Verbs of motion in Russian

Verbs of motion are a special category of Russian verbs that describe movement or transportation. The core rule of verbs of motion is that they go in unidirectional and multidirectional pairs. Once you familiarize yourself with the core verbs of motion for the verb, “to go,” you should have a good sense of how to work through the rest of the verbs of motion and their intricacies.

We explain how to use and form Russian verbs of motion, including the differences between the unidirectional (definite) and multidirectional (indefinite) verbal forms.

Unidirectional and multidirectional forms

As you probably already know, most Russian verbs have two forms: the imperfective and perfective aspects. Verbs of motion are different because they have two imperfective forms: the unidirectional form and multidirectional form. Please note, the unidirectional form is also known as the definite form, and the multidirectional form is also known as the indefinite form.

Multidirectional form

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

Unidirectional 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

Basic verbs of motion – “to go”

Now that you’ve been introduced to the unidirectional / multidirectional forms of verbs of motion, here’s the verb pairs that you will use most often – those for the verb, “to go.” In Russian, there are two meanings of the “to go” verb: “to go by foot” and “to go by transport.” Here they are with their directional pairs.

To go by foot

ходить – to go by foot (multidirectional)

  • Я каждый день хожу на работу. = I go to work every day.
  • Мой сын еще не ходит. = My son can't walk yet.

идти – to go by foot (unidirectional)

  • Куда ты идёшь? = Where are you going to?
  • Я иду в магазин. = I’m going to the shop.

To go by transport

ездить – to go by transport (multidirectional)

  • Он часто ездит в Москву. = He often goes to Moscow.
  • Гораздо приятнее ездить на машине, чем в метро. = It’s much more enjoyable to go by car than on the subway.

ехать – to go by transport (unidirectional)

  • Я еду в кино на метро. = I'm going to the cinema by the metro.
  • Однако, сегодня я еду на работу на автобусе. = However, I'm going to work by bus today.

Verb choice in different tenses

The use of the multidirectional and unidirectional forms is the same across tenses as it is for the present tense. Here are examples to illustrate this:

Present tense

  • Он ходит на работу каждый день. = He walks to work every day.
  • Ты ездишь к маме каждую неделю. = You go to your mother’s every week.
  • Сейчас он идёт на работу. = He’s going to work now.
  • Сегодня ты едешь к маме. = You’re going to your mother’s today.

Past tense

  • Я ходил в этот магазин по субботам. = I used to go to this shop on Saturdays.
  • Мы не ездили в такси уже месяц. = We have not gone by taxi since already a month.
  • Я шёл и думал. = I walked and thought.
  • Мы ехали в такси и разговаривали о работе. = We went by taxi and talked about work.

Future tense

  • Я буду ходить в бассейн 2 раза в неделю. = I will go to the swimming pool two times a week.
  • Брат пообещал, что будет ездить к бабушке каждый месяц. = My brother promised that he go to our grandmother’s every month.
  • Вы пойдете завтра гулять? = Will you go for a walk tomorrow?
  • Он будет ехать домой на поезде. He will be going home by train.

The core verbs of motion

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
бродить / брести = to stroll, wander
гонять / гнать = to drive (not car), chase
лазить / лезть = to climb
ползать / ползти = to crawl
катать / катить = to roll
возить / везти = to transport, take, carry (by vehicle)
носить / нести = to carry, wear
водить / вести = to lead, take accompany, drive (a car)
таскать / тащить = to drag, pull

Prefixed verbs of motion

Adding prefixes to verbs of motion changes their meaning in a number of ways.

  • Prefixes add specific direction to the motion
  • Prefixed multidirectional verbs stay imperfective; prefixed unidirectional verbs become perfective

Prefixes added to verbs of motion

Some Russian learners prefer to memorize the prefixes and their meanings, some prefer to memorize the individual verbs with the prefixes added. I’d recommend you do a little of both.

