Немно́го о языке́ 6.3 Я всё уме́ю

Using Aspect in the Past Tense (Continued)

Simultaneous and Sequential Actions

When a sentence has more than one verb (e.g., we read and watched television), if the actions of the verbs are simultaneous, then the verbs will be imperfective; if the actions are sequential, then the verbs will be perfective.

Упражне́ние 1

Read the sentences below and decide whether the verb pairs refer to simultaneous past actions or to sequential past actions.

Aspect in past-tense sentences with когда́ clauses

Sentences that contain a “когда́” clause and a main clause have two actions.  The two actions can either happen simultaneously, or sequentially, or one action can be a background action, which is interrupted by the second action.  Consider these examples:

Когда́ Ама́нда смотре́ла телеви́зор, Ка́тя чита́ла. simultaneous actions
Когда́ Ама́нда посмотре́ла но́вости, она́ начала́ чита́ть. sequential actions
Когда́ Ама́нда смотре́ла но́вости, позвони́ла Ка́тя. background action interrupted

What aspects are used in these three kinds of sentences?

While the word когда́ can be used in all three of these Russian sentences, it will have slightly different equivalents in English.  Когда́ with imperfective verbs in sentences with simultaneous actions can be rendered in English as when or while; когда́ with perfective verbs in sequential sentences can be rendered in English as when or after.

Упражне́ние 2

Read the following sentences paying attention to the aspects of the verbs and decide whether the word когда́ would best be translated as while or as after.

Began / Finished Doing an Action
Ама́нда начала́ писа́ть текст в воскресе́нье. Amanda began to write her text on Sunday.
Она́ зако́нчила писа́ть текст во вто́рник. She finished writing on Tuesday.

We have two actions in each of these sentences.  The first action points to the phase of Amanda’s work (began, continued, and finished), while the second action is the process of writing.  In Russian, the phase verbs can be in either imperfective or perfective aspect.  The second action that comes after the phase verb will always be an imperfective verb in its infinitive form.

The two most common phase verbs are:

начина́ть / нача́ть (to begin)
зака́нчивать / зако́нчить (to finish)

Sentences with the phase verb “finish” and an action are very close in meaning to sentences with perfective past tense verbs of that same action.  Compare the sentences below.

Мы написа́ли статью́. We wrote/finished writing the article.
Мы зако́нчили писа́ть статью́ We finished writing the article.

Aspect and Tense

Like English, Russian can express actions that happen in three different time frames: the present, the past and the future, and in this section we will summarize how Russian makes these tense forms with imperfective and perfective verbs.

To express present actions in Russian, we use imperfective verbs.  This makes sense since a present time action is one that is happening now or happens habitually/regularly. These meanings are typical of imperfective verbs. You have learned the basic patterns for conjugating Russian verbs in the present tense in Lesson 3: Review first conjugation, Review second conjugation.

To express past actions in Russian, we can use either imperfective or perfective verbs, but verbs of both kinds form their past tense in the same basic way: removing the -ть of the infinitive ending and adding -л / -ла / -ло / -ли.

To express future actions, we can use either imperfective or perfective verbs, but their future tense forms will be made in different ways.

When expressing future actions with imperfective verbs, we will combine the future tense forms of the verb быть (бу́ду, бу́дешь, etc.) with the imperfective infinitive. 

To express future actions with perfective verbs, we conjugate the verb according to the same basic patterns used for the present tense.  Although the perfective verb may look like a present tense verb in form, it expresses a future tense meaning.

We will focus on the difference in meaning between imperfective and perfective verbs in the future tense in the third part of this unit.

Imperfective Perfective
Present time я чита́ю ø
Past time я чита́л я прочита́л
Future time я бу́ду чита́ть я прочита́ю

уме́ть = to know how

The Russian verb уме́ть belongs to the first conjugation and has the stem: уме́й-.  It is used with infinitives to express the notion «to know how to do something.»  You can see that the meaning «to know how» is very different from the idea of «know» expressed by the familiar verb знать. Знать in Russian is used for expressing the notion of «to have knowledge of facts, people, places, dates, etc.»

Упражне́ние 3

Pick the «knowing» verb that best fits the context.

Liking  -- нра́виться and Dative Pronouns

Russian has two verbs that can both be translated as the English “like.”  You’ve seen the verb люби́ть (stem: люб-), and you know that it means “like” and “love.”  It signals a rather strong attachment to a person or thing.  The other verb for “like” is нра́виться.  It also expresses a positive emotion toward a person or a thing, often where the speaker is expressing an opinion based on a first impression, or a less deeply held feeling. 

Упражне́ние 4

Listen and read the questions below, and decide to whom they were most likely addressed. Some questions might be addressed to more than one character.

