4.6 Давай-давай-давай!

In the previous module, you learned that the imperfective is used for emergencies when the speaker recognizes some impending misfortune and takes the liberty, albeit by an instinctive, momentary reaction, of deciding what the listener should do. That is to say, the speaker has made the decision for the listener and there is no time for the listener to consider different options. This module takes up related usage, which, while not necessarily urgent like emergency warnings, works according to the same basic principle.

With that in mind, proceed to exercise A.


All of the following dialogues contain a bolded imperfective imperative. Read the dialogues, and after each select the statements that are true about each.



Now let’s add some dialogues with perfective imperatives into the mix and see how they differ.


Read the dialogues, and after each select the statements that are true about each.


Now that you are informed about the use of imperfective imperatives to assert authority or one-up someone, exercise E gives you the chance to make the choice yourself.


Choose the aspect that is more appropriate in the context.


The use of what we might call “imperfective imperatives of coercion” is a real part of Russian, and this is why we have devoted a module to them. It is important to point out that students of Russian would be ill-advised if they try to throw their weight around—foreigners can rarely compete with the natives in verbal altercations, and are likely to get themselves in various amounts of trouble. Rather, the motivation for this module is ultimately more passive: often understanding what is being said to you is often just as or more important than getting your own two-cents in.

The mechanism behind such usage is the same as for the imperfective imperative in emergencies: the speaker has made the choice for the listener, and there is no room for debate. In the case of emergencies this is due to the urgency in time, with imperfective imperatives of coercion it is due to the speaker’s status as an authority (or in the case of co-equals, one-upping the interlocutor, as if the speaker were in a position of authority). Note that in dialogue (4) the imperative Включай быстрее телевизор! ‘Turn off the television now!’ is very close to the emergency-type.

Family members and others on very close terms can use such imperfective imperatives on various occasions due to the absence of inhibitions ordinarily regulating polite discourse, but such usage varies and cannot be treated here.

Imperatives that are always uttered in adversarial exchanges are invariably imperfective: thus, ‘Get lost!/Get the hell out of here!’ is always Убирайся! and never *Уберись! Similarly, the command to an enemy to surrender is always Сдавайтесь!—people in a position to tell people to surrender are not giving their interlocutors the possibility of opting out alive. This also allows one to make sense of the command Давай часы! ‘Gimme the watch!’ given to German soldiers as they were captured in the Second World War—their captors were making the decisions, no possibility of opting out. Otherwise, in the military imperfective imperatives are common as orders, but these need not be treated here.

Lastly we can return to the title of this module Давай-давай-давай! Apart from its inclusive use (e.g, Давай пойдём!), Давай! has a sense of ‘Get a move on it!’ when the speaker is in a position to talk to others in this way, as in Давай шевелись. Вперед! ‘Get moving! Forward!’

The next module shifts gears and treats the choice between Сходи! and Иди!


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Russian Aspect in Conversation Copyright © 2023 by Stephen M. Dickey, Kamila Saifeeva and Anna Karpusheva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.