Verb aspect in Russian

In Russian there are two verb aspects: imperfective and perfective.

Introduction to verb aspect in Russian

Verbs in the Russian language have two aspects: imperfective and perfective.

Verb aspect is one of the tougher parts of Russian grammar for English-speakers to understand, as it doesn’t really exist in a similar way in English.

When you see Russian verbs listed in dictionaries, or on this site, they’ll often be shown with both their imperfective and perfective infinitives – for example, смотреть (imp) and посмотреть (perf).

When you are beginning with learning Russian, you usually start off learning the imperfective forms of verbs. However, to speak and understand Russian effectively, you’ll need to be able to have a solid command of both verb aspects.

Aspects are only used in the past and future tense. You can ignore verb aspects when you're in the present tense.

The meaning of the imperfective aspect with examples

The imperfective aspect is characterized by incomplete, ongoing, interrupted or repeated actions.

1. The imperfective aspect is always used in the present tense.

2. Process / something in progress

  • Вчера я читал книгу. = Yesterday I read a book.
  • Утром я ел бутерброд. = In the morning I ate a sandwich.
  • Завтра я буду покупать машину. = Tomorrow I'm going to buy a car.
  • В субботу мы будем смотреть спектакаль! = On Saturday we're going to watch the show.
  • Что ты делаешь? = What are you doing?
  • Я смотрю телевизор. = I'm watching TV.

3. Regularity

  • Мы каждое утро читали новости. = We read the news every morning.
  • Он ежедневно пил кофе. = He drank coffee every day.
  • Я работаю каждый день. = I work every day. = I work every day
  • Раньше я работала каждый день. = I used to work every day.
  • Летом я буду работать каждый день. = In the summer I will work every day.
  • Я много читаю. = I read a lot.

Please note, adverbs and time expressions that denote repetition require the imperfective aspect. For example: обычно, часто, редко, всегда, иногда, каждый день, каждый год, каждую неделю.

4. Actions where the result is not emphasized

  • Что вы делали вчера вечером? = What did you do last night?
  • Папа читал газету, мама писала письмо нашей бабушке, а я смотрел телевизор. = Dad read a newspaper, mom wrote our grandma a letter, and I watched TV.
  • Завтра я буду читать, смотреть телевизор и отдыхать. = Tomorrow I will read, watch TV and relax.

5. Simultaneity of different actions

  • Друзья разговаривали, пили пиво и слушали музыку. = The friends talked, drank beer, and listened to music.

6. The state of something, rather than an action

  • Я был дома. = I was home.

The meaning of the perfective aspect with examples

The perfective aspect is characterized by successfully completed actions.

1. The perfective aspect is not used in the present tense.

2. Result

  • Вчера я прочитал интересную книгу. = I read an interesting book yesterday.
  • Утром я съел три бутерброда! = In the morning I ate three sandwiches!
  • Завтра я куплю новую спортивную машину. = I'll buy a new sports car tomorrow.
  • В воскресенье я обязательно посмотрю новый спектакаль! = I will definitely watch the new show on Sunday!
  • Она уже приготовила ужин. = She has already prepared dinner.

Please note, the word уже requires a perfective verb.

3. Something done only once

  • Сегодня мы прочитали прекрасные новости! = Today we read the great news!
  • Он сегодня выпил кофе с молоком, хотя не любит молоко. = He drank coffee with milk today, although he does not like milk.
  • Я прочитала эту книгу. = I have read this book.

4. Intention to complete an action

  • Я прочитаю эту книгу. = I will have read this book.

5. Sequence of actions

  • Сначала они поговорили, потом выпили пиво и только затем послушали музыку. = First they talked, then drank beer and only then listened to music.

Aspect and tense

Here's a helpful table to help you remember the meaning of the two verb aspects across the tenses. Please note there is no present tense with the perfective aspect.

ImperfectiveОн читает книгу. = He is reading a book. (now)

Вечером он часто читает. = In the evening he often reads. (a habitual action)
Он читал книгу. =
He was reading / read a book.
(the result is not emphasized)
Он будет читать книгу. = He will be reading / will read a book. (the intention to complete is not emphasized)
PerfectiveNo present tense with perfective aspect.Он прочитал эту книгу. = He read / has read this book.
(i.e. has finished reading it)
Он прочитает эту книгу. = He will read / will have read this book. (the intention to complete the book is emphasized)

Formation of aspectual pairs

In the long run, it's by far better and easier to memorize Russian verbs in their aspectual pairs. Most often imperfective and perfective are closely related.

Formation of perfective verbs from their imperfective forms

Perfective verbs are formed from imperfective verbs with the help of:

Prefixes (most common; conjugation type does not change)

  • читать / прочитать = read
  • писать / написать = write
  • звонить / позвонить = call
  • бежать / прибежать = run
  • петь / спеть = sing

Suffixes (conjugation type changes)

  • прыгать / прыгнуть = jump
  • стирать / стереть = wash
  • решать / решить = decide
  • отвечать / ответить = to answer

Stem changes

  • искать / найти = find
  • говорить / сказать = say
  • переводить / перевести = translate

Formation of perfective verbs from their imperfective forms

Imperfective verbs are formed from perfective verbs with suffixes like -ыва, -ива, -а, -ва.

  • пересчитывать / пересчитать = recalculate
  • раскачивать / раскачать = swing
  • расстелать / расстелить = spread out
  • подливать / подлить = pour
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