Russian verbs conjugation is called “спряжение”. All forms of the Russian verb, except the infinitive and gerund, change by number (singular or plural), but only singular forms of the past tense verbs change by gender.
The verbs have two possible stems, used to form different tenses.
The present-future stem of a verb is derived by removing the last two letters of the third-person plural of the verb:
The grammatical term "person" refers to those who take part in speech either directly or indirectly. In Russian, verb endings indicate person and number of the verb.
The first person verbs designate that the action is being performed by a speaker, as in:
The second person verbs designate that the action is being performed by a collocutor.
In this excerpt from a poem by Pushkin, the verbs
плещешь ("you slpash”),
губи (“ruin”), and
выплесни (“splash out”)
are used to show that the actions are performed by the wave.
The third person designates that the action is being performed by someone or something that is being talked about, i.e. by an indirect participant of speech. For example,
Here стоит (“it stands”) and
горит (“burn”) refer to the object which is spoken about, namely черёмуха (“the cherry tree”).
The Russian verb system is dominated by the concept of aspect. An impressive variety of verbs and their conjugation models can be partly explained by the specifics of the perfective aspect
formation: a verb in an imperfective aspect can be supplemented with prefixes с-, со-, про-, по-, о-, об-, etc.
(делать – сделать)
and suffixes -ну- and -и- (исчезать – исчезнуть,
бросать – бросить).
Also perfective aspect of a verb can be produced by changing the accent of the word (отреза́ть –
As a result of the above mentioned processes an additional word with a separate conjugation model can be distinguished.
Both aspects are used in the past and future, the imperative and the infinitive. However, only the imperfective is used in the present tense.
The fundamental distinction between the aspects is that the imperfective:
The perfective, by contrast,
The aspects may also distinguish attempted action (imperfective) from successfully completed action (perfective).
Some verbs have an imperfective form only:
Indicative mood / изъявительное наклонение
The indicative mood is used to talk about actions which occured in past, occur presently, and will occur in future. For example,
Subjunctive mood / сослагательное наклонение
Verbs of subjunctive mood designate actions which one wants to happen, or just possible ones, under certain circumstances.
A sentence containing subjunctive verbs shows that an action has not happen, but it could have happened if certain circumstances took place. Look at an example:
Adding the particle "бы" after a past tense verb form (or at any other place in a sentence containing a verb in past tense)
forms the subjunctive mood of a verb. The verbs of subjunctive mood change in number:
At the same time, singular verbs change in gender.
Imperative mood / повелительное наклонение
The verbs of imperative mood designate inducement to an action, order, appeal, advice or wish.
The verbs of imperative mood change in number (учись - учитесь; читай - читайте). Adding the suffix -и to the base of a future-tense verb forms the singular imperative verb.
Adding the ending -те to the singular imperative verb form forms the plural imperative verb.
The imperative mood can also be formed with the help of particles пусть, пускай, да.
Present tense / Настоящее время
Russian verbs have six forms in the present tense: 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person, all of which can be singular or plural. The verb ending tells us the point of view (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and the number (singular/plural) of the verb.
There are also impersonal verbs which only have 3rd person forms, for example:
Verbs in the present tense are used to describe habitual or ongoing actions or to make a simple statement of fact.
Past tense / Прошедшее время
The Russian past tense is used to talk about actions and situations which took place at any point in the past. There is only one past tense form in Russian compared to numerous forms in English. The past tense indicates the gender of the subject in the singular. In the plural the gender is not indicated.
To form the past tense of most Russian verbs remove the ending -ть from infinitive and add -л (for masculine), -ла (for feminine), -ло (for neuter) and -ли (for all plural).
Future tense / Будущее время
The meaning of the future tense form depends on whether the verb is imperfective or perfective.
The imperfective future is formed with an auxiliary verb "быть". Future tense forms of imperfective verbs are generally used:
Future tense forms of perfective verbs are generally used:
Each Russian verb conjugates in accordance with one of two patterns:
the first (or -е-) conjugation and the second (or -и-/-я-) conjugation. The following endings are added to the present-future stems of verbs:
First conjugation type includes verbs that end on –еть, –ать, –ять, –оть, –уть, –ють, –ть, -ти (греметь,
колоть, идти etc.) as well as several exceptions on –ить:
First-conjugation verbs subdivide into:
A consistent feature of the second conjugation is the mutation of the consonant in the first-person singular of the present tense and future perfective of verbs in -ить and -еть.
This is regular for all second conjugation verbs with stems ending in -б-, -в-, -д-, -з-, -с-, -т-, -ф- (verbs in -ить only), -м, -п- and -ст- (verbs in -ить and -еть). For example:
A number of verbs conform to none of the above patterns, or combine elements of both conjugations.
They include: хотеть,
бежать and чтить. In addition there are verbs with a special endings system:
быть, есть and
дать, they do not refer to any of the conjugation types.
The verb быть uses a different stem for the past and future (and no stem in the present), but the individual forms are not irregular.
The past tense forms are был, была, было, были and the negative past forms не был, не была, не было, не были.
The conjugation in the future tense is regular: 1sg - буду, 2sg - будешь, 3sg - будет, 1pl - будем, 2pl - будете, 3pl - будут.
Reflexive verbs are formed by simply adding “ся” or “сь” to the regular verb.
We add “сь” when the verb form ends in a vowel and “ся” when it ends in a consonant.
For example: одевать (to dress) –> одеваться – (to dress oneself), but воспроизвести (to reproduce) –> воспроизвестись (to be reproduced).
Reflexive verbs can express several meanings.
First of all, there are truly reflexive verbs: the subject and the object refer to the same thing or person (the context in which one would use ‘-self’ in English).
Compare the normal and reflexive forms below:
Quite similar to the use above is the reciprocal meaning. In English this use is normally translated as ‘each other’:
There are also intransitive verbs which by their very nature have no object. In Russian these verbs normally use the reflexive form. Here are some examples:
Some transitive verbs (like ‘open’, ‘close’, ‘begin’, ‘finish’, ‘continue’) can be used in an intransitive manner, and the reflexive form is used in that case:
The same concept applies to verbs that are used to indicate a permanent state. Because the verb is used without an object it can take the reflexive form:
Russian speakers also commonly use reflexive verbs in impersonal speech to express feelings or desires: the person affected is in the dative case (or omitted), commonly “мне” (to me).
You can often translate this to English as “I feel”, “I feel like”, “I like”, “I would like”. Certain verbs are naturally impersonal, others are used in this way to soften their meaning.
Notice that using the impersonal form softens ‘I want’ to ‘I would like’.