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Verbs in Russian with Tenses: Common Verbs and How to Use Them

By Yann, published on 29/01/2019 We Love Prof > Languages > Russian > A Guide to Common Russian Verbs

When learning Russian grammar and vocabulary, verbs play an important role. Together with nouns and their pronoun forms, they make up the core of a sentence. Of course, you will need to learn the greetings, cardinal numbers, days of the week and interrogative pronouns, but unless you want to speak in grunts and single Russian words, learning Russian verbs is a must!

Now, as much as we would like to give you a list of all the Russian verbs out there, you would probably be better served in that by buying a Russian-English dictionary or downloading a Russian dictionary app.

Instead, here are some of the most common verbs used in Russian phrases to help you get around on your next trip to Moscow or St. Peterburg.

A Few Russian Verb Basics

Remember, Russian verbs have the ending -ть after a vowel and -ти after a consonant.

There are two groups of Russian verbs: the first and second conjugation. Depending on their ending, Russian verbs are conjugated differently in some of the tenses depending on whether they belong to the one or the other.

Perfective vs. Imperfective Form

Two things that distinguished Russian grammar from English are:

  • There are fewer tenses
  • Russian distinguishes between perfective and imperfective forms of action.

A verb with a perfective aspect describes:

  • an action that is finished at the time you are talking about
  • an action that only happened once

A verb with an imperfective aspect describes:

  • an action taking place at the moment you are speaking of
  • an action with no discernable beginning or end
  • repeating actions
  • unfinished actions

Some languages deal with these aspects of predicates with verb tenses and conjugations (especially the use of compound tenses), Russia usually has two different verbs for the perfective and imperfective version of an action.

It’s important to understand that, while it is a good idea to learn them in pairs and some may have a similar stem (coming from the same root), they are not two moods of the same verb, but entirely different ones.

In the Russian language, whether a verb is perfective or imperfective will affect their use in phrases, but not their conjugation in the present tense or past tense (though, for logical reasons, perfective verbs are almost never used in the present tense).

Only the future tense has two different forms depending on whether the verb is perfective or imperfective.

Learn imperfective/perfective verb pairs. Knowing the difference between perfective and imperfective verbs makes situating this activity in time much easier. Photo credit: sarae on Visualhunt

The Russian Verb for “to be”

Some languages do not have a verb for “to be”, instead of building nominative or adjectival sentences to express that concept.

Russian has быть.

As in most languages, its conjugation is irregular (though it has a normal infinitive ending) with the stem varying slightly according to tense and mood.

Быть in the present tense

Remember what we just said about some languages getting on nicely without any verb for “to be” at all?

Well, while the Russian language does have one, it’s almost never used in the present tense.

It does have a form for the presentесть – but in actual speech, people tend to just follow the subject with the noun or adjectives. Even in written Russian, native speakers will just put a hyphen instead of the verb.

Я – доктор
I am a doctor.

Ты – студент
You are a student.

This doesn’t affect Russian sentence structure.

Verbs can rarely be left out. Menus rarely use verbs. Neither do “to be” sentences in Russian in the present tense. Photo credit: -AX- on VisualHunt.com

The past tense of быть

In the past tense, doesn’t receive any modification to its stem, so it’s conjugated just like any other verb:

Masculine singular (Я,ТЬІ, ОН)был
Feminine singular (Я,ТЬІ, ОНА)была
Neuter singular (ОНО)было
All plurals (МЬІ, ВЬІ, ОНИ)были

The future tense of быть

While “to be” is frequently used (along with “to have”) as an auxiliary verb in compound tenses, in Russia, there are few compound tense. This future tense used ONLY for imperfective verbs and is constructed with быть in the future + infinitive.

