Info and tips on Russian verb conjugation


Russian verb conjugation

Changes, which Russian verbs undergo depending on person and number, are called conjugation (спряжение).

Aspect / Вид

An impressive variety of verbs and their conjugation models can be also 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. (делатьсделать) and suffixes -ну- and -и- (исчезатьисчезнуть, бросатьбросить). Also perfective aspect of a verb can be produced by changing the accent of the word (отреза́тьотре́зать). As a result of the above mentioned processes an additional word with a separate conjugation model can be distinguished.

Tense / Время

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.

  • Она сейчас играет - She is playing;
  • Они всегда ходят вместе - They always go together.
When compared to English, the numerous variations like "I am working", "I do work" and "I have been working" do not exist in Russian. Instead, there is only one form similar to the English simple present tense (Subject + Main verb) - я работаю.

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).

  • When the pronoun "я" is the subject, the verb agrees with the gender of the person, so a boy/man will say: я ходил; a girl/woman will say: я ходила.
  • When the pronoun "ты" is the subject, the verb agrees with the gender of the person addressed as "ты".
  • When the pronoun "мы" or "вы" is the subject, the verb must be plural, even if "вы" is used to address a single person on polite terms.

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:

  • To name an action that will take place in future, with no consideration on its completion. Мы будем делать это упражнение. - We will work on this exercise.
  • To denote an action in progress that will take place at some moment in the future. В это время я буду смотреть телевизор. - I will be watching TV at that moment.
  • To denote repeated actions in the future. Я буду отправлять ей письма каждый день. - I will send her letters every day.

Future tense forms of perfective verbs are generally used:

  • To name an action that will take place in the future with special emphasis on its completion, result or limit. Мы сделаем это задание. - We will complete this task.
  • To denote momentary actions in the future. После этого я отправлю ей письмо. - After that, I will sent her a letter.
Conjugation types / Типы спряжения

Technically there are two conjugation types in Russian language which are determined by the verb endings. A certain list of exceptions also should be noted.

There are two verbs that combine both conjugation types: хотеть, бежать and чтить.

In addition there are verbs with a special endings system: создать, быть, есть and дать, they do not refer to any of the conjugation types. Nevertheless owing to a complicated system of vowels and consonants alternations in Russian language the actual number of conjugation models is a lot higher.