Verbal aspect in Russian – a major headache!

I persuaded myself that deciding which aspect to use was easy – though your examples suggest I was wrong. My problem was remembering the pairs – the result of being introduced to the imperfective aspect without any mention of the perfective. Teachers of Russian need to give the bad news at the start…

Maceochi's Language Learning

I was sitting drinking with two Russians recently, and the first bottle of sparkling wine was running out. One of my собутыльники ([sobutil’niki], lit., ‘co-bottlers’, i.e., ‘fellow drinkers’) said:

– Да, надо было две брать. [Nado bylo dve brat’.] ‘Yeah, we should have got two.’

If you look брать [brat’] up in the dictionary, you’ll see the translation, ‘take’, and an abbreviation like impf. or ip. Alongside you might see a reference to the verb взять [vzyat’], also ‘take’, with perf. or pf. These abbreviations mean ‘imperfective’ and ‘perfective’ respectively and it’s no exaggeration to say they are the bane of every Russian student’s existence!

The beast we’re dealing with here is verbal aspect. Here’s a very quick intro:

  • When you talk about any action, you can choose to emphasise either the process, its unfinished nature, or the result, its finished nature –…

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