Я
буду
ТЬІбудешь
ОН / ОНА / ОНОбудет
МЬІбудем
ВЬІбудете
ОНИБудут

Learn Russian Verbs of Motion

Just as Russian has perfective and imperfective verb forms for the same action, so do verbs of motion have different nuances. Generally, when speaking Russian, a difference is made between unidirectional and multidirectional verbs, so it’s important to learn both versions when studying Russian vocabulary.

Unidirectional vs. multidirectional verbs in Russian

During your first Russian lessons, you might be somewhat confused by the use of different verbs to mean what seems to us to be the same thing. For example, either бежать or бегать are both expressions meaning “to run”. So what is the difference?

A native speaker would tell you that бежать is determined or unidirectional whereas бегать is undetermined or pluridirectional.

What does that mean?

Determined verbs of motion are used when:

  • The movement is going in only one specific direction (I walked to the table.)
  • The movement takes place only once (I swam today.)
  • The movement takes place on a regular basis, but only in one direction (I run to school every morning. – Implying that the way back is done differently.)
  • Asking about the movement at the time it is taking place (Where are you going?)
  • Giving commands to move in a specific direction (Come here!)

Undetermined verbs are used when:

  • The movement has none, several or uncoordinated movements (I walked all over town.)
  • The movement is in several directions and takes place regularly (I run up the hill and around the block every Friday.)
  • The movement is back and forth and took place only once. (Yesterday, I went to a movie – implying you came home again afterwards.)
  • The movement is represented as a skill or habit (I swim well. The baby crawls.)
  • Asking questions about habitual, repeated movements (How do you get to school every day?)

Russian verbs of movement. Is this movement punctual or habitual? Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images on VisualHunt

Here are some common determined/undetermined motion verb pairs to help you with the comprehension of the subtleties of Russian – something you can’t get from translated Russian literature!

Meaning DeterminedUndetermined
To walk идти ходить
To run бежать бегать
To drive or chase гиать гоять
To ride катить катать
To wanderбрести бродть
To climb лезть лазить
To swim плыть плавать
To lead вести водить
To carry нести носить
To transport везти возить
To drag or pull тащить таскать

The verb “to go” in all its nuances

When learning Russian as a second language with any fluency, you need to realise that there are two sets of verbs that we would translate as “to go”.

идти is used to mean “to go on foot”.

Идти is the determined action verb; if you are going to several places, used ходить. So as long as you are going somewhere on your own two feet, this is the verb you should use.

However, as soon as you are travelling or taking a form of transportation, you should use ехать for unidirectional motion and ездить for multidirectional motion. The mode of transportation is irrelevant – whether it is a car, bus or segway, is the verb for going somewhere with it.

There are some fun Russian games you can play to help you give directions in Russian.

Russian motion verbs Where to go? Russian verbs of movement can help. Photo credit: Hiro Otake on VisualHunt.com

Some Other Useful Verbs For Studying Russian

When taking Russian language lessons, you might find some of these verbs useful. They are among the most common words in spoken Russian. Be careful of the spelling when learning your Russian vocabulary – try learning with flashcards, but instead of just saying the word out loud, write it down as well. That way you will practice the pronunciation of your Russian words and phrases and the Cyrillic alphabet at the same time.

You can also use quizzes and games to learn Russian language skills.

Remember to learn the perfective/imperfective pair for the proper Russian verb conjugation! You might also want to say the verb conjugation in some of the tenses out loud when you study, just to make sure you conjugate irregular verbs right and understand how the imperative mood works. This site has a table with the conjugation of frequent Russian verbs.

Meaning ImperfectivePerfective
To speak говоритьсказать
To know знатьузнать
To like or want хотетьзахоеть
To seeвидетьувидеть
To stand or stand up стоятьпостоять
To thinkауматьподумаать
To speakспрашиватьспросить
To give давать дать
To workработатьпоработать
To loveлюбитьполюбить
To answer or replyотвечатьответить
To write писатьнаписать
To rememberпомнитьзапомнить
To sitсидетьпосидеть
To eatестьсъест
To readчитатьпрочитать
To haveиметьиметь
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