Lesson 20. Verbal Aspects in Russian Language

Today we are going to talk about a very important and a very complex topic in Russian grammar – verbal aspect. While it is not an entirely new concept for English language, in English verbal aspects are expressed by a number of grammar means  applied to one particular verb,  while in Russian you will see that there are aspectual pairs of verbs with the same lexical meaning. This is something that is common for Slavic languages and not really present in other ones, at least not the ones that I know of. Russian verbs have two aspects: imperfective (“несовершенный вид”) and perfective (“совершенный вид”). Imperfective and perfective verbs go in aspectual pairs of verbs with the same lexical meaning.

Meaning of the Verbal Aspects

Imperfective Aspect

Imperfective verbs traditionally express the actions and show them as processes in the past, presence or the future.

Она писала письмо. She was writing a letter.

Here we see that the action is not complete and the author does not really care about the end result, what we care about is the process itself.

Обычно мы кончали работу в 7 часов вечера. We usually finished our work at 7 PM.

Here we see a repeated action. You will come across situations when imperfective verbs are accompanied with adverbs: часто (often), редко (seldom), всегда (always), иногда (sometimes), обычно (usually).

Пока шёл дождь, мы смотрели телевизор. – We watched TV, while it was raining.

Here both actions take place at the same time.

Моя сестра смеялась. – My sister laughed.

Again, we see that the imperfective verb expresses the action as a process not indicating the beginning or the end of it.

Now, let’s compare that with perfective verbs.

Perfective Aspect

Perfective verbs usually show the result of a particular action in the past or the future. Please note, that perfective verbs are not used in the present tense.

Она написала письмо. She wrote a letter.

Here we can see that the action is completed, and the letter is finished, there is a result.

Сегодня мы закончили работу в 7 часов. Today we finished our work at 7 PM.

The action happened at a particular time, it is a single time specific action.

Мама открыла окно, проветрила комнату и снова закрыла его. Mom opened the window, aired the room and closed it again.

As you see, there is a series of actions here, each one being a completed result.

Моя сестра засмеялась. My sister began to laugh.

Here the perfective verb denotes the start of the action.

In the table below you will find aspectual pairs of verbs that you need to memorize because it will help you to use the correct verb in the correct speech situation. You will see that the difference between the verbs in these pairs can be a prefix, a suffix, a stress, and sometimes these can be different words altogether.

Imperfective Aspect Perfective Aspect
пить (to drink)

писать (to write)

готовить (to prepare)

читать (to read)

строить (to build)

слушать (to listen)

любить (to love)

делать (to do)

видеть (to see)

слышать (to hear)

плакать (to weep)

выпить

написать

приготовить

прочитать

построить

послушать

полюбить

сделать

увидеть

услышать

заплакать

решать (to decide)

изучать (to study)

сообщать (to inform)

объяснять (to explain)

кончать (to finish)

проверять (to check)

выполнять (to complete)

решить

изучить

сообщить

объяснить

кончить

проверить

выполнить

давать (to give)

вставать (to get up)

узнавать (to recognize)

забывать (to forget)

закрывать (to close)

открывать (to open)

дать

встать

узнать

забыть

закрыть

открыть

Рассыпать* (to spill)

Отрезать* (to cut off)

Разрезать* (to cut up)

Рассыпать*

Отрезать*

Разрезать*

брать (to take)

говорить (to speak)

класть (to put)

ловить (to catch)

становиться (to become)

ложиться (to lie down)

садиться (to sit down)

взять

сказать (to say)

положить

поймать

стать

лечь

сесть

* the letter in bold is stressed

Of course, these are not all aspectual pairs of verbs, only the most common ones. Verbs are marked in dictionary with their aspect (НСВ for imperfective verbs and СВ for perfective verbs).

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