5.8. Слышали новость?

In this module we continue isolating particular conversational functions of imperfective statements of fact. It is related to the material covered in module 5.1, but distinct enough in our view, especially for the purpose of language learning, that we have created a separate module for it. Without further ado, let us proceed to exercise A. 

Exercise A 

Examine the dialogues, and after each dialogue choose the statement that most accurately characterizes the actions of the speaker. Then answer the question at the end of the exercise. 


Now let’s move on to some contrasting perfective usage in exercise B.

Exercise B

Examine the dialogues, and after each dialogue choose the statement that most accurately characterizes the actions of the speaker. Then answer the question at the end of the exercise.


In exercises A and B we have seen past-tense imperfective verbs used to confirm or ask whether an action occurred, without the activation of any possible background knowledge that would motivate the idea that the action was expected to happen, whereas the past-tense of perfective verbs does activate such background knowledge and relies on the listener’s awareness of it. It should be pointed out here that the imperfective usage in exercise A tends to occur in conversations between co-equals (or in which the interlocutors are behaving as coequals), whereas the perfective usage in exercise B tends to occur in conversations in which there is an authority figure (such as a teacher or a parent), or someone who has some (if slight) degree of authority in a situation.

Now you should be ready to try to make the choice on your own.

ExercisE C

Choose the aspect that is most appropriate in the context.


final thoughts

In this module we have singled out imperfective usage that is related to the usage of imperfective verbs covered in module 5.1 (reference to events as part of someone’s experience), inasmuch as in both modules the imperfective past-tense is used simply to confirm/ask about whether an action has occurred, without the speaker activating background knowledge that places the event in a particular temporal/causal sequence. The difference is that the usage in 5.1 involves actions that have ever occurred, whereas the usage covered here concerns actions that (might) have occurred in the very recent past.

The usage covered in this module involves what Mehlig (2011)[1] terms verifying questions/statements, that is, questions and statements that verify or confirm the occurrence of an action in the past. Both imperfective and perfective verbs occur with this function, as shown in the following dialogues from this module:

В дверь звонят. Ирина подходит к двери:
– Кто?
– Сантехника вызывали?
– Ой, да-да. (Открывает дверь.) Проходите, пожалуйста.

Два часа ночи. Ирина по телефону жалуется мужу, который в командировке:
Опять те новые соседи сверху расшумелись. Музыку на всю громкость включили, кричат…
Полицию вызвала?
Нет пока. Минут пятнадцать ещё подожду. Если не успокоятся – буду вызывать.

The difference, to which you are hopefully now attuned, is that mentioned above: the imperfective mentions an action without activating any background knowledge (and such questions often occur to start a new topic), whereas the perfective does activate background knowledge to present an action as expected, or as supposed to have already occurred. Note that the imperfective tends to broach a topic that allows the speaker to go on talk about something they find interesting (similar to the usage in module 5.4).

Mehlig distinguishes another type of question, explicative questions. These are questions that request information that elaborates on an action that is known or assumed to have occurred, as in the following dialogues:

Два друга подводят итоги года.
– Ты сколько книг в этом году прочитал?
– Сейчас, я посмотрю в приложении… Тридцать четыре. А ты?

Мать с сыном гуляют в парке. Мальчик останавливается и рассматривает что-то в траве. Мать говорит:
Петя, пойдём быстрее, нам пора… Петя… Ну что ты там увидел?
Подходит к сыну.
– Мама, смотри – улитка!
– Какая хорошенькая. Скажи улитке: «Пока-пока!» и пойдём.

In these dialogues, as pointed out earlier in this module, the speaker assumes that an action has taken place (reading books and seeing something respectively), and asks for further information about it (how many books and what was seen respectively). Explicative questions with reference to single actions in the past only occur in the perfective aspect, as in these two dialogues.

Thus, we have seen one more case where past-tense perfective verbs make reference to the particular circumstances of an action in the form of its place in a temporal/causal sequence, whereas imperfective verbs strip these circumstances away (even if they are accessible) and mention the action as such, in isolation. The next module continues again with another kind of such usage.

  1. Mehlig, Hans Robert (2011). “General Yes-No Questions and Verbal Aspect in Russian.” Scando-Slavica 57(2): 177–200.


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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.