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Russian Verbal Aspect & English Verb Tenses

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Russian verbal aspect is one of the most difficult concepts for non-native Russian speakers to grasp. Understanding when to use imperfective and verbs take time and a ton of practice, so don’t be dismayed if this isn’t clicking right away for you. I struggled with verbal aspects for several years before having my “aha!” moment. Funny enough, this moment came when I was studying to become an English teacher. Understanding English verb tenses helped me to better understand Russian verbal aspect, and which verb aspects are used in different situations. 

Important note: One language is not meant to be a direct translation of another, and every language has its own respective grammatical structures that form that language. As stated before, while English has twelve verb tenses, Russian only has three. English has no verb aspects, while Russian has two. So while it would be ~awesome~ to have a math-like equation for the perfect translation with verb tenses, it just isn’t that simple. What you can compare, however, are the functions (uses) for the different English verb tenses and Russian verb aspects. The key to nailing Russian verbal aspects is memorizing these functions, and what helped me immensely to do this was recognizing patterns in English grammar of those same functions.

So pretty please do not read below and use this as an end-all-be-all template for Russian verbal aspect. Like English verb tenses, the choice between verb aspects is highly dependent on context. Different verbs can trigger different aspects, so be sure to review the functions listed above in order to ensure you are translating to the proper aspect.

FormalNeed a refresher on the functions of the Russian imperfective and perfect verbs? Check out my guide Russian Verbal Aspect: Past, Present & Future!

Using English Verb Tenses & Translations to Understand When to Use Russian Imperfective & Perfective Verbs

  1. Present simple ≈ Present imperfective

I read books. — Я читаю книги.

  1. Present continuous ≈ Present imperfective

I am reading a book. — Я читаю книгу.

  1. Present perfect ≈ Past perfective

I have read that book. — Я прочитала ту книгу.

  1. Present perfect continuous ≈ Present imperfective

I have been reading this book for several months. — Я читаю эту книгу уже несколько месяцев.

  1. Past simple ≈ Past imperfective

I read a book on the train. — Я читала книгу в поезде.

  1. Past continuous ≈ Past imperfective

I was reading a book on the train. — Я читала книгу в поезде.

  1. Past perfect + Past simple ≈ Past perfective + Past perfective

I had read the entire book before the conductor checked my ticket. — Я прочитала всю книгу, до того, как кондуктор проверил мой билет.

  1. Past perfect continuous + Past simple ≈ Past imperfective + Past perfective

I had been reading a book, when the conductor checked my train ticket. — Я читала книгу, когда кондуктор проверил мой билет на поезд.

  1. Future simple ≈ Future imperfective

I will read a book on the train. — Я буду читать книгу в поезде.

  1. Future continuous ≈ Future imperfective

I will be reading a book on the train. — Я буду читать книгу в поезде.

  1. Future perfect ≈ Future perfective

I will have finished the book by the time the conductor checks my ticket. — Я прочитаю книгу к моменту, когда кондуктор проверит мой билет.

  1. Future perfect continuous + Present simple ≈ Future imperfective + Future perfective

I will have been reading for a few hours before the conductor checks my ticket. — Я буду читать пару часов, прежде чем кондуктор проверит мой билет.

Lines bee Lines

Extra Resources For Understanding Russian Verbal Aspect Through English Verb Tenses

Check out the videos and sites below for more resources on the topic of Russian verbal aspect!

September 8, 2020

Melissa Miller

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Russian-Speaking Travel Destinations

use your new russian skills in real life!

central Asia

central Asia

Eurasia

Belarus

Russia

Kyrgyzstan

armenia

Moldova

Kazakhstan

EASTERN EUROPE

eastern europe

read »

read »

read »

read »

read »

read »

The caucasus

travel guides

Kyrgyzstan

central Asia

Read »

Kazakhstan

central Asia

Read »

Belarus

eastern europe

Read »

Moldova

eastern europe

Read »

Armenia

The caucasus

Read »

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