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.
Need a refresher on the functions of the Russian imperfective and perfect verbs? Check out my guide Russian Verbal Aspect: Past, Present & Future!
Last updated: 5/23/2022
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.
I read books. — Я читаю книги.
I am reading a book. — Я читаю книгу.
I have read that book. — Я прочитала ту книгу.
I have been reading this book for several months. — Я читаю эту книгу уже несколько месяцев.
I read a book on the train. — Я читала книгу в поезде.
I was reading a book on the train. — Я читала книгу в поезде.
I had read the entire book before the conductor checked my ticket. — Я прочитала всю книгу, до того, как кондуктор проверил мой билет.
I had been reading a book, when the conductor checked my train ticket. — Я читала книгу, когда кондуктор проверил мой билет на поезд.
I will read a book on the train. — Я буду читать книгу в поезде.
I will be reading a book on the train. — Я буду читать книгу в поезде.
I will have finished the book by the time the conductor checks my ticket. — Я прочитаю книгу к моменту, когда кондуктор проверит мой билет.
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.
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