Russian Grammar

Conjugation of Russian verbs

Conjugation refers to changes in verbs so that they agree with the subject. You do conjugate verbs in English even if you are not aware of it. Take a look at how the verbs “to speak” and “to be” change depending on the subject:

I speak.
He speaks.                               
We speak.
She speaks.
I am.
He is.
We are.
She is.

Conjugation is so simple and natural in English that oftentimes you are totally unaware that you change the ending of the verb. You will see in a moment that Russian conjugation rules are much more complicated. We will be learning them in this and further lessons. For now, let’s take a look at how Russian verbs are grouped into families of verbs.

There are two major Russian verb families—verbs whose infinitive ends in –ИТЬ (2nd conjugation family), and verbs whose infinitive ends in any other combination of letters (1st conjugation family). Verbs that belong to a family and conform to set family rules are considered regular. On the other hand, there is a relatively small group of irregular verbs that do not follow family rules. Irregular verbs change according to their own patterns and their conjugations must be memorized individually.

The good news is that most verbs within a family are conjugated in exactly the same manner. Once you know the endings for a family, you will be able to conjugate all regular verbs in this family. Let’s start by looking at the 2nd conjugation family.

Regular Russian verbs - 2nd conjugation

This family includes verbs whose infinitive ends in –ИТЬ (except for брить, жить, пить). In addition, it includes several verbs ending in –ЕТЬ (видеть, зависеть, ненавидеть, обидеть, смотреть) and three verbs ending in –АТЬ (держать, слышать, дышать). To conjugate these verbs, drop –ИТЬ, -АТЬ or -ЕТЬ from the infinitive and add the following endings:

я (I)
-у*, -ю
мы (we)
ты (you singular)
вы (you plural)
он, она (he, she)
они (they)
-ат*, -ят

*The endings –у and –ат are used after the letters Ж, Ш, Ч, Щ and all hard consonants. –ю and –ят are used after soft consonants and vowels.

Говорить—to speak

   Conjugated verb   
я (I)
мы (we)
ты (you singular)
вы (you plural)
он, она (he, she)
они (they)

Regular Russian verbs - 1st conjugation

This family includes the rest of verbs that do not belong to the 2nd conjugation family. To conjugate these verbs, drop –ТЬ from the infinitive and add the following endings:

я (I)
-у*, -ю
мы (we)
ты (you singular)
вы (you plural)
он, она (he, she)
они (they)
-ут*, -ют

*Use the endings –ю, -ют after vowels or the "soft sign" (e.g.: читаю, пью),
and –у, -ут after consonants (e.g.: пишу).

Читать—to read

   Conjugated verb   
я (I)
мы (we)
ты (you singular)
вы (you plural)
он, она (he, she)
они (they)

*The endings –ешь, -ет and -ете are always unstressed.

Irregular Russian verbs

You already know that regular Russian verbs change according to the rules of the verb family they belong to. Irregular verbs, on the other hand, are exceptions that need to be memorized. Although they might look like members of one verb family or another, they do not follow set family patterns. Instead of this they have a stem or spelling change or lose syllables and acquire new endings.

Let’s start by looking at one common irregularity. If the infinitive of a verb has the features of the 2nd conjugation family and its stem ends in Б, В, Д, З, П, С, Т or СТ then it will undergo a spelling change when conjugated into the singular present form with Я (I) as the subject. The following table illustrates this exception. Note that stem is what is left from a word when you drop all the prefixes and endings.

Stem (drop the 
ending and prefixes)
Spelling change
Conjugated verb (singular
present with Я as the subject)
б -> бл
в -> вл
п -> пл
т -> ч
с -> ш

You will learn more about irregular verbs as you progress through the course. Here is a list of some common irregular verbs that will be explained in greater depth later:

мочь, дать, есть, взять, брать, закрыть, класть, ждать, жить, ехать, идти, писать, хотеть.

Quiz #1

Determine the conjugation family of the following Russian verbs based on their infinitive endings.

1. видеть
2. писать
3. читать
4. знать
5. дышать
6. зависеть
7. смотреть
8. слышать
9. работать
10. закрыть

Quiz #2

Conjugate the verbs as shown in the examples. Pay attention to the consonantal change in irregular verbs.

Я люблю
Мы любим
Ты любишь
Вы любите
Он/она любит        
Они любят

я лечу
мы летим
ты летишь
вы летите
он/она летит           
они летят

Я пишу
Мы пишем
Ты пишешь
Вы пишете
Он/она пишет        
Они пишут

Я хожу
Мы ходим             
Ты ходишь               
Вы ходите
Он ходит
Они ходят

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