In this section, we go over the kinds of actions that imperfective verbs can refer to and try to get a more realistic feel for what they can refer to in a context. The simple point is to understand that imperfective verbs can and do refer to completed events.
In this exercise, choose whether each bolded imperfective verb refers to (1) an action viewed as an ongoing process, or (2) a complete action, i.e., a single action including its endpoint.
We have the same association of the imperfective with repeated events as well. The following exercise focuses on the distincton between repeated events and single events in imperfective verbs.
In this exercise, choose whether each bolded imperfective verb refers to (1) an action that is repeated indefinitely, or (2) a situation consisting of a single action including its endpoint.
Now let’s add perfective verbs. Perfective verbs most often refer to single completed actions, but on occasion they can refer to completed actions situated in repeated sequences of events. In the next exercise, determine the aspect of the verb and whether it refers to a process, repeated action, a single completed action, or a completed action in a repeated sequence of events.
From the context, determine the aspect of the bolded verbs and whether they refer to a single completed action, a process, or a repeated action.
Apart from the fact that imperfective verbs are uniquely suitable to refer to actions construed as ongoing processes, there are no hard and fast rules that the student of Russian can live by: imperfective verbs can refer to single completed actions and perfective verbs can refer to repeated actions. The lack of easy rules is reflected in (4) in exercise C, in which we have verbs of both aspects occurring alongside each other in the same basic context:
Отца мы почти никогда не видим: придёт вечером с работы, поужинает и ложится спать.
In this example, which is about repeated actions of rarely seeing the father and what he does in the evening, we have two imperfective verbs and two perfective verbs. When a sequence of actions is repeated “as a package,” perfective verbs can occur easily to refer to the individual sequential actions in spoken Russian. There are some restrictions, but we cannot discuss them here. Note that the repeated action Отца мы почти никогда не видим is not in sequence with anything, but is true throughout the time periods that are in focus. And it might be useful to know at this point that when Russian perfective verbs do occur to refer to repeated sequences of events, the last action in the sequence is very often imperfective, as in и ложится спать.
If the use of imperfective verbs for single completed actions in these exercises has left you confused and wondering when to use perfective verbs and when to use imperfective verbs when a single action is viewed as completed, that is as it should be. You are in the same boat with a lot of people. The focus of the remainder of the textbook is on those cases when imperfective verbs refer to single completed actions, and how they differ from perfective verbs when they do—in infinitives, imperatives, and the past tense.
Note that in exercise C we did not include imperfective infinitives referring to single completable actions, because in the infinitive reference to a single completable action is less intuitive. In part 3, we go over aspectual usage in infinitives.