Russian Grammar Lessons
How to use imperfective aspect and perfective aspect?
Here we are again, the imperfective aspect (несовершенный вид) and the perfective aspect (совершенный вид), another feared topic of Russian grammar. Studying Russian, you may have already realised that Russian language has a wide range of special features, which are difficult to understand. This week, we would like to cover another important grammar topic, the usage of imperfective aspect and perfective aspect. It can be quite confusing to students, since Russian verbs have 2 aspects, which describe different qualities of an action – it is either acting (the process of doing something – imperfective) or the result of an action (after someone has finished doing something – perfective). The usage of imperfective and perfective aspects depends on the intention of the speaker to express different aspects of action. Let’s take a closer look at them!
Group: Imperfective aspect (несовершенный вид)
Russians use the imperfective aspect for the present tense, since the present is in progress, but it can also be used for past and future tenses. Here are some examples:
- Regularity of doing something
Я всегда обедаю в ресторане. (I always have lunch in the restaurant.)
Explanation: When you do something regularly, you have to use imperfective aspect.
В воскресенье вечером мы будем смотреть фильм. (We will be watching a movie Sunday evening.)
Explanation: Movies usually last for a couple of hours, or maybe we will decide to watch some more movies, so it will be a longer process.
Вы когда-нибудь читали эту книгу? (Have you ever read this book?) – Да, я читала. (Yes, I have read it.)
Explanation: I don’t know whether he/she finished the book, or liked it, I’m just inquiring about the fact.
- Plan for the future
Что вы будете делать завтра? (What are you doing tomorrow?)– Я буду гулять 2 часа. (I will spend 2 hours strolling.)
Explanation: If you have an uncertain plan for the future, you have to use imperfective aspect. EXCEPTION: пойду/поеду. (Завтра я поеду в театр. – I am going to the theatre tomorrow.) In this case you have to use PERFECTIVE ASPECT!
- If you do not want to do anything/if you do not have to do anything
Я не хочу рано вставать. (I don’t want to get up early.)
Вам не нужно/надо рано вставать. (You don’t have to get up early.)
- Imperative mood (negative)
Не открывайте окно! (Don’t open the window!)
- Two simultaneous actions in the past
Он слушал музыку и читал свою любимую книгу. (He was listening to the music and reading his favourite book.)
Explanation: When you want to express two simultaneous actions (processes) in the past, you have to use imperfective aspect.
- Some more verbs, after which you have to use imperfective aspect:
Я люблю бегать. (I enjoy running.)
Мне нравится гулять по городу. (I like taking a stroll around the city.)
Он начал читать книгу. (He started to read a book.)
Он продолжал писать письмо. (He continued to write the letter.)
Президент закончил выступать. (The president finished his speech.)
Group: Perfective aspect (совершенный вид)
The perfective aspect can only be used in past and future tenses and in the infinitive form, since the result of the action can be either reached in the past, or it will be reached in the future. The perfective aspect of Russian verbs is formed from the imperfective by using different prefixes and suffixes. Let’s look at some examples:
Вы посмотрели фильм вчера? (Did you watch the movie yesterday?) – Да, посмотрел. (Yes, I did.)
Explanation: He had said to me some days ago that he would like to watch this film, so I knew that he is planning to watch it. In this case, we are talking about the result of the action.
- Результат в будущем
Завтра я обязательно позвоню Вам! (I will definitely call you tomorrow.)
Explanation: I guarantee the result in the future.
- Two finished/completed actions in the past (results)
Утром он выпил кофе, а потом прочитал газету. (After he had drunk his coffee, he read the newspaper in the morning.)
Explanation: When there are two consecutive actions in the past, you have to use perfective aspect.
- Some verbs, after which you have to use perfective aspect:
Я забыл купить молоко утром. (I forgot to buy milk in the morning.)
Он успел сделать домашние задание. (He managed to do this homework on time.)
Hope this week’s grammar summary helped you better understand the usage of imperfective and perfective aspects, so enjoy learning!