The Aspect of the Russian verbs

In Russian, verbs take on two different forms, called aspects. The term aspect refers to the idea that an action can be either completed or continuous and repeated. When you want to emphasize the result or completion of the action you should use the perfective aspect of the verb. On the other hand, the imperfective aspect is used to express continuous or repeated actions.

Before going into a more detailed explanation, let’s look at an excerpt from a novel by Leo Tolstoy. Pay attention to how verbs highlited in green describe the result, while those in blue express continuous actions.

“From this interesting spectacle my attention was distracted by the yellow wings of a butterfly which was fluttering alluringly before me. Yet I had scarcely noticed it before it flew away to a little distance and, circling over some half-faded blossoms of white clover, settled on one of them. Whether it was the sun's warmth that delighted it, or whether it was busy sucking nectar from the flower, at all events it seemed thoroughly comfortable. It scarcely moved its wings at all, and pressed itself down into the clover until I could hardly see its body. I sat with my chin on my hands and watched it with intense interest.”

Aspect of most Russian verbs can be determined by looking at their prefixes and suffixes as shown in the table:

    Imperfective verbs    
                              Perfective verbs                   
1. Have no prefix*

1. Have a prefix

2. Have the suffix
–ЫВА- or –ВА-**


2. Have the suffix –А-

Have no suffix

3. Have the suffix –А- (Я)
but do not have a prefix

3. Have the suffix –И-
but do not have a prefix


*The most common prefixes for Russian verbs are НА-, ПО-, ПРО-, В-, ВЫ-, ЗА-, ПЕРЕ-, С-, ПРИ-, У-

** Suffix is the part of the verb between its stem and the ending –ТЬ. The most common suffixes for Russian verbs are -ЫВА-, -ИВА-, -ВА-, -А-, -И-

Some perfective verbs are so significantly different from their imperfective counterparts that their aspect must be memorized.

    Imperfective verbs    
    Perfective verbs    

More sites that explain the aspect of the Russian verbs: Russian Verbs: Aspect and Tenses

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