Verb Aspects

In the Russian language, most verbs have two aspects: imperfective and perfective. Ditcionaries show both forms. In a nutshell, verbs in imperfective aspect are used to talk about actions in progress or habitual actions, while verbs in perfective aspect are used to indicate that action is completed. You'll find a more detailed explanation below. Note that in this article we'll talk only about past and present tenses. Future tense will be explained in another article. First, let's talk about the formation. There are several ways to form a perfective aspect verb: with prefixes, suffixes, by shortening, sometimes, another word is used, and very rarely. Perfective forms have to remembered.

Imperfective Perfective Translation
prefixes
мочь смочь can
смотреть посмотреть watch
читать прочитать read
писать написать write
suffixes
отвечать ответить answer
спрашивать спросить ask
объяснять объянсить explain
shortening
становиться стать become
понимать понять understand
another word
говорить сказать say
брать взять say

IMPERFECTIVE ASPECT

We use verbs in imperfective aspect when we talk about:

1. actions in progress;

  • Я читаю книгу. | I am reading a book.

2. repeated or habitual actions. Such adverbs and expressions as обычно | usually, иногда | sometimes, часто | often, редко | rarely, всегда | always, постоянно | constantly, никогда | never, каждый день | every day, всё время | all the time are often used to talk about such kinds of actions;

  • Я читаю каждый день. | I read every day.

3. action in the past without indicating that that action is completed. Especially if we mention for how long something happened and when something happened or was happening;

  • - Что ты вчера делал? | What did you you yesterday?
  • - Я вчера работал. | Yesterday I worked.

  • - Что ты делал вчера в пять вечера? | What were you doing yesterday at 5pm?
  • - Я читал книгу. | I was reading a book.

  • - Сколько ты жил в Париже? | How long did you live in Paris?
  • - Я жил там три года. | I lived there for three years.

4. an ongoing action that has been happening for a while.

  • - Сколько ты уже здесь живёшь? | How long have you been living here?
  • - Я живу здесь уже четыре месяца. | I've been living here for four months.

5. When we ask if someone has ever done something.

  • - Ты смотрел это кино? | Have you seen this film?
  • - Нет, не смотрел. | No, I haven't.
  • 6. Some verbs have only one aspect:

    • Я вчера был очень уставший. | I was very tired yesterday.
    • Я знала, что ты придёшь. | I knew you would come.

    PERFECTIVE ASPECT

    We use verbs in perfective aspect when we talk about:

    1. a completed action. Compare:

    • Я вчера читал целый день. | Yesterday I read all day.
    • Я вчера прочитал две книги. | Yesterday I read two books.

    2. single actions that we ask somebody else to perform (imperative) and actions that one was supposed to do or intended to do but (have) failed to. Compare:

    • - Ты читала эту книгу? | Have you read this book?
    • (he hasn't asked her about it before)
    • - Нет, не читала. | No, I haven't.
    • (and she hasn't read it)
    • - Прочитай. | Read it. (he asks her to perform this single action)
    • - Ты прочитала книгу, о которой я тебе говорил? | Have you read the book I told you about? (he expects her to have read it)
    • - Нет, не прочитал. | No, I haven't. (but she has failed to)

    • - Ты всё ещё читаешь книгу, что я тебе дал? | Are you still reading the book I gave you?
    • - Я вчера её читала, но пока я ещё её не закончила. | I read it yesterday, but I haven't finished it yet.

    • - Прости, что я тебе так долго не звонил. | I'm sorry I haven't called you for so long.
    • (repeated action)
    • - Прости, что я вчера тебе не позвонил. | I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday.
    • (a single action that he failed to do)

    After another verb, the verbs that follow also may be in either perfective or imperfective aspect depending on whether we are talking about a single action or a repeated one. Compare:

    • - Я забыл сказать тебе, что мы завтра переезжаем. | I forgot to tell you that we're moving tomorrow. (single time)
    • - Ты всё время забываешь говорить мне о самом важном. | You always forget to tell me about the most important things. (repeated action)

    • Я планирую сходить завтра в спортзал. | I'm planning to go to the gym tomorrow. (single time)
    • Я планирую ходить в спортзал три раза в неделю. | I'm planning to go the gym three times a week. (repeated action)