5.5. Повезло тебе, рыбка, я уже обедал сегодня

In modules 5.3 and 5.4 we covered usage specific to certain verbs or groups of verbs. In this module we turn to usage that can occur in principle with any imperfective verb.

Let’s jump right into some good conversational examples in exercise A.

Exercise A

Examine the dialogues below and choose the statement(or statements) that most accurately characterize the actions of the speaker. Then answer the question that follows.


Let us now continue to contrasting perfective usage in exercise B.

Exercise B

Examine the dialogues below and choose the statement(or statements) that most accurately characterize the actions of the speaker. Then answer the question that follows.



In the next set of questions, choose which dialogues are best described by the statement in each (you will have to go back through the dialogues while answering each item).


At this point, we can take a step back and characterize the past-tense perfective verbs in exercise B as follows: Past-tense perfective verbs are used when the action is being mentioned as an event that is important by virtue of its outcome/consequences in the circumstances that it occurred in. In the case of events that occur right before the moment of speech, the speech time can be drawn into those circumstances by virtue of the outcome of the event. Put somewhat differently, the event is presented as important with regard to its original intent and outcome. The past-tense imperfective verbs in exercise A reflect a diametrically opposed viewpoint on the part of the speaker: those actions are not presented as important with important outcomes in their original circumstances; rather, these events are referred to for some other purpose of the speaker, which has nothing to do with the place of the event in its original circumstances, and consequently its original goal. We will call this other purpose of the speaker an orthogonal purpose, inasmuch as the current purpose of the speaker follows a direction completely different from the original purpose and outcome of the action.

Thus, in exercise A the purpose of the speaker for mentioning the events is to say that there is no need for another event of the same type to happen again, which is “orthogonal” to the aim and outcome of the original action. For example, in dialogue (1) in exercise A, Olga mentions the fact that she has already tried that salad with the sole purpose of telling Yuri that she doesn’t need to do what he has suggested; her purpose here has nothing to do with her original reason/goal for trying the salad (maybe she saw it and wanted to see whether it was any good, or maybe someone else asked her to try it, etc.). Similarly, in dialogue two the younger sister had some reason for walking the dog originally—presumably to make sure the dog gets its daily exercise—but her mention of the dog-walking action now is to tell her older sister that there is no need to walk the dog. And so on and so forth for the other dialogues in exercise A.

Now you should be ready to try your hand at the final exercise.

Exercise C

Choose the aspect that is most appropriate in the context.


At this point, it should be clear that Russians use the past-tense of imperfective verbs to point out that they have already done something in response to some prompt from their interlocutor, as justification for not doing it again. Note that such statements occur most frequently with уже ‘already’ and tend not to occur with other time adverbials that would help make the statement about the original circumstances of the action. Dialogue (4) in exercise C, with the line Так я же уже подписывал её заявление сегодня… is not an exception to this tendency as сегодня refers to the entire current work day, in which a lot of things happen. Experiential imperfective statements of fact can also contain уже, e.g., Мы один раз на этом автобусе уже ездили в цирк, so you can expect this little adverb in various kinds of imperfective statements of fact.

As we have pointed out before, imperfective statements of fact with one and the same verb can occur in quick sequence, as in dialogue (1) of the exercise C:

Юлия рассказывает своей подруге:
– Ой, представляешь, я в субботу вечером шла в магазин, а мне на встречу выбежал…
– …койот. Да, ты рассказывала. Помню.
– Ой, рассказывала, да? Я уже и не помню, кому я рассказывала, а кому нет. (Смеётся.)

Yuliya’s subsequent statements of fact (рассказывала, да? and не помню, кому я рассказывала, а кому нет) occur because the speaker is uncertain about the circumstances in which the action took place and whether it took place at all with a given person. Thus, she cannot mention it as an important event in particular circumstances and the perfective is not used.

In contrast, the various uses of past-tense perfective verbs present the action as an important event in its original circumstances. A good example without an immediate play-by-play narrative is dialogue (5):

Коллеги общаются за обедом.
– Ну, в общем, я сказал вчера боссу, что не хочу переезжать в Ярославль. Это было сложно, но я это сделал. (Улыбается.)
– Да? А он что?
– Ну, он удивился сначала. Но потом согласился.

Here the action of telling the boss is the event that they are discussing (hence it was an important event) and the sentence Это было сложно, но я это сделал focuses on the circumstances of the event in the episode. Note also that the conversation continues with a statement of the sequenced actions of the boss’s reaction—another indication that we are talking about an event with regard to its outcomes in the circumstances of its occurrence.

As pointed out in the discussion of exercise B, the circumstances of an event may include the time of speech as the time in which the outcomes of the action are relevant, as in dialogue (6) if the exercise C: Я выключила только что, не беспокойся. Here the fact that the iron is off is what is important to both interlocutors and that has just been produced by mother’s action of turning it off.

As is the case with all categories established by linguists (and language teachers), the function of imperfective statements of fact to communicate that something does not need to be done again is not an easily delimited category. There are imperfective statements of fact that are close to this function, i.e., they share some of its features. A good example is the following dialogue:

Захар утром завтракает и читает свежую газету. В кухню входит его сестра. 
– Представляешь, к нам «Scorpions» в октябре приезжают!
– Да, я читала. Надо посмотреть, сколько билеты стоят.
– Сейчас посмотрю на сайте.

Here Zakhar’s sister is saying that she already read about the upcoming Scorpions concert, not to tell about it as some important event, but as a way of justifying her relatively impassive reaction to the news. The use of читала in this dialogue is similar to the usage covered in this module in that a previous action is mentioned outside the context of its occurrence to justify some current disposition on the part of the speaker.

This last point is a good occasion to repeat the idea presented in the discussion of exercise B, that imperfective statements of fact are frequent when the purpose of the speaker is orthogonal to the original goals and outcomes of an event in the circumstances of its occurrence (for the first proposal of this idea and discussion, see Dickey 2018: 90–93)[1]. The notion of an orthogonal purpose of the speaker will come in handy in the coming modules as well.

  1. Dickey, Stephen M. (2018) “Thoughts on the ‘Typology of Slavic Aspect’.” Russian Linguistics 42(1): 69–103.


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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.