Lesson 16. Past Tense in the Russian Language

Today we are going to learn about the past tense forms and use in the Russian language. Before we proceed though I would like to go back into our lessons and see what all you remember about the present tense.

First of all, I would like to remind you that Russian verbs are conjugated based on the person it refers to. I am sure you remember the personal pronouns very well but just in case here they are again.

я – I

ты – you

он – he

она – she

оно –  it

мы – we

вы – you

Вы – you

они – they

Basically in the present tense we singled out two conjugation patterns and conjugated the verbs based on them. Each pattern has its own endings for each of the persons.

Remember that?

я читаю я говорю
ты читаешь ты говоришь

It seemed a little complicated back then and I am sure you are a little wary of the Past Tense now. But I want to surprise you. Russian Past Tense is way simpler to be built and to be used.

For starters, the Russian language has only one past tense. All the English Past tenses such as the Past Indefinite, the Past Continuous, the Present Perfect, and the Past Perfect are replaced with the only Russian Past Tense.

Past tense forms are derived from the Infinitive stem. Basically what you do is you take the verb in its Infinitive form and replace the letters ть with a suffix –л and a personal ending. The personal ending is based on the gender of the subject of the sentence.

Forming the Past Tense of Russian Verbs

Subject of the Sentence is Personal Ending Example
Masculine Singular Я читал (I read, was reading)
Feminine Singular Я читала (I read, was reading)
Neuter Singular Оно работало (It worked)
Plural Они читали (They read, were reading)

The majority of Russian verbs whose infinitive stem ends in a vowel, form the past tense in this way. As you noticed in the past tense verbs do not change for the person; they only change for number and gender.

Note that:

  • When the pronoun я is the subject of the sentence, the verb agrees with the gender of the person as you could see in the table above, so a boy/man would say: я читал; a girl/woman would say: я читала.
  • When the pronoun ты is the subject of the sentence, the verb agrees with the gender of the person addressed as ты (Ты читала (a girl/woman is addressed), Ты читал (a boy/man is addressed)).

REMEMBER special formation of past tense forms for the following verbs:

есть (to eat) ‑ ел, ела, ело, ели

сесть (to sit down) ‑ сел, села, село, сели

идти (to go) ‑ шёл, шла, шло, шли

быть (to be) – был, была, было, были

There are other exceptions, and the best way to learn them is learning in the process and looking them up in the dictionary.

Exercises:

Please translate the following sentences into Russian:

  1. “Mary, what were you doing last night?”

“I was reading.”

  1. “John, what were you doing last night?”

“I was watching TV.”

  1. “Jane, have you and Peter been to Russia.”

“Yes, we were in Moscow last year.”

  1. “Ann, did you play the piano when you were a child?”

“No, I played the violin.”

Read the text below and answer the following questions:

1. Что делали Ольга и Максим днём?

2. Где Ольга и Максим провели вечер?

3. Что делала Ольга?

4. Что делал Максим?

5. Где была их дочь?

6. Что делала Аня?

Text:

Вчера Ольга и Максим работали днём, а вечер они провели дома.  Максим смотрел телевизор, Ольга читала книгу. Их дочь Аня тоже была дома. Она играла с куклами.

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