While English has several different past tense forms, Russian only has one past tense form which is actually quite simple to conjugate. The most complicated of the past tense in Russian is deciding when to use the imperfective vs. perfective aspect. In this twelfth lesson, we’ll go through how to form the past tense and how to use the past tense in the imperfective and perfective aspects.
For more information go here for the past tense page in our Russian grammar resources.
Forming the past tense in Russian is pretty easy. For verbs ending in -ть (most verbs), simply remove the infinitive ending and add the suffixes -л, -ла, -ло, and -ли. These suffixes correspond to masculine, feminine, neuter, and plural subjects. The Russian past tense does not consider the person (i.e. 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) of the subject.
For verbs whose infinitive ends in -ти or -чь the past tense is a bit more tricky, as you have to remember the past tense stem. For these verbs the masculine base ending -л is not used, but the other endings, -ла, -ло, and -ли, are used. Past tense stems for verbs ending in -ти are hard to predict. Meanwhile, past tense stems for verbs ending in -чь often end in -г or -к.
делать = to do, make (imperf.)
сказать = to say (perf.)
нести = to carry (imperf.)
класть = to put (imperf.)
мочь = to be able to (imperf.)
печь = to bake (imperf.)
Using the imperfective aspect in the past tense emphasizes the process of an action, not its result.
Action in the past that was in process or unfinished
Repeated actions taking place indefinitely
Expressions of duration
No action attempted or failure to complete action
States of being
Using the perfective aspect in the past tense emphasizes result of an action.
One-time completed actions
Repetition of identical actions
Sequences of successive actions
Action attempted with failure to complete