In this section, we review the basics of how verbs of each aspect are formed so you can tell whether a verb is imperfective or perfective in the great majority of cases simply by looking at it. This section does not present anything remotely approaching a comprehensive description of aspectual derivation in Russian verbs, which can only be described as ultimately very complex. The point is to make sure you can tell the bulk of perfective and imperfective verbs apart and understand how they correlate with their partner verbs of the opposite aspect.
Examine the following verbs. Make sure you are clear on their aspect and what in the word correlates with that. Click on the word to get additional information on its meaning and aspect.
In the above exercise, you have seen that for some basic-level verbal ideas the imperfective is a simplex verb (i.e., it has no aspectual prefixes or suffixes), and the perfective is a prefixed verb. This information may seem obvious, but not all verbal notions fall into this pattern, and the system of aspectual marking is more complex. Let us now take a look at some other kinds of imperfective verbs.
Examine the following verbs. Make sure you are clear on their aspect and whether they contain a prefix or not.
Make sure you are clear on the aspect of each of the following verbs and what in the word correlates with that.
There are a couple more types of perfective verbs that you must be familiar with, which are treated in the next exercise.
Examine the following perfective verbs. Click to see what is their imperfective correlate is.
Now that you have gone over the main kinds of perfective and imperfective verbs in Russian, let’s throw them all together.
Indicate the aspect of each of the following verbs.
Russian aspect presents a steeper learning curve than most parts of Russian grammar, because perfective and imperfective verbs are distinguished not by different conjugational endings, but by the addition of an array of prefixes and suffixes. There are sixteen or more perfectivizing prefixes (depending on how you count) and one perfectivizing suffix (–ну-) in Russian, and the student needs to memorize which perfective verbs take which prefix (or the suffix –ну-). There are fewer imperfectivizing suffixes (around three, depending on how you count again), and the only productive one is –ыва-/-ива-, so with imperfectivizing suffixation things are a little easier. But the overall memorization task for the student is immense, and it takes some time before one starts seeing regularities in the form of perfective and imperfective verbs.
Note that on rare occasions things are simply not what they seem: заботитися is not perfective, but imperfective. It helps to know that there is no imperfective *ботиться to which the prefix за- would be added (заботиться is derived directly from the prefixed noun забота ‘worry’). But such exceptions are rare and the tendencies outlined above will work for students for the great bulk of verbs.
This brief review has only focused on perfective verbs that focus on the volitional completion of an action along with their imperfective correlates, or partner verbs. The real system is considerably larger, in that there are many kinds of perfective verbs that express various kinds of non-prototypical completion and/or results, which are termed Aktionsart verbs (e.g., поплакать ‘cry for a while’ заплакать ‘start crying’, наплакаться ‘have a good cry’, доплакаться ‘get something by crying’, and so on). Russian verbs in fact exist in small-world networks or “clusters”. The network nature of Russian verbs and verbal derivation cannot be treated here.
- Janda, Laura A. 2007. Aspectual clusters of Russian verbs. Studies in Language 31(3): 607–648. ↵
‘play’; no prefix; imperfective
‘park’; prefix при-; perfective
‘cry’; no prefix; imperfective
‘vacuum’; no prefix; imperfective
‘win’; prefix вы-; perfective
‘light [a fire]’; prefix раз-; perfective
‘print’; no prefix; imperfective
‘find out/recognize’; prefix у-; perfective
‘bake’; prefix из-; perfective
‘download’; prefix с-; perfective
‘shine’; no prefix; imperfective
‘drive off’; prefix у-; perfective
‘boil [tea]’; prefix за-; perfective
‘draw’; no prefix; imperfective
‘lose’; prefix по-; perfective
‘win’; prefix вы-; imperfective; cf. perfective выиграть
‘serve [food to]’; prefix у-; imperfective; cf. perfective угостить
‘send over’; prefix при-; imperfective; cf. perfective прислать
‘think up’; prefix при-; imperfective; compare придумать
‘rent out/take [a test]’; prefix с-; imperfective; cf. perfective сдать
‘guess’; prefix до-; imperfective; cf. perfective догадаться
‘rent/shoot [a film]’; prefix с-; imperfective; cf. perfective снять
‘ship/send off’; prefix от-; imperfective; cf. perfective отправить
‘cover/set [a table]’; prefix на-; imperfective; cf. perfective накрыть
‘save [a file]’; prefix с-/со-; imperfective; cf. perfective сохранить
‘spend [time]’; prefix про-; imperfective; cf. perfective провести
‘understand’; prefix по-; imperfective; cf. perfective понять
‘stop [intransitive]’; prefix о-; imperfective; cf. perfective остановиться
‘support’; prefix под-; imperfective; cf. perfective поддержать
‘move [to another place of residence’; prefix пере-; imperfective; cf. perfective переехать
‘pay off [a loan]’; prefix вы-; imperfective; cf. perfective выплатить
‘smile’; imperfective; cf. perfective улыбнуться
‘shout once’; perfective; cf. imperfective кричать
‘nod once’; perfective; cf. imperfective кивать
‘wave’; imperfective; cf. perfective махнуть
‘collapse’; perfective; no imperfective
‘sneeze’; imperfective; cf. perfective чихнуть
‘spit once’; perfective; cf. imperfective плевать
‘flash’; imperfective; cf. perfective мелькнуть
‘wake up’; perfective; cf. imperfective просыпаться
‘return/come back’; perfective; cf. imperfective возвращаться
‘click [on a computer screen]’; imperfective; cf. perfective кликнуть
‘get used to’; perfective; cf. imperfective привыкать
‘glance/take a look’, perfective; imperfective глядеть
‘turn’, impf. поворачивать
‘throw’, impf. бросать
‘give’, impf. давать
‘finish’, impf. кончать
‘buy’, impf. покупать
‘deprive’, impf. лишать
‘fall’, impf. падать
‘forgive/pardon’, impf. прощать
‘let go/release’, impf. пускать
‘decide’, impf. решать
‘step’, impf. ступать
‘be enough/suffice’, impf. хватать
‘appear’, impf. являться
‘lie down’, impf. ложиться
‘sit down’, impf. садиться
‘take’, impf. брать
‘put [in a horizontal position]’, impf. класть
‘tell/say’, impf. говорить