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ASPECT (ВИД). Verbal Aspect for Elementary Russian. Depending on how you count them, English has as many as SEVENTEEN tenses. I spent a few hours reading the New Yorker last night, as I have done for many years. I might (correctly) say any or all of the following:. I read the New Yorker.

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Verbal Aspect for Elementary Russian

Depending on how you count them, English has as many as SEVENTEEN tenses.

I spent a few hours reading the New Yorker last night, as I have done for many years. I might (correctly) say any or all of the following:

  • I read the New Yorker.

  • I did read the New Yorker.

  • I had read the latest New Yorker and fallen asleep when suddenly….

  • I was reading the New Yorker when suddenly….

  • I had been reading the New Yorker for an hour when suddenly…

  • I have read the New Yorker for years.

We could do this in the present and the future, too… But you get the idea.

In addition to TENSE, English has ASPECT.

  • Aspect, in short, indicates the speaker’s SUBJECTIVE relationship towards temporal flow when describing the event of action.

But you are unaware of it, since in English, choice of tense is also choice of aspect.Some tenses indicate perfective aspect, others imperfective.


In simplest terms, PERFECTIVE stresses the RESULT of an action while IMPERFECTIVE stresses the PROCESS.

When might I say…

I watched the Flintstones. (Perfective)

I was watching the Flintstones. (Imperfective)

No mistaking aspect…

Note that in English and in Russian, it’s very difficult to make denotative mistakes in aspectual choice. In other words, whatever choice I make, no one is going to be confused.

Aspect in Russian

  • As you know, Russian is a “tense poor” language: It has a past, a present, and a future tense.

  • Russian has ASPECT, too.

  • Unlike English (where aspect and tense are confused), Russian maintains separate aspect because verbs have multiple forms, some of which are perfective and others imperfective.


  • When teaching aspect, I am not teaching you grammar, I am teaching you VOCABULARY.

  • Up to today, ALL THE VERBS you have learned are IMPERFECTIVE.

  • Verbs in Russian exist in “clusters” of imperfective and perfective verbs. For instance, the verb писать (imperfective) has several perfective forms: написать, записать, прописать, выписать, вписать.... And, amazingly, each of those verbs has an imperfective verb: написывать, записывать, etc.

  • Let’s not get distracted…

But for your purposes, verbs exist in PAIRS! One verb is imperfective, the other is perfective

Some examples…


  • смотреть (смо́трят)/посмотреть

  • писать (пишут)/написáть

  • чита́ть (-ают)/прочита́ть

  • ви́деть (ви́дят)/уви́деть

  • по́мнить (по́мнят)/запо́мнить

  • пить (пьют)/вы́пить

  • гото́вить (гото́вят)/пригото́вить

It is CRUCIAL to understand that ASPECT and TENSE are separate; you already KNOW how to conjugate EVERY verb in Russian.


  • The PERFECTIVE stresses result; the IMPERFECTIVE stresses process.


Past and Future Tenses

  • In the PAST TENSE and FUTURE TENSE, you have to choose one or the other aspect, just as we do in English.

Present Tense

  • In Russian, aspect DOES NOT pertain to PRESENT TENSE, because (by its nature) the present tense is ALWAYS IMPERFECTIVE.

  • Go on, TRY to emphasize result using the present tense!

  • Сейчас, я читаю и завтракаю и пью...

To form the PAST PERFECTIVE, just conjugate the verb in the past (написал, выпила, посмотрели)

To form the FUTURE PERFECTIVE, just conjugate the perfective verbs as you would any first- or second-congugation verb: напишу, посмотрим, прочитаешь.

Our motto…


How do you choose aspect?

Just as in English, aspect reflects the speaker’s relationship (literally his view) on the event or action.

Do you want to stress the PROCESS (imperfective) or the RESULT (perfective) of an action?

Another way to think of it: Could you take a photograph of the sentence (perfective), or would you need to make a film (imperfective)?

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