All of the sentences above ask «Do you like …?»  Look at the grammar forms of the things that are liked and answer the question below.


At its core, the verb нра́виться is really equivalent to English's “to be pleasing to.” In sentences with нра́виться, the roles of subject (“liker”) and object (the person/thing liked) are flipped in comparison to English sentences with like and Russian sentences with the verb любить.

I like this apartment. Я лю́блю э́ту кварти́ру.
This apartment is pleasing to me. Э́та кварти́ра мне нра́вится.

Click the links below to see how the relationships between the person that likes and things that are liked differ between these sentences.

In the sentences with English like and люби́ть the liker is the subject, expressed by the nominative case; the thing liked is the direct object in the accusative case.  In the sentences with is pleasing / нра́виться, the thing liked is the subject of the verb, expressed by the nominative case.  The person experiencing the positive impression is expressed by the dative case. One function of the dative case is for expressing the idea of the experiencer “to whom” and “for whom” things happen.  You will learn more specifics about the dative case in Part 2 of this unit.

The dative case forms of the personal pronouns.
"the liker"
Dative case
"is pleasing to"
"the person/thing liked"
Nominative subject
Мне нра́вится наш го́род.
Тебе́ нра́вится кварти́ра.
Ему́ нра́вится о́зеро Байка́л.
Ей нра́вится кварти́ра.
Нам нра́вится наш го́род.
Вам нра́вится о́зеро Байка́л.
Им нра́вится кварти́ра.
Кому́ нра́вится кварти́ра.

Since the thing liked is the subject, and the verb нравиться will need to agree with the subject, you will need to use the form нравятся when the thing liked is in the plural.

Use good learning strategies!

Sentences starting with the words Мне нра́вится present some pronunciation challenges for English speakers, but you can need to learn to pronounce the clusters мн and нр without adding any vowel sounds between the м and the н  and the н and the р.

To work on getting the мн sound, start with the verb по́мнить and practice pronouncing it several times.  Feel how your lips and tongue change as you move from the м sound to the н sound. Practice saying the word over and over and then try to drop the по of first syllable.

пом-нить по-мнить  мнить мни мне

You can use a similar technique with нра́вится starting with the perfective form

понра́вится (will like) and working backwards until you can remove the по of the first syllable.

понра́вится пон-равится по-нравится нравится

Other uses of the dative case pronouns

The dative pronouns that you have seen with нра́виться can be used with other verbs to indicate “to whom” or “for whom” an action is done.  In the following examples, the word someone indicates “to whom” or “for whom.”

In other words, the word someone in these sentences fulfills the function of an indirect object in English.  The indirect object can be thought of as the “beneficiary” of an action. In Russian these indirect objects will be expressed by the Dative case.

Confused by direct and indirect objects?

Consider sentences where the verb is followed by two nouns:

  • The teacher shows the student pictures.
  • Parents give children advice.

One of those nouns will be the direct object; it directly receives the action of the verb.  You can identify it by asking “whom” or “what” after the verb. 

  • Question: The teacher shows what?
  • Answer: pictures. “Pictures” is the direct object.

In the second example, “advice” is the direct object.

In the Russian translation of these sentences, the direct object will be expressed by nouns in the accusative case.

The other noun following the verb in the example sentences is the indirect object.  You can identify it by asking “to whom” or “for whom” after the verb.

  • Question: Parents give advice to whom?
  • Answer: Children. “Children” is the indirect object.

Indirect objects express the beneficiary of an action.

In the Russian translation of these sentences, the indirect object will be expressed by nouns in the dative case.

Упражне́ние 5

Below are five sentences from the story line so far.  Each of them contains a dative pronoun that has been highlighted in bold.  Think about the story line, and indicate which character or characters are being referred to by the dative pronouns.

The following verbs in Russian are often used with indirect objects (to whom? for whom?) in the dative case, as well as with direct objects in the accusative case.

Verbs Indirect object
Direct object
English equivalent
пока́зывать/показа́ть мне фотогра́фию to show me a photograph
гото́вить/пригото́вить тебе́ суп to make you soup
де́лать/сде́лать ему́ бутербро́д to make him a sandwich
писа́ть/написа́ть ей эсеме́ску to write her a text
чита́ть/прочита́ть нам письмо́ to read us a letter
покупа́ть/купи́ть вам пода́рок to buy you a present
дава́ть/дать им де́ньги to give them money
дари́ть/подари́ть им ма́йку to give them a tee-shirt (as a present)

Notice that in English we can say either "to show me a photograph" or "to show a photograph to me".  The equivalent for either version in Russian wоuld be пока́зывать мне фотогра́фию.  Although word order is flexible in Russian, dative pronouns often appear before the verb, or between the verb and the direct object.