially
when the phrase would otherwise be the repetition of two words. The word
есть also literally means "is," and is used to represent "is" or "are" for
cases of particular strong emphasis.
To express "to be" something, you would use the verb
быть plus the instrumental case. Thus, "После университета я хочу быть редактором
газеты." (After university, I want to be the editor of a newspaper.)
If you're using adjectives, you may use the short forms
to express "is" or "are." For instance, цветы красивы (the flowers are beautiful)
or было приятно познакомться с вами! (It was good to meet you!) However,
for most adjectives, short form usage is restricted to written and/or formal
Russian, long forms being more common, as well as less ambiguous in certain
instances; крациво and красива sound the same, though admittedly, so do
красивы and красивый.
Otherwise, you speak as you would normally, just omitting
"is" or "are." 37.
There are a half-dozen verbs related to education
that are very similar in root and/or possible translations, but
each has a specific meaning not always interchangeable with the
-To study, to be a student. Often
used to describe where you go to school.
-That being studied takes the accusative;
other compliments require prepositions.
-Those being taught take the genitive;
what is being taught takes the dative if it's a noun.
-Objects take the accusative.
-That being learned takes the dative.
-To study, (as for a test,) or to
occupy one's time in general
-Objects take the Instrumental case.
38. Expressing "To Have" and "To Want" and Modality
Possession is usually shown by using the genitive preposition у plus the
possessor, then есть and the object possessed in the nominative case. For
example "I have a book" is "У меня есть книга." (Literally, "At me there
is a book") If needs be, the word order can be changed a little, but keep
the preposition y in front of the possessor.
-The verb хотеть "to want" is one of only a few truly irregular verbs in
Russian, and is used in much the same way as in English. Be sure to remember
Like English, however, Russian also contains ways of
expressing desire in more polite forms. Two more are:
-Я хотел(а) бы... I would like (Used for polite requests; more official)
-Мне хочется... I would like (Used like хотел бы; but less official)
To express modality, Russians tend to use "impersonal"
or "subjectless" constructions. The basis of this is the "modal," the dative
case form of the name or pronoun, and an infinitive verb. Thus, if I wanted
to say "I need to finish reading this book," I would say "Мне (dative of
"Я") надо (modal) прочитать (infinitive verb) эту книгу (object)" Literally
translated, this comes out as "It is necessary for me to read this book."
Such forms are the basis for expressing modality.
Common modals include:
Надо -- "It is necessary" (Must, more colloquial)
Нужно -- "It is necessary" (Must, proper)
Трудно, Тяжело -- "It is difficult"
Легко -- "It is easy"
Невозможно -- "It is impossible"
Можно -- "It is possible" (May/Can) (The verb мочь --могу, можешь,
может, можем, можете, могут-- can be used when it refers to physical ability)
Нельзя -- "It is impossible/forbidden" (Used with perfective verbs,
this indicates that for the time being, the action is physically impossible
to do, whereas the imperfective indicates that it is not allowed or that
doing so is discouraged for whatever reason. )
Another common option is to use должен to express "must"
or "have to," in conjunction with an infinitive verb. Должен declines according
to the subject; masculine - должен, feminine - должна, and
plural - должны.
If, however the thing needed is a noun, you would use
the dative form of the subject, plus нужен/нужна/нужны plus the needed object
in the Dative case. Note here that the form of нужен that you choose is
dependent on the gender/number of the object, not the subject.
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