4.8 Не сдавайтесь!

If aspectual usage in imperatives weren’t already complicated enough, negation has its own effects on it. Maybe it will be a relief to hear that those effects are not particularly difficult to grasp. The exercises in this module should tune you in to the dynamics that determine aspectual usage in negated imperatives.


Read the following sentences and make sure you know the aspect of The bolded verb in each. Then answer the question that follows.


  1. – Я плохо себя чувствую.
    Запишись к врачу.
  2.  Дайте мне, пожалуйста, ручку. Я не могу найти свою.
  3.  А что было дальше? Рассказывайте, рассказывайте!
  4.  Не обманывай меня! Я знаю, что это неправда.
  5.  Не слушайте громкую музыку после 23.
  6.  Позвоните мне завтра утром, пожалуйста.
  7. – Хочу съездить в торговый центр купить новую куртку.
    – Не езди – сейчас всё можно купить онлайн.
  8.  Не стучите, пожалуйста, у меня голова болит.
  9.  У меня для тебя сюрприз. Только не подглядывай!
  10. Никогда не оставляй на завтра то, что можно сделать сегодня.
  11.  Обязательно посмотрите этот новый сериал. Он очень интересный.
  12. – Я хочу купить этот свитер.
    – Не покупай, этот цвет тебе не идёт.
  13. – Можно ответить на следующий вопрос?
  14.  Подпиши этот документ. Только сначала внимательно прочитай его!
  15. – Взять зонт, как думаешь?
    – Не бери, дождя точно не будет.
  16.  Принимайте это лекарство два раза в день после еды.


The negated imperfective imperatives in exercise A represent more or less a single kind of usage. Let’s see what is going on in it in exercise B.


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



However, as you might expect, this is not the end of the story. Negated perfective imperatives are common in certain cases. Proceed to exercise D to find out about this.


Read the dialogues containing negated perfective imperatives, and select the statements that are true about each.



Now that you have learned the difference between negated imperfective and perfective imperatives, you should be ready to make the choice on your own.


Choose the aspect that is most appropriate in the context.


SUPPLEMENT: Agreeing and disagreeing with Не говори and Не скажи

Beyond aspectual usage in canonical negative commands and warnings not to do something, the verbs of the aspectual pair for ‘say’ (говорить/сказать) have idiomatic meanings in negative imperatives. Let’s look at them in two jokes, one about a goose and a dog at the North Pole, and the other between two men talking about how things change in life.

Северный полюс. 
Гусь: – Какой собачий холод!
Собака: – И не говори, у меня вся кожа гусиная!
‘The North Pole.
Goose: “What a beastly dog’s cold!”
Dog: “You’re telling me, I’ve got goose bumps!”’

In this joke, the dog agrees with the goose’s comment about the beastly weather, using the imperfective не говори ‘You got that right!/You’re telling me!’.

– В жизни нет ничего вечного.
– Ну не скажи. Вот, к примеру, ты родился, потом садик, потом школа, потом окончил университет, пошел работать, женился и вот ты уже со своими детьми выходишь на прогулку, а бабушки у подъезда всё те же.
‘“There’s nothing eternal in life.”
“I don’t know about that. For example, you were born, then there was nursery school, then school, then you graduated from college, then you started working, got married and are already going out with your children on walks—and the old women by the underpass are the same as ever.”’

In this joke the second guy disagrees with the comment of the first about how nothing in life is permanent, using the perfective не скажи ‘I wouldn’t say that/I don’t know about that’.

These idiomatic meanings of не говори and не скажи can be derived from the interaction of aspect and negated imperatives, but it’s probably simplest for speaking to memorize them as idioms.


In the following dialogues, choose не говори or не скажи depending on whether the speaker is agreeing or disagreeing with the listener.


Final Thoughts

There is a single mechanism underlying all negated imperfective imperatives: the speaker knows or infers that the listener has decided to do something (and may already be doing it), or anticipates the decision to do so in the future (for general commands/repetition). In negated commands, the speaker is acting on his/her knowledge that the listener has decided to do something/that they want to do something, and the speaker is overriding that decision. This component is present whether the negated imperative functions as a strict prohibition, or as a piece of advice, or anything in between. If you think about it, we ordinarily tell people not to do things when we think that they want to do them (i.e., have decided to do them).

The prior decision on the part of the listener is also present when speakers use negated imperfective imperatives to grant approval – one cannot signal one’s approval of an intention without hearing it first. Again, negative imperfective imperatives may also be used ostensibly to grant approval when the speaker is using irony to signal his/her disapproval.

Negated perfective imperatives, which are always warnings not to do something unwanted inadvertently, represent an exception to the characterization of negated commands given above. They in fact reflect the overall mechanism of perfective imperatives in general: perfective imperatives communicate a covert request for the listener to first decide to perform an action. What is different about negated perfective warnings is that the covert request is for the listener to exercise increased caution/pay extra attention to avoid doing something negative (that is to say, to make the decision not to do something). The covert request for the listener to exercise increased caution can be reinforced with Смотри… ‘Watch it’, which often occurs with negated perfective imperatives. It should make sense that the verbs that ordinarily get used in negated perfective imperatives are those that express actions that one could do accidentally.

As suggested in earlier modules, the point is not to arrive at the proper usage directly from the abstract characterization given here, but to take note of it to reinforce the usage that has been drilled in the exercises.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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.