Verbal Aspect

Learn about verbal aspects in Russian

The verbal Aspect in Russian is "ВИД", which is translated as "view". This definition shows the nature of this grammatical category: it’s the view of the speaker upon the action that he is describing. Depending on his "view" or "focus", the speaker can choose between two verbs: the imperfective verb, or the perfective verb. In dictionaries, the imperfective verb is listed first, and followed by the perfective. For example:

Читать (imperf.) - прочитать (perf.)

Рассказывать (imperf.) - рассказать (perf.)

Not all verbs have a Perfective pair (or the so called Aspectual pair).

First of all, one needs to realize that the Aspect is not a Tense. In Russian, there are 3 Tenses: the Present, the Past, and the Future. The Aspect does not exist in English, and therefore cannot correspond to English Tenses. The choice of the Aspect depends on the context. For example, you can translate "I washed my hair" as "Я мыла волосы вчера"" or "Я вымыла волосы вчера".

Let’s first look at the formation, and then look at the usage closely.

How do we form it?

A lot of Perfective Verbs are formed from the same root Imperfective Verbs with the help of prefixes:

Imperfective Perfective
Читать прочитать
Слышать услышать
Писать написать
Пить выпить
Есть поесть

*exception: покупать - купить

As you can see, the prefixes are multiple.

Perfectives can be formed by changing the suffix -a to -и.

Imperfective Perfective
Изучать изучить
Решать решить
Отвечать ответить

By dropping the suffix -ыва, -ива

Imperfective Perfective
Рассказывать рассказать
Показывать показать
Опаздывать опоздать

Sometimes the stem is changed:

Imperfective Perfective
Ловить поймать
Искать найти
Говорить сказать

The formation is unpredictable, it’s best to to gradually memorize the aspectual pairs within the context.

When do we use it?

To understand the concept of the Verbal Aspect, you need to take the same point of veiw as a Russian native speaker, and look at the action more closely. The Russain language is visual. For example, you can see the house from the front, but if you look at it from the back it’s the same house but from a different point of veiw. In the same way, there are situations, or often inner factors that make us choose the Perfective or the Imperfective Aspect. In Russian perception, an action can be viewed as a whole entity or broken in the following parts:

MpppppppppppF R


M is the point on a timeline signaling the momentum of the action
ppppppppppp is the duration of the action
F is the finishing point
R is the result of this action

Depending on the context, we can either describe the entity (MpppppppppppF R), the M, the F, the ppppppppp, or the R.

Let’s look at these factors and situations that trigger the choice of the Aspect.

When do we choose Imperfective Verbs?

  • To describe an action in process, the pppppppp part of the action. To give the information what the subject is busy with now, was busy in the past, and will be busy with in the Future.

    Both of the parties are aware that it’s a certain period of time that must be taken to perform this action.

    - Что делаешь?

    - Завтракаю.

    - Что делал вечером?

    - Ничего. Сидел дома, смотрел телевизор.

    - Что будешь делать завтра?

    - Буду работать.

  • To describe a general fact in the Past.

    In this context we describe the whole action.

    MpppppppppppF R

    Looking at the Past with a prospective. We inform that the action took place or inquire whether the action take place in the Past.

    - Вы читали "Войну и мир"?

    - Читали.

    - Вы уже ездили в этом году в отпуск?

    - Не ездили ещё.

  • To describe a fact that will take place in the Future, or inquire whether the action takes place in the Future.

    - Вы будете покупать эту машину?

    - Да, будем.

    - А мы будем сегодня ужинать?

    - Да, будем.

  • To describe a repeated action in the Past, Present, and the Future Tenses:

    MpppppppppppF R MpppppppppppF R MpppppppppppF R MpppppppppppF R

    Когда я была маленькая, я всегда забывала свои вещи.

    Сейчас я тоже часто теряю свой телефон.

    Интересно, сколько ещё раз я буду покупать новый телефон?

When do we choose Perfective Verbs?

The Perfective Aspect describes only a point on the timeline, specifies the details, and gives extra information.

  • We choose The Perfective Verb describing the M point on the timeline.

    It’s a moment of time when one action changes to another one.


    For example:

    Мы спокойно завтракали, когда я вдруг услышала шум.

    Ppppppp - is an action of having breakfast.

    M - is the point of my sudden hearing of the noise.

    Вчера я гуляла на улице и наконец почувствовала запах весны!

    Ppppppp - is an action of walking outside.

    M - is the point when I started smelling spring.

  • We choose the Perfective Aspect when describing the F - finishing point of the action.

    If an interviewer is aware that the process took place, he might want to know if the action is at it’s Finish point. He is expecting that the action should be finished.

    • Ты позавтракал? Нам надо уже идти. - The person wants to know whether the ppppppppp (process) has reached the finish point, as he is ready to start another action.
    • Сейчас ещё попью, и мы можем идти. - The person is asking to wait until the finishing point of drinking, and then another action can start.
  • Use Perfective Verbs to give extra information about the R (Result). There is always some kind of a result after every action. The Imperfectives implies the result but the Perfective gives an exact information about it.

    The result could be quantity.

    - Сколько глав ты прочитал в "Войне и мире"?

    - Уже две прочитал.


    - Ты хорошо прибрала комнату?

    - Хорошо.

    Emotions after the action:

    - Как съездили?

    - Отлично съездили.

    There can be zero result:

    - Что ты делала весь день? Комнату не прибрала. Уроки не сделала, в магазин не сходила?!

    Use the Perfective in the Future to express:

    Your promise :

    - Ты купишь мне новый телефон?

    - Конечно, куплю, дорогая!

    Your confidence :

    - Я уверена, что он позвонит.

    Your suggestion :

    - Хочешь, я куплю тебе этот компьютер?

    Your ability/possiblity to perform an action:

    - Ты не откроешь окно?

    - Да, очень жарко. Конечно, сейчас открою.