Lesson 5: Introduction to Russian verbs in the present tense

Welcome to the fifth lesson in our beginner's course. By now, you should start to feel comfortable reading in Russian, have begun memorizing basic vocab, and have a solid understanding of the basic structure of Russian nouns and pronouns.

To start being able to form more complicated sentences, we're going to go through how Russian verbs work in the present tense.

In this lesson, we’ll introduce you to the infinitive form of Russian verbs, learn how to use the word "to be" in the present tense, and go through how Russian verbs conjugate in the present tense.

The infinitive

The infinitive is the unchangeable form of Russian verbs. When you see verbs listed in the dictionary of on this site, they'll be in the infininitive. On its own, the infinitive does not indicate person, number, or tense. It just give the meaning of the verb.

The infinitive form of the Russian verbs always ends in -ть, –ти, or – чь.

For example:

  • -ть: читать = to read
  • -ть: любить = to love
  • -чь: мочь = to be able to
  • -ти: спасти = to save

"To be" in the present tense

The verb "to be" is of course one of the most common in English. Russian, however, doesn't really use "to be" in the present tense.

Mostly "to be" is simply ommitted. Sometimes, however, a dash "-" is used, or the word есть is used to mean "there is / are."

"To be" omitted

  • Вот ручка. = Here is the pen
  • Это здание. = This is a building.
  • Дом там. = The house is there.
  • Где станция? = Where is the station?
  • Они умные. = They are smart.
  • Она красивая девушка. = She is a beautiful girl.

Using a dash "-"

When the subject and predicate of a sentence are the same:

  • Моя сестра - доктор. = My sister is a doctor.

When there is an это in between:

  • Удобный стул — это плюс. = A comfortable chair is a plus.

Parallel sentences:

  • Ольга любит яблоки, а Анастасия — груши. = Olga loves apples, and Anastasia loves pears.

Inverted lists:

  • Я люблю сыр, молоко, йогурт, кефир - все молочные продукты. = I love cheese, milk, yogurt, kefir - all dairy products.

"есть" to mean there is / are

So technically, you can use есть as the 3rd person singular or plural of the verb "to be," meaning there is / are.

есть is commonly used in the phrase "to have:"

  • Борис, у меня есть предложение. = Boris, I have a proposition.

есть is also less commonly used to give emphasis to phrases:

  • Дети есть дети. = Children are children.

How Russian verbs conjugate in the present tense

There are to conjugation groups for Russian verbs in the present tense.

1st conjugation verbs

1st conjugation verbs have the following suffixes before the infinitive ending, -ть:

  • а (читать)
  • я (гулять)
  • e (болеть)
  • ова (торговать)
  • ну (махнуть)

To form the present tense, drop the infinative ending, -ть, and add the appropriate endings: “ю”, “ешь”, “ет”, “ем”, “ете” or “ют.” For example:

читатьto read
я читаюI read
ты читаешьyou read
он читаетhe reads
мы читаемwe read
вы читаетеyou read
они читаютthey read

2nd conjugation verbs

2nd conjugation verbs have the suffixes, “и” and “е,” before the infinitive ending -ть:

  • и (говорить, смотреть)

To form the present tense, drop the infinitive ending, -ить or -еть, and add the appropriate endings: “ю” (or “у”) “ишь” “ит” “им” “ите” “ят” (or “ат”). For example:

говоритьto speak
я говорюI speak
ты говоришьyou speak
он говоритhe speaks
мы говоримwe speak
вы говоритеyou speak
они говорятthey speak

Example sentences

  • Я не знаю. = I do not know.
  • Ты понимаешь? = Do you understand?
  • Вы говорите по-русски? = Do you speak Russian?
  • Ты слышишь меня? = Do you hear me?
  • Его мать живёт в Москве. = His mother lives in Moscow.
  • Её друг играет на гитаре. = Her friend plays the guitar.
  • Мы смотрим телевизор. = We are watching TV.
  • Их соседи работают в школе. = Their neighbours work in a school.
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