в- (во-) = into
  • Входить в дом. = To enter the house.
  • Корабль вошел в гавань. = The ship sailed into the harbor.
  • Я вошел через задний ход. = I went in by the back door.
вз-, вс-  = upward
  • Взбежать по лестнице. = To run up the stairs.
  • Мы взошли на гору. = We ascended the mountain.
  • Завтра всходит Юпитер. = Jupiter ascends tomorrow.
вы- = out of
  • Выехать из города. = To drive out of town.
  • Могу я выйти из-за стола? = Can I leave the table?
  • Он вышел прогуляться с друзьями. = He went out for a walk with friends.
до- = as far as
  • Доехать до реки. = To drive as far as the river.
  • Мы не дошли до обсуждения финансовых вопросов. = We didn't get as far as discussing finances.
  • Когда мы дошли до моста, пошел дождь. = When we reached the bridge, it started raining.
за- = with a stop (on the way)
  • Заехать к друзьям (по дороге домой). = To drop in at some friends (on the way home).
  • Я проходил мимо твоего дома и решил зайти поболтать. = I was passing your house, so I thought I'd stop by for a chat.
  • Заходите к нам, если будете поблизости. = Do drop in on us if you are in the neighborhood.
об-, обо- = around
  • Облететь вокруг дерева. = To fly around a tree.
  • Мы обошли весь сад. = We've walked around the garden.
  • Лучше ехать по дороге, которая обходит весь город стороной. = It is better to take the road that bypasses the city altogether.
от- = away
  • Отнести куда-нибудь. = To take somewhere.
  • Мне нужно отойти от всего этого. = I need to walk away from all this.
  • Он ушел от меня, не сказав ни слова. = He walked away from me without saying a word.
пере- = over
  • Перейти (через) улицу. = To cross the street.
  • Он перешел улицу. = He went across the street.
  • Когда я вошел, они тут же перешли на другую тему. = When I came in they turned to other things quickly.
под- = up to
  • Подплыть к лодке. = To swim up to the boat.
  • Поезд подошел к станции. = The train approached the station.
  • Приближается рассвет. = Dawn approaches.
при- = towards
  • Приехать домой = to come home.
  • Поезд пришел на два часа позже, а мы все равно рано пришли к ним. = The train arrived half an hour late, but we arrived at theirs early all the same.
  • После долгих переговоров они наконец пришли к согласию. = After long negotiations they at last came to an agreement.
про- = by, through
  • Проезжать мимо станции. = To ride past the station.
  • Они прошли мимо нашего дома. = They went by our house.
  • Лето прошло. = The summer went by.
у- = away
  • Уехать из города. = To leave town.
  • Мы сегодня уезжаем в Москву. = We leave for Moscow today.
  • Делегация уезжает сегодня утром. = The delegation departs this morning.
с- = downward
  • Сходить с горы. = To walk down the hill.
  • Он осторожно спустился с лестницы. = He carefully descended the stairs.
  • Дорога круто сбегала (сходила) к берегу. = The road descended steeply to the shore.

Prefixed multidirectional vs. unidirectional verbs

When adding prefixes to verbs of motion, the multidirectional forms remain in the imperfective aspect, while the unidirectional forms change to the perfective aspect.

Thankfully, this makes prefixed verbs of motion easier to deal with, because they become just like regular verbs in their conjugation: just one imperfective and one perfective form.

Examples of prefixed verbs of motion

входить / войти = to go in, to enter
выходить / выйти = to go out, to leave, to exit
всходить / взoйти = to go up, to ascend
доходить / дойти = to get to, to get as far as, to reach
заходить / зайти = to drop in, to stop by
обходить / обойти = to walk around, to bypass
отходить / отойти = to walk away
переходить / перейти = to go across, to turn
подходить / подойти = to approach
приходить / прийти = to arrive, to come
проходить / пройти = to go by, to go past
сходить / сойти = to go down, descend
уходить / уйти = to go from, to leave, depart

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