Lesson 16: Introduction to the verbs of motion in Russian

In this lesson we’re going to cover another Russian grammar concept that you won’t find in other languages. Namely, we’ll look at the intricacies of verbs of motion in Russian. In Russian verbs of motion are a special category of verb that has two special forms: unidirectional and multidirectional. We’ll cover:

For more information go here for the verbs of motion page in our Russian grammar resources.

When you should use the unidirectional and multidirectional verb forms

Remember from our Russian verb aspect lesson, there are two aspects in Russian: the imperfective and the perfective aspect.

Russian verbs of motion have three forms because their imperfective form has two directional forms: the unidirectional and the multidirectional. There is only one form in the perfective for verbs of motion.

Generally speaking, the unidirectional and multidirectional forms indicate whether the movement being discussed is in one direction or a return trip.

Multidirectional (aka indefinite form)

  • Movement in several directions
  • Movement in two directions (back and forth) that took place only once
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Habitual or repeated movements

Unidirectional (aka definite) form

  • Movement in one direction
  • Movement in one direction that takes place on a repeated basis
  • Asking about a movement when it is taking place
  • Giving commands to move in a certain direction

How to say “to go” in Russian

There are two meanings of the verb, “to go,” in Russian, each with their own undirectional / multidirectional forms.

The two meanings of the verb, “to go,” in Russian are “to go by foot” (ходить / идти) and “to go by vehicle” (ездить / ехать).

I know it sounds complicated – it certainly is! Nevertheless, if you really get to understand how the verb, “to go,” works in Russian, you’ll be in a great position to communicate effectively. Crucially, as we’ll cover in later lessons, almost all the verbs of motion you’ll ever need to use and understand are variants of the core “to go” verbs in prefixes attached.

To go by foot

ходить (multidirectional)

  • Я хожу в супермаркет каждый день. = I go to the supermarket every day.

идти (unidirectional)

  • Я иду на работу. = I’m going to work.

To go by transport

ездить (multidirectional)

  • Он часто ездит в Лондон. = He often goes to London.

ехать (unidirectional)

  • Я еду на пляж на автобусе. = I’m going to the beach by bus.

The core verbs of motion in Russian

Here are the most essential verbs of motion in Russian you should absolutely remember:

ходить / идти = to go by foot (walk)
ездить / ехать = to go by transport (drive, train, bus, etc.)
бегать / бежать = to run
летать / лететь = to fly
плавать / плыть = to swim, sail
возить / везти = to transport, take, carry (by vehicle)
носить / нести = to carry, wear
водить / вести = to lead, take accompany, drive (a car